Islamic Law Instituted In Pakistan's Swat Valley
By Pamela Constable
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, February 17, 2009; Page A08
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Feb. 16 -- The Pakistani government, desperate to restore peace to a Taliban-infested valley once known as the "Switzerland of Pakistan," agreed Monday to enforce strict Islamic law in the surrounding district near the Afghan border, conceding to a long-standing demand by local Islamist leaders who in turn pledged to ask the fighters to lay down their arms.
In announcing the agreement, Pakistani officials asserted that the adoption of sharia law would bring swift and fair justice to the Swat Valley, where people have long complained of legal corruption and delays. They said the new system would have "nothing in common" with the draconian rule of the Taliban militia that ran Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, during which thieves' hands were amputated and adulterers were stoned to death.
"There was a vacuum . . . in the legal system. The people demanded this and they deserve it," said Amir Haider Khan Hoti, chief minister of the North-West Frontier Province. The new system will include an appeals process, something the Afghan Taliban justice system did not allow for.
Militant leaders in the scenic Swat Valley, in a gesture of good faith, said they would observe a 10-day cease-fire while the new system is implemented. The Pakistani army said it would suspend operations in the area, and there were anecdotal reports of celebratory gunfire and of crowds returning to once-deserted streets.
But Pakistani critics blasted the deal as a dangerous concession to extremist insurgents who have terrified inhabitants of the valley for months, sending thousands fleeing to safer areas. They have bombed girls' schools, beheaded policemen, whipped criminals in public squares and assassinated activists from the secular Awami National Party that governs the North-West Frontier Province.
The critics expressed fear that this victory might spur the insurgents to push harder for the imposition of Islamic law in other areas, taking advantage of a promise by the Pakistani army to pull back from the surrounding area if peace is restored.
The new special U.S. envoy to the region, Richard C. Holbrooke, underscored American concerns Monday when he said the insurgent takeover of Swat, once a popular tourist destination, had shown that "India, the U.S. and Pakistan all have a common threat now." In New Delhi, Holbrooke said he had spoken to people from Swat during his recent visit to Pakistan and found them "frankly quite terrified."
As Pakistani officials were defending their decision to negotiate with the insurgents, a U.S. missile attack by an unmanned aircraft on a suspected insurgent camp killed more than 30 people in the nearby tribal area of Kurram. The second such attack in three days, it came amid increasing protests by opposition groups that the government is sacrificing Pakistani lives and sovereignty to U.S. strategic interests.
President Asif Ali Zardari said Friday that there was "no alternative" but to use force against the insurgents, and his government is widely believed to accept the controversial drone attacks. Yet Zardari, after some initial hesitation and wording changes, also approved the new sharia plan for Malakand Agency, the large district in the North-West Frontier Province that includes Swat.
Pakistan's information minister, Sherry Rehman, rejected suggestions that the Malakand accord was a concession to the insurgents, saying it is "in no way a sign of the state's weakness." In a statement issued Monday night from Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, she said Zardari will implement sharia law "after the restoration of peace in the region."
Leaders of the Awami National Party here said they also supported the agreement even though their own views are more secular and they have been targeted by insurgent attacks. They said the government does not have sufficient force to defeat the Taliban and foreign fighters based in the autonomous tribal areas along the Afghan border. So, they said, it needs to negotiate with local militant groups in nearby areas such as Swat to isolate the renegade hard-liners in the tribal sanctuaries.
"I have agreed to put my personal hardships behind me for the sake of peace," said Wajid Ali Khan, a provincial official from Swat who said that he was put on a Taliban hit list and that his brother was assassinated because of his Awami affiliation. "We have addressed the core issue, which was Nizam-e-Adl [sharia law system], so now the fighting and other activities should stop."
But deals with Islamist groups in Pakistan have a history of failure, and this one has several weaknesses. It was not signed by any Swat insurgents but by an older insurgent leader, Sufi Mohammad, who must now persuade the younger and more firebrand fighters to disarm. Mohammad led an armed uprising in Swat in 1994 to bring in sharia rule, but it failed and he was imprisoned for several years, allowing his more radical son-in-law to take over the movement.
