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Can we regain the "Paradise Lost"?

By Imtiaz Gul

Weekly Pulse, Islamabad January 29, 2009

 

The demolition of schools in Swat continues (over 180 destroyed sofar). The police and the civilian administration is practically dysfunctional, the army and the Frontier Corps are holding on to some of the strategic territories with the help of artillery, cobra gunships helicopters and thousands of soldiers but Taliban are de facto ruling Swat and the areas to its west stretching up to Bajaur.
"Swat is lost," is therefore the consensus among most political parties. This consensus of course connotes loss of territory as well as government authority to the militants. Not only does Maulana Fazlur Rehman believe in this but even the ruling Awami National Party has given in. Its senators Haji Adeel and Ilyas Bilour, for instance, admitted in the Senate on January 26 that the provincial government has lost its writ in Swat. They also warned "the insurgency is spilling over to the rest of the country and would "reach Islamabad sooner than Lahore". These admissions came to the context of the list released by Mullah Fazlullah's TTP the same day. The 43 'wanted' people include ministers and MPs, former and current members of the national and provincial assemblies, district and local nazims, officials of political parties, local elders and other influential residents of the restive valley

They must appear in Taliban courts to clarify their positions, or face Sharia punishments, Fazlullah was heard saying on the radio channel. The wanted people are Taliban's enemies and would be arrested or killed by his men, if they failed to show up in the Taliban court, the Maulana said. The brazen announcement comes only two days after a provincial minister from the Awami National Party (ANP) and two members of the NWFP Assembly visited the valley to express support for the people of Swat against the Taliban.
Earlier, the Taliban had also made it a point to punish a person whom they had considered a government ally Pir Samiullah – who had led 500 followers to fight the Taliban. He was killed and his beheaded body hanged in the "Killer Square." And Maulana Fazlullah's radio continues to spit hatred and spread intimidation to potential opponents.
The issue of the radio also surfaced during one of our meetings with the army chief General Ashfaq Kiyani. Kiyani and his colleagues are visibly upset by the dramatic course of  events; from the hopes that the general elections evoked in February to the May 21 deal with the Taliban, which fell after two months, and to the FC and Army operations launched in August/September last year and to the current state of despondency, this has been a continuous drift into chaos and gradual loss of political and territorial authority to the non-state actors.
And the Taliban terror tool – the FM Radio – is also at its full throttle, injecting fear in peoples' minds. Maulana Shah Dauran, we are told, is the most dreaded voice over this radio because it is him who issues warnings, death decrees and orders to the local administration.
Almost everybody in and around Swat wonders as to why this tool of terror has not only survived but also expanded its area of coverage..

Why cant the authorities – whether civilian or military – neutralize this vehicle of intimidation and mouthpiece of obscurantism, is the question that all and sundry have been asking.
It was perhaps the result of similar questioning during a detailed session with the army chief General Ashfaq Kiyani, that the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Major General Athar Abbas says the military is now acquiring the latest technology to jam the illegal radio transmissions of the Swat Taliban. He hopes the technology would help block the illegal transmissions.
The jammers seem to be part of a new strategy that the army and civilian leadership has been talking about. What his strategy exactly looks like, no body knows. But a consensus between the army and the civilian leadership seems to have emerged that seeks to regain the paradise lost to the militants.
Although the army and the paramilitary forces have so far managed to hang on to their positions in most parts of the Swat valley, yet even this may become difficult if the political leadership stayed in exile (in Peshawar, Rawalpindi and Islamabad). Almost all of members of the parliament – both provincial and national – have left Swat and some parts of Dir, leaving the people at large to the mercy of Taliban and the whims of the military, which by training seeks full control whenever it moves for cleansing. Taliban militants have sofar succeeded in sowing terror all around. Public representatives shun appearances in public – whether open gatherings or tv shows. They are all scared to the hilt. People like Muzaffarul Mulk have lost their homes altogether.
No doubt the current insurgency requires a mighty military response, but the response and its success will be sustainable only if backed up by the political leadership and the civilian administration. The situation warrants a collective strategy and determination vis a vis forces that want to take the entire state hostage and desire to subject the people to their tunnel-vision of Islam.

They also need to be very careful to determine as to whether
A)    the crisis flows from lack of Sharia, and whether enforcement of sharia will fend it off
B)     it is an insurgency and
C)    if its is an insurgency, who is driving it? One needs to be very cautious as far as demands for implementation of shariat are concerned. Which sharia, whose sharia, and to what extent, are some of the questions. These demands had started echoing in Malakand with Mulla Soofi Mohammad in 1995. But things have drastically changed since.
That is why the hopes both the provincial government as well as the army had pinned  on Soofi turned out to be misplaced.
Why? Just because the current turmoil essentially does not stem from a craving for sharia. If at all, it represents search for socio-economic justice if seen in the social context. For most Pakistanis, as well as people living in areas such as Swat or FATA, the existing legal justice system amounts to a labyrinth which consumes their energy and resources but with little relief. Of course, for those suffering under this system, the speedy Sharia way of justice, comes across as a bright alternative, regardless of what it really might entail.
It is therefore very difficult to swallow the often touted argument that one solution of quelling the unrest lies in the enforcement of Sharia.
As far B, most – including the army leadership meanwhile agree its is an insurgency, confronting the armed forces with an unprecedented situation. And going by the course of events so far, there is little doubt only dialogue or only an army-led operation will fix it.
Lastly, the entire government machinery believes the insurgency is fuelled by external factors. In this case, the intelligence and armed forces first  need to get to the root of the external support. But even if it cannot, it has to devise a strategy that minimizes, if not neutralizes, external factors.
It is an unusual situation and requires unusual counter-strategy. By giving in to long-standing demands of mavericks and instable people like Soofi Mohammad, whose idea of Islam revolves around the beard and the mosque,  the government would simply open the flood-gates to similar demands from other quarters, with potentially graver consequences.
This country is already reeling under a variety of laws, regulations – anglo-saxon laws, the shariat laws, FCR. The state must strive for harmonizing and streamlining the entire judicial system, and follow it up with sincere, across the board enforcement.
Until the state talks and acts tough, mavericks will keep upping the ante in the name of Islam. These forces pushed Afghanistan in to the middle ages. Nothing different will happen in Pakistan – if the state continues to give in to them for short term gains. State institutions must also categorically dissociate themselves from such forces and thereby remove the perception of the militant-mulla-nexus. One hopes that Gen. Kiyani and his ISI colleagues mean it when they say that people like Baitullah Meshud and company are no friends at all. Despite our technical limitations, we will keep trying to take them out. This is the message that one gets from the General Headquarters. But only actions on ground will demonstrate the commitment and sincerity behind this message.

The writer heads the Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk