Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Terrorism: Groping for peace in the Swat Valley

The Tehrik-e-Nifaz-a-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM---- the Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Laws), founded by Sufi Mohammad, a resident of the Malakand Division of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan, came into existence in 1992 two years before the birth of the Taliban of Afghanistan, headed by Mulla Mohammad Omar. Sufi Mohammad used to be a member of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) before he left it and founded the TNSM to fight for the enforcement of the Islamic laws in the entire Malakand Division, of which Swat is a part.

2. Benazir Bhutto was the Prime Minister of Pakistan in her second term (1993-96) during the period when both these organisations came into existence. Whereas the Taliban was brought into existence by Pakistan's intelligence agencies to replace the different warring Mujahideen groups of the 1980s vintage, they played little role in the birth of the TNSM. During Benazir's prime ministership, Sufi Mohammad organised huge road blocades in the Malakand Division to demand the enforcement of the Islamic laws in the area. Benazir bought peace by accepting all his demands except one. Sufi Mohammad wanted that the Islamic courts to be set up in the Malakand Division should be totally autonomous with the appellate courts in Peshawar, the capital of the NWFP, and Islamabad having no jurisdiction over them. She did not accept this demand. Her acceptance of the other demands of the TNSM was not reversed by her successor Nawaz Sharif or by Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in 1999.

3. There were allegations by Sufi Mohammad that even the demands accepted by Benazir were not properly implemented. Till 9/11, the TNSM remained essentially a religious fundamentalist organisation with close links to the Afghan Taliban, but with no pronounced anti-US or anti-Army feelings. The US military strikes in Afghanistan under Operation Enduring Freedom turned it into an anti-US and anti-Army organisation. Sufi Mohammad issued a fatwa calling upon his followers to go to Afghanistan to fight against the US troops along with the Afghan Taliban. A large number of his followers led personally by him crossed over into Afghanistan. Many of them were mowed down by US air strikes. The survivors, including Sufi Mohammad, fled back into the Pakistani territory.

4. Musharraf had Sufi Mohammad arrested and kept in preventive detention and banned the TNSM as a terrorist organisation on January 15,2002. Maulana Fazlullah, a son-in-law of Sufi Mohammad, assumed the leadership of the TNSM and resumed the struggle for the implementation of the promises made by Benazir and for abolishing the appellate jurisdiction of the courts in Peshawar and Islamabad over the Islamic courts in the Malakand Division.

5. In the elections held towards the end of 2002, Musharraf had the polls manipulated in order to have the Awami National Party (ANP), a progressive Pashtun party, which used to be led by Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, known as the Frontier Gandhi, and the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) of Benazir Bhutto defeated. A coalition of six religious fundamentalist parties known as the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) came to power in Peshawar after the elections.

6. The MMA Government closed its eyes to the activities of the TNSM and Fazlullah. From a purely religious organisation, the TNSM grew into a qasi political organisation and expanded its agenda to include not only an autonomous Islamic criminal justice system, but also an Islamic system of education with girls barred from higher education and with a strict code of conduct for all Muslims. Its agenda became largely a carbon copy of the agenda of the Taliban of Afghanistan. It extended its full support to the Afghan Taliban leaders, who had taken sanctuary in Balochistan, in their preparations to strike back at the Americans in Afghanistan.

7. As a result of the inaction of the MMA Government in Peshawar and the federal Government headed by Musharraf, the TNSM became the de facto ruling power of the Swat Valley. However, despite its periodic oral condemnation of what it saw as the pro-US policies of Musharraf, it avoided any confrontation with the Pakistani Army and the para-military forces such as the Frontier Corps (FC). By the beginning of 2007, a de facto diarchy came into existence in the Swat Valley---- with Maulana Fazlullah and his Mullas running the civil administration and the criminal justice system and the army and the FC remaining in charge of internal security. The Army avoided stepping on the toes of Fazlullah.

8. This position of an uneasy co-existence between the Mulla rule of the TNSM and a limited administrative power still taking orders from Peshawar and Islamabad changed after the Army commando raid in the Lal Masjid in Islamabad in July,2007, ordered by Musharraf. The Lal Masjid had two madrasas---one for boys and the other for girls. The madrasa for boys was located outside the masjid campus and the madrasa for girls inside the campus. While the boys surrendered to the commandoes without much resistance, the girls egged on by the Mullas of the Masjid resisted the commandoes ferociously. A large number of them were killed. Many of those killed came from tribal families of the Swat Valley.

9. Angered by the alleged massacre of the girls by the commandoes, Fazlullah issued a fatwa calling for a jihad against the Army. Simultaneously, similar calls for a jihad against the Army were issued by different tribal leaders and Mullas of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Among those killed in the girls' madrasa of the Lal Masjid were also children of some of the tribal families of the FATA. All these tribal leaders and Mullas decided to form the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Mehsud tribe in South Waziristan, was designated the Amir of the TTP. The constituent units of the TTP in different areas selected their own Amirs to work under the over-all co-ordination of Baitullah. The TNSM joined the TTP.Many in Pakistan believe that the assassination of Benazir at Rawalpindi on December 27,2007, was carried out by the followers of Baitullah Mehsud in revenge for her alleged support to the commando raid in the Lal Masjid.