After a day-long meeting Monday that led to the announcement of a deal, one senior member of the local sharia movement named Mohammed Iqbal, wearing a long beard and large turban, said the group was satisfied and would soon set out to speak to the Swat fighters. "When sharia is implemented, there will be peace, not only in Malakand but all over the world," Iqbal said.
Pak’s Sharia appeasement to embolden Taliban: Analysts
Reuters Posted: Feb 17, 2009 at 1743 hrs IST
Islamabad: Pakistan has gambled that an offer to introduce Islamic law to parts of the northwest will bring peace to the troubled Swat valley, but analysts fear any lull won't last long and appeasement will embolden the Taliban.
Western officials fear Pakistan is taking a slippery road that will only benefit al-Qaeda and the Taliban, but Pakistani authorities believe the alternative of using overwhelming force on people who are, after all, Pakistani posed a greater danger.
The Central Government has said the Sharia Nizam-e-Adl, or the judicial system governed by Islamic Sharia law, won't be implemented in the Malakand division of North West Frontier Province, which includes Swat, unless the guns fall silent.
The Taliban announced a 10-day ceasefire on Sunday, while the NWFP government has said that while the military will remain deployed in Swat, there won't be any offensives, only reactive actions.
Amnesty International estimates that between 250,000 and 500,000 people have fled their homes since late 2007, when the Taliban revolt began in Swat, an alpine region 130 km northwest of Islamabad.
Tens of thousands have fled since August, 2008 after an earlier peace deal broke down.
Known as Pakistan's ‘Switzerland’ and once a popular tourist destination, Swat has become associated with sickening sights.
People in the scenic valley witnessed public beheadings and summary executions by Taliban fighters administering their brand of justice.
Bombs have targeted security forces, schools have been torched as part of a campaign against female education, and aid workers running immunisation programmes for children have been chased away by Islamists.
"If peace comes through this agreement, then we wholeheartedly accept it. After all, we're Muslims and want Islamic system," said Mohammad Naeem, a teacher in Mingora, the main town in Swat, whose own school was destroyed.
Analysts, however, see the pact as little more than a tactic to buy time, as the government seeks a firmer foothold in a region over which it had lost control.
They fear reluctance to permanently deal with reactionary forces will lead to greater problems later on. That has certainly been Swat's history in the last two decades.
"I think this is going to be another blunder by the government," said Khadim Hussain of the private Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy.
"There may be a lull for awhile, but I think the government will again be trapped in more fighting. There will be more violence."
Monday's agreement was the third such pact signed by Pakistani authorities with Maulana Sufi Mohammad, a radical cleric who began a violent campaign for the enforcement of Islamic Sharia law in the region in the 1990s.
The first agreement provided for the appointment of a Qazi, or an Islamic jurist, to assist a judge in deciding disputes in line with Islamic injunctions, though the jurist's advice was non-binding.
In the second pact signed in 1999, the advice of the jurist was made binding though it was never enforced.
The latest accord, sets time limits on how long a court can take to decide a case, and establishes a designated appellate bench, meeting two key desires by the people for better justice.
Analysts say the government may be trying to drive a wedge between hardline followers of the elderly Mohammad and even more radical militants led by his young son-in-law, Fazlullah.
It is a risk.
Even if the laws being brought are far softer interpretation of Sharia than the harsh Taliban version, giving ground to the Islamists would set a ‘bad precedent’, analysts said.
It could convince the most irreconcilable militants that their violent campaign was working.
"The present Talibanisation is not just a movement for enforcement of Sharia," Asad Munir, a former military intelligence official who served in NWFP and adjoining tribal areas wrote in ‘The News’ daily.
"The mullahs want power, authority and a defined role in decision-making in the social system of Pashtun society."
Pakistani authorities have struck a number of deals in the past with militants in the tribal areas, known sanctuaries for al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Generally, the violence dies down for awhile and then flares again. Analysts didn't foresee Fazlullah and his fighters staying quiet for long.
"The militants are not going to give up their control. They will be getting more capability to launch more strikes, more violence if the agreement does not work," Hussain said.
