The scary events in the Swat valley have left a long trail of death and destruction. But if we consider an incident that befell two couples from Lahore a few weeks ago, the resistance by the Taliban and their vows for Jihad appear as no surprise. The couples, with their children, had traveled up to Malam Jabba and Mingora for a peaceful weekend before the onset of Ramadhan in the first September fortnight. During their stay in one of the Mingora hotels, a band of about a dozen Taliban knocked at their doors around 2 in the morning and asked them to leave.
“Don’t spread obscenity here, just leave the place,” one of them thundered while swinging his gun. The two frightened women took refuge in one of the bathrooms. But the Taliban ordered them to come out and even shot at the door. Both women got a bullet each and opened the door. Bleeding profusely, and with children crying, the families packed up and fled from the hotel. The hotel administration looked on as silent spectators.
This sounds like fiction placed in the Taliban era in Afghanistan, when their zealots used to drag men out of beds for bears and whip women for traveling alone.
But even a cursory look at the events since the fall of the Taliban in December 2001, and when Mulla Sufi Muhammad’s volunteers were mauled, maimed, taken prisoners or beaten back, conditions in Bajaur and Swat gradually deteriorated.
The sentiment against Sufi Muhammad then was running high and common people were furious because they thought he had misled his near and dear ones. That is why he appears to be happy and safe at the Dera Ismail Khan jail.
The cleric had led at least five thousand party activists into Afghanistan via Bajaur agency that borders the Kunar province. Despite a polite refusal by the jittery Taliban early November, Sufi Muhammad sent volunteers most of them armed with nothing more than simple assault rifles and hatred for the US into Afghanistan.
Until then, every Pakistani government had been giving in to the TNSM demands and in fact the second Benazir government introduced the Islamic Sharia system in the Malakand region, the birthplace and original home of TNSM, to placate the protesters.
Apart from its demand for enforcement of Shariah laws, its fight against a system devoid of socio-political justice (FATA does not have courts of law and all matters are adjudicated by the PA or his deputy) propelled the TNSM into a popular movement in the mid-1990s. Laws dating back to the British times left the tribal people at the mercy of the local administration. Even 60 years after independence, the political agent (PA), who represents the federal government in the tribal areas, continues to rule his territory under the Frontier Crimes Regulation 40 (FCR 40) imposed by the British in the early 1890s. As the government administrator in the tribal area, the PA has the power to throw anybody in jail on the slightest suspicion or for a minor offence without recourse to law. Consequently, the PA stands as an un-crowned king of the area – even members of the parliament from FATA are at the mercy of his whims, thereby turning him into a god-fatherly figure for the local elders as well as the Maliks, the appointees of the PA in recognition of their services to their tribes as well as the government.
Sufi Muhammad also has dissociated himself from his son-in-law Maulvi Fazlullah’s actions, but does this absolve him and also the officials of the current explosive situation?
People, either based in the region, or those who watched the recent incidents, refuse to accept the notion that the government lacked information about the activities of the Fazlullah-led Taliban and that is why the para-military forces met with severe resistance.
“I saw military helicopters bombing in the area which left three militants dead. But the situation get worse when militants brutally beheaded 13 people including security officials and some civilian in Shakardara village of Swat,” recalled a friend. Locals told him that the militants paraded the soldier’s heads on rods in main Shakardara Bazaar. Some journalists were also provided access to the area to see the beheaded bodies lying on different squares of the town, most of them evacuated on Tuesday after guns fell silent.
Most of the roads leading to Imdam Dheri, recalled journalists, were manned by armed and masked men of Fazlullah, who controlled dozens of posts, though gunship helicopters that kept hovering over their heads.
Fazl’s assistant Muslim Khan flanked by militant’s spokesman Sirajudin appeared before media and vowed to sacrifice their lives for Shariah. Interestingly Muslim Khan spoke to media in four languages Arabic, English, Urdu and Pashtu, which astonished most of the journalists.
Hostilities have also forced hundreds of families to flee the areas, fearing they might get caught up in the crossfire. A villager Ibrahim told the media that civilian population has become sandwiched between the rival fighters. We don’t know who is right and who is wrong.
Now consider a November 11 Washington Post report more than a year ago, which had quoted a senior Pakistan army officer as saying that the January 13 and early November attacks in the suburbs of Bajaur “are a disaster. We all recognise the gravity of the situation. It’s a nightmare to have an army being attacked on its own soil and by its own people.” After the two incidents, the officer had said, “the doors to peaceful negotiated settlements are closed. I am afraid we are on a war course in the tribal areas.”
On Tuesday, TNSM clerics declared Jihad in Bajaur as well, thereby ringing alarm for the authorities, whose indifferent attitude has allowed the Taliban to reorganize themselves and prosper in the last five years or so.
One wonders as to whether the TNSM activities evaded the vast network of intelligence agencies – FBI, ISI, MI, IB, and the security establishment – Army, FC, and scores of local militias? A yes sounds ridiculous and absurd and leads us invariably to think as to how many components of these outfits connived with the militants and permitted them to conduct themselves in the Afghan Taliban style, without any intervention from the government. Most observers take government resolve “to eliminate these terrorists and to deal with them with an iron hand” with a big pinch of salt.
“Even sending a couple of thousand army and paramilitary force to confront an ideologically driven force is a joke,” said Shahjehan Khan, a government employee in Mingora. This way, the government will only precipitate the situation and allow itself to be dictated by the militants who have made our lives miserable,” he complained.