By Zeenia Satti
July 4, 2008
SWAT valley’s geo-strategic importance forbids Talibanisation from taking root there. Sufi Mohammad’s demand for the imposition of his version of Sharia law dates back to 1992, a pre-Taliban period.
After 9/11, religious extremism in Swat has taken on horrific proportions under Mullah Fazlullah. The government engaged in dialogue with the Tehrik Nifaz Shariat-i-Muhammadi (TNSM) during the nineties. However, the main thrust of its policy, specifically under Benazir Bhutto, was aimed at squashing the movement through fire power.
I am a witness to one such demonstration called the Buner massacre of May 1994. I was returning from Swat in a convoy, along with foreign diplomats, which was stuck at Buner because Sufi Mohammad’s followers had blockaded the road, vowing to maintain the blockade till Sharia law was enforced in the valley. The paramilitary troops opened fire on the blockaders, killing a majority of participants and injuring all others. Although Qazi courts were also established in response to TNSM’s demand, the gory massacre demonstrated the government’s resolve to curtail the movement, which it was able to do through the nineties.
It is one of the many paradoxes of Pakistan that under the military government of Musharraf, district after district in Swat valley fell to the militants under the brutal leadership of Mullah Fazlullah. This was in no small measure a consequence of Musharraf’s agreement with Washington to fight the Taliban on Bush’s terms. The terms dictated that the US would not deal with the Taliban as POWs but would drive them into Pakistan, where Musharraf would ambush them if they launched insurgent battles in Afghanistan.
When the inevitable Afghan insurgency began and Musharraf had to fight the Taliban, the Bush administration told the media that the Pakistan army was fighting the Taliban at the behest of the US because the militants threatened US forces in Afghanistan. In other words, the Pakistan army was not killing Muslims that threatened Pakistan. This not only thoroughly delegitimised US ally Musharraf, it also further weakened the already feeble resolve of the soldiers to fight the Taliban.
Conversely, it gave a new lease of life to the Swati Mullah’s movement which was dormant since Sufi Mohammad’s arrest in 2002. US drone attacks in Pakistan which caused large civilian casualties and Musharraf’s Jamia Hafsa debacle that killed hundreds of unarmed civilians fuelled the fires of militancy further. It remains to be investigated as to whether or not a foreign hand is supplying Mullah Fazlullah with the finances he seems to be lavishly using in pursuit of his objectives.
Whatever the causes of Swati insurgency, trying to curb any insurrection by conceding to unreasonable demands is counterproductive. In the case of Swat, it is downright dangerous due to a host of reasons that lie at the intersection of regional and international politics.
The Swat problem is better explained within the larger picture. The rise of Islamic terrorism coincides with the discovery that the world’s oil production has peaked and what remains underground is not going to go round for long. The anxiety produced by this discovery is augmented by the fact that rapid industrialisation in the developing world is jacking up the demand for oil. There is global expectation that a rivalry for access to oil resources will intensify in years to come.
The ownership of most of the world’s oil reserves lies with the Islamic states of the Middle East whose defence capability is not commensurate with their monopoly of a key strategic commodity in the 21st century. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was cognisant of this gap and tried to prepare the Islamic countries to deal with it as early as 1973.
The intense animosity that Bhutto incurred from the United States was a corollary of this effort on his part. The lavish praise that Benazir got from Washington was due to the fact that she shut the door of this struggle on Pakistan People’s Party, thereby changing the direction of what was hitherto Pakistan’s largest political organisation.
Though the US has been the unquestioned hegemon in the Middle East ever since the Second World War, neocons doubt the hegemonic momentum is sustainable in the long run due to the rise of new centres of Asian power in China and India. Emboldened by their unrivalled military strength during the shake up in the international kaleidoscope caused by the demise of the USSR, they have decided to rearrange the world to their benefit before the pieces settle down.
Lacking imagination, all they could think of was to turn the political clock backwards and reinvent imperialism to safeguard their energy interests. The international consensus that evolved out of humanity’s struggle against imperialism holds the invasion and occupation of foreign lands to be immoral. Hence the neocons had to come up with a strategy for justifying a condemned policy.
Because the rise of Al Qaeda coincides with the above-mentioned development in the world’s economic history, and because it has been used as the pretext for invading countries not involved in 9/11, it is reasonable to assume that a certain degree of political engineering has originally gone into its making. The windfall profits from the dotcom bonanza of the nineties allowed the US intelligence comfortable access to tax payers’ money for financing covert operations that would plant the timed eruptions of terrorism in key strategic locations in the Middle East, thereby producing a moral Disney show that would lead the world to approve of the US invasion and occupation of otherwise much weaker countries in distant lands.
Osama bin Laden was ejected out of Sudan into Afghanistan at the behest of Washington. According to the 9/11 commission report, Sudan offered his custody to the US embassy but the ambassador declined. So did the Saudi government which works in close collaboration with the US in matters related to security. The fact that a dangerous international terrorist who openly called for worldwide attacks on US military and civilian assets, besides his involvement in the assassination attempt on the US ally Hosni Mubarak, was made to leave his known residence for an unknown one — no one yet knew he would land in Afghanistan — that too without the US embassy obtaining as much as even his fingerprints, casts aspersions on the sincerity of CIA’s pursuit of him.
Instead of arresting and interrogating bin Laden about his network, or getting the Saudi government to hang him, the US chose to rain 68 cruise missiles on Afghanistan from the Indian Ocean in 1998 because bin Laden now lived there. It highlights the theatrics that have gone into the making of CIA’s war on terror.
Zeenia Satti is an energy consultant and analyst of energy geopolitics based in Washington DC.
Source: Dawn, Karachi