A long winter in Swat
Murtaza Razvi Posted: Feb 18, 2009 at 2243 hrs IST
The Swat valley’s steady descent into chaos, from a bustling leisure tourism destination up until the ’90s to a cultural wasteland now controlled by a bunch of medieval-minded Taliban, tells a sorry tale of state complacence, as it continues to fail. Monday’s agreement signed between the Government and the local Taliban in Swat will change little for the wronged people of the valley; it only puts a stamp of approval over the sealing of their fate. The mullahs have won this battle as the government buckles under pressure.
Eleven months into office, this government presided over by Asif Ali Zardari has built a dubious record of saying one thing and doing the other. Examples abound, in domestic and foreign affairs. But let’s stick to the latest bungling: two days before the government agreed to a ceasefire deal with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan in Swat, Zardari had assured the nation that fighting off the Taliban was the only way forward.
The deal struck in the valley is dangerous in its implications. It has virtually made the entire area over to the Taliban, where their hitherto illegal writ in the garb of Islamic Sharia laws is now being accepted as a fait accompli. Under the deal, those forced to seek justice from Sharia courts will now have no right of appeal in a higher civil court. How could you have two parallel justice systems running in the same country? And knowing justice, Taliban style, leaves one with cold feet. The intolerant and brutal tribal warlords know no mercy, and have no regard for human life and dignity. Summary executions of men and women who do not subscribe to their brand of Islam are the only justice they practise.
The father-in-law-son-in-law duo of Sufi Mohammad and Fazlullah have acted like bandits for years now, terrorising the traditionally peace-loving and docile Swatis. Taliban vigilantes under their command have been blowing up public infrastructure, including the Swat airport, power houses and several tourist resorts. They have been beheading their opponents in public execution stunts, destroying girls’ schools and colleges, killing barbers who dare to offer a shaving service to men; enforcing a dress code, systematically brutalising women who step out of the house and burning down music shops have been their preoccupation. Is this the vision the government has for a progressive Pakistan, free of terrorism?
The people of Swat deserve better, not least because in last year’s election they had voted for the same secular parties, the People’s Party and the Awami National Party (PPP and ANP), which have now buckled under pressure and bargained their electorates’ basic rights away. It is some measure of their medieval mindset that after declaring war on the state, the Taliban had forced vehicles entering the Swat valley to drive on the right hand (wrong) side of the road because driving on the left was supposedly un-Islamic. So are women’s education and men without beards.
Swat was the country’s favourite tourist destination dotted with pre-Islamic national heritage sites until the two clerics started flexing their muscles. This is not the first time the government has struck a so-called peace deal with them. The Benazir Bhutto government back in 1994 had also reached a similar agreement whereby Sharia laws were promulgated in the region. Then, in 1999, the Sharif government had offered more if the mullahs refrained from recruiting young men for jihad in Afghanistan. The Musharraf regime, too, soft-peddled the issue, allowing an illegal anti-state propaganda FM radio station to continue, but there was no end to the demands made by the clerics and their vigilante goons who went around enforcing Sharia at gunpoint. Since 2007, there has been utter lawlessness in the valley; the army was reluctantly forced to launch a clean-up operation after the local police ran for their lives.
If the past is any guide, it’s only a matter of time as to when the current agreement will collapse. But more important, the signing of the ceasefire deal from a position of weakness on the part of the government has sent out a very wrong signal. It is an unequivocal failure, due largely to the lack of will in Islamabad to contain militarism inside Pakistan and its spill-over elsewhere. Now that the Taliban have pressured the Frontier’s provincial government and Islamabad into acquiescence in one part of the country, what is to stop them from replicating their designs elsewhere?
The ANP-led Frontier government has been totally inept in dealing with the emerging threat, one whose very target is the ANP itself. It has been very sheepish and rather embarrassed about the ongoing military operations in parts of the adjacent Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), which are the hotbed of Islamist terrorism that eyes the whole wide world, far beyond Pakistan’s own borders.