10. The intense anger across the Pashtin tribal belt in the FATA and in the Swat Valley over the Lal Masjid incidents led to a wave of suicide terrorism not only in the tribal areas, but also in non-tribal areas, including Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Lahore. The suicide terrorism of the TNSM was directed not only against the security forces deployed in the Swat Valley, but also against the establishments and personnel of the Armed Forces and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in the non-tribal areas of the country. Faced with this anger, Musharraf ordered the Army and the Frontier Corps to go into action against the TNSM in the Swat Valley in October,2007. The military operations initially succeeded in pushing back the TNSM cadres from the areas controlled by them.

11. The TNSM followed the same tactics as the Taliban in Afghanistan. Faced with the might of the Pakistan Army and the FC, it avoided a frontal confrontation with them. On Fazlullah's orders, his followers dispersed and went back to their villages. After the elected Government led by the PPP came to power in Islamabad in March,2008, the TNSM re-grouped and staged a spectacular come-back, pushed the army and Frontier Corps out of the areas recovered by them and re-established its control over nearly 80 per cent of the territory of Swat.

12. In the elections of February,2008, the constituent parties of the MMA did badly. The ANP and the PPP, which had been marginalised by Musharraf in 2002, recovered their lost position in the electoral map of the NWFP. The ANP, which emerged as the largest single party in the NWFP, formed a coalition Government in Peshawar along with the PPP and other like-minded groups. The ANP was, in turn, accommodated by Asif Ali Zardari in the federal coalition at Islamabad led by the PPP.

13. Even though the ANP has joined the PPP-led coalition, its views on the so-called war against terrorism have more in common with the views of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) of Nawaz Sharif than with those of Zardari. The ANP believes, like the PML does, that the surge in terrorism in the Pashtun tribal belt was mainly due to the pro-US policies of Musharraf and that there has to be political accommodation with various units of the TTP in different tribal areas in order to restore the writ of the Government in the Swat Valley and the FATA. The ANP advocates marking a distance from the US operations in Afghanistan and entering into a dialogue with elements in the TNSM and the TTP with which, it feels, the Government can do business.

14. Zardari was hesitant to openly support the moves of the ANP lest there be any misunderstanding with the US, but did not rise any objections to the ANP entering into a dialogue not with Fazlullah, who had taken to arms against the Army, but with Sufi Mohammad, who had been released from detention in April, 2008, even when Musharraf was still the President in the hope of using him to create a split in the TNSM and undermine the position of Fazlullah.Following intense negotiations with Sufi Mohammad lasting over several weeks, the ANP-led Government in Peshawar, with a reported nod of approval from Zardari, has signed an agreement with him on February 16,2009, under which it has conceded all the demands of the TNSM relating to an autonomous Islamic criminal justice system in the Malakand Division as a whole not subject to the appellate jurisdiction of the courts in Peshawar and Islamabad. The Government is hoping that in return for its accepting the primacy of the Mullas of the TNSM in matters pertaining to criminal justice, Sufi Mohammad will be able to persuade Fazlullah and his advisers to stop confronting the security forces and withdraw into their masjids, thereby allowing the writ of the civil administration and the army in all other matters to be re-established.

15.Fazlullah has announced a 10-day ceasefire and ordered the release of a Chinese engineer, who had been kidnapped by the TNSM last year, as goodwil gesture towards the Government. It has been reported that the release of the Chinese engineer followed the release by the Government of some TNSM activists, who had been arrested under the Anti-Terrorism Act. The release of the Chinese engineer came a few days before the planned departure of Zardari to China on February 20,2009, on an official visit.

16. Whether the temporary ceasefire becomes permanent and whether Fazlullah agrees to the re-establishment of the Government writ in the Swat Valley would depend on the success of Sufi Mohammad in persuading Fazlullah to accept the agreement reached by him with the ANP-led Government and call off the fighting.

17. As mentioned earlier, the TNSM, under Sufi Mohammad, had originally a single-point agenda of enforcing the Islamic criminal justice system. Under Fazlullah's leadership, it has acquired a multi-point agenda--- enforcing an autonomous criminal justice system in the Malakand Division of the NWFP as a whole, releasing all those arrested during the commando raid in the Lal Masjid, restoring the authority of the Mullas of the masjid, re-establishment of the madrasas of the masjid, action against those responsible for the alleged massacre in the girls madrasa, recognition of the right of the Pashtuns of Pakistan to go to Afghanistan to help the Afghan Pashtuns in their fight against the US-led coalition, the discontinuance of the US Predator (unamanned aircraft) strikes in the Pakistani territory and withdrawal of the Army from the Swat Valley making the Frontier Corps , which consists largely of Pashtuns, exclusively responsible for internal security.

18. Will Fazlullah give up the other demands in return for the Government accepting the demands relating to the Islamic criminal justice system? The likelihood of the restoration of peace in the Swat Valley with the Government once again in command and control will depend upon the answer to this question. (17-2-09)

The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai

See also: http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
Putting principles before profits