The ceasefire, even if it holds for a while, will give way to more acts of lawlessness as defined by the constitution of Pakistan. As the Taliban go about enforcing Sharia, there is bound to be untold misery caused to the hapless people at its receiving end. All kinds of rights abuses will be instituted as part of keeping order; women will be among the most disadvantaged. And what’s to stop the Taliban from regrouping as the ceasefire lasts, and expanding their writ to the neighbouring districts?
These are troubling signs of the government’s capitulation before a public enemy against whom it has failed to protect its citizens. The Taliban and the like need to be weeded out; there cannot be any rules of engagement with such rogue elements. No responsible state can barter away its citizens’ rights to a group of bandits who only believe in violence as their tool of operation. The Taliban can lay no claim to being in the mainstream of politics because it is not the ballot but the bullet on which their power rests. The state is acting against its own citizens by according such elements any recognition by signing the so-called peace deal with them, and that too without passing it through parliament.
The writer is an editor with ‘Dawn’, Karachi
Pak’s surrender dismays liberals
By Badar Alam in Lahore
Monday’s agreement on imposing sharia in Swat instead of taking on the Islamists has drawn flak
ISLAMABAD’S agreement with the Islamist militants in Swat Valley for the enforcement of a sharia-based justice system in the area has dismayed liberals in Pakistan. Questions have been raised from several quarters on why what is now being touted as the only possible answer to the trouble in the valley was then delayed for so long.
Shaheen Sardar Ali, a UKbased legal expert, writing in Dawn, castigated the government for its failure to take militancy by its horns.
“The government keeps trying the same old methods in Swat that have flopped earlier... may we ask, for how long this peace accord is due to last and at what cost? Last year, a similar accord was signed. What is so different this time?” she wrote.
“It sends a disastrous signal: fight the state militarily and it will give you what you want — and get nothing in return,” observed an editorial note in the same paper. It noted the new justice system in Swat “will neither address the people’s demand for justice nor help in defeating the militants”.
“If the government had no other solution, why did it wait for so long and for so many ordinary people and armymen to get killed?” said Ahmed Fraz Khan, a media professional in Lahore. The agreement announced on Monday, he said, had been on the drawing board for quite some time but “we thought the government will come up with some new ideas to end strife in Swat”. Khan lamented that all the lives lost during this time, all the businesses destroyed and all the socio-cultural fabric of the area torn apart “have at the end of the day come to nothing”.
While there is wide scepticism, there was optimism in good measure too. Aftab Sherpao, who served as interior minister under Pervez Musharraf, said the previous peace agreement failed because both sides — the government as well as the militants — backed out of their commitments. “The earlier agreement failed because the government started dragging its feet under American pressure,” he said. “Washington may oppose the new accord too but the (Pakistani) government needs to draw a line somewhere and defend its interests,” added Sherpao, an influential politician in the North West Frontier Province, where Swat is located.
Raza Rabbani, a senior member of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party and the leader of the house in the Senate, the upper house of the Pakistani parliament, said the Swat accord is in line with a resolution passed by a joint sitting of the parliament in October 2008. Afrasyab Khattak, a senior leader of the Awami National Party that rules the frontier province, hoped the agreement ushers in peace.
“The government has tried to fill a legal vacuum in (Swat) because people of the region were facing difficulties in getting justice at an affordable cost,” he said.
Maulana Samiul Haq, head of his own faction of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam and head of the seminary that claims many senior Taliban leaders including Mullah Omar among its students, appreciated the accord and the enforcement of a sharia-based justice system in Swat. He said the new justice system is “meant to provide quick and inexpensive justice to the people and not to enforce Islamic values and ethics by force”. He warned: “We’ll not only lose Swat; the entire country will plunge into unending violence if this opportunity is lost.”
DEAL WILL AFFECT ENTIRE COUNTRY
by A.H. Nayyar
THE MALAKAND deal agreed upon on Monday between the provincial government of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Tehreek Nifaz-e-sharia Mohammadi (TNSM) — a movement for the enforcement of Mohammadan laws — is likely to have far-reaching consequences for the entire society of Pakistan. Religious political circles all over the country are jubilant at the news, while secular sections are down with gloom.
It is important to know why the government found it necessary to take this step, why secular sections of the society are disappointed, and what can be the possible outcome of this extraordinary step.
The ruling Awami National Party (ANP), led by the grandson and other followers of the Sarhadi Gandhi, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, had in fact started off in the NWFP government by trying to confront Islamic militancy with Pukhtunwali, the Pukhtun traditional code. After failing to make any headway, it found it necessary to ask the federal government to allow it to promulgate Sharai Nizam-e- Adl (religious code of justice) in the Malakand division.
Malakand is a part of the provincially administered tribal area (PATA), which also includes the princely states of Swat, Dir and Chitral, and a few tribal areas of Kohistan and Hazara. PATA regulations were framed and enforced on these areas in the seventies, while the Frontier Crimes Regulations remained enforced on the federally administered tribal area (FATA). PATA regulations were quashed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 1994, and were later replaced by the Frontier Crimes Regulations.
During the Afghan war, when mullahs of every hue were being patronised by the Pakistani state as well as the USA and other European countries, a local mullah Sufi Mohammad started the TNSM from a small mosque, and it slowly became a name to reckon with. He went to Afghanistan with 30,000 of his followers to support the Taliban government under US attack in 2001, received a severe beating and ran for his life. The government of Pakistan arrested him on reentering the country, and put him behind bars for seven years. But that was not to be the end of him.
His son-in-law Fazlullah started a similar movement in the adjoining Swat district, the scenic tourist resort of Pakistan. Not only was the movement for enforcement of sharia laws, it also became more aggressive and militant under the influence of the rampaging Tehreek-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Pakistani version of the main contenders of power in Afghanistan.
The TTP is mainly active in the FATA region that spreads along the Afghan border from South Waziristan to the Bajaur agency.
Fazlullah has spread his terror in the entire Swat area, and it is often held that his militia exercises full control over the entire district. His forces have targeted girls’ schools, video and TV shops, and barber shops, as also cinema houses and stage artists. The state was conspicuous by its inability to provide protection to its citizens.
The ANP, which had won all the national and provincial assembly seats from Swat, failed to face Fazlullah’s and Sufi Mohammad’s militancy with Pukhtunwali. THE Wali of Swat ruled the state with an iron fist, but under his own Nizam-e-Adl (system of justice). After the state was incorporated into Pakistan in the late sixties, the colonial frontier crimes regulations were enforced on the area, and merged into the newly formed Malakand division.
I am very unhappy with this development. The mullahs have made the government agree to it from a position of strength. The ANP is fighting a battle of survival, and is clutching at straws. Its political strategy of confronting mullaism with Pukhtunwali failed last year. It had no takers, and mulla warlordism surged because of the absence of the rule of law that the provincial government could not establish. The ANP’s new premise is that a pacified Swat mullah would become an ally against the terrorist mullah coming from FATA. I think they are oversimplifying things.
The mullahs of the two kinds are not antagonistic to each other. Rather, they would be partners in the struggle for enforcement of sharia. One small victory would, for them, pave the way for a major thrust in this direction in the future.
The federal government is still playing safe. It is showing reluctance in accepting the ANP recipe. It has said President Asif Ali Zardari would not sign the law until peace is assured. WE STILL do not know where the military stands. I am sure the military would be asked in the coming days to move out of streets of major Swat cities, and the space would be taken over by the mullahs to restore peace together with their primitive sense of justice. It is very unlikely that the ANP would demand any justice against the killers of their slain party activists and leaders. They are starting from a position of weakness. I foresee that the Taliban-like system of justice would take roots in Swat slowly but surely.
The litmus test of change would be reopening of girls’ schools, and participation of women in social and economic activities. Would the provincial government provide assured protection to video and barber shops?
What about the other actors? How would Fazlullah behave? I suspect that initially, the likes of him would calm down, but sensing blood they would become more assertive in future. In very near future.
That Swat will have an induced effect on nearby regions is a foregone conclusion. There would be demands for similar laws from other regions, and how the provincial government plans to meet this challenge is anybody’s guess. I see them becoming increasingly unable to resist such pressures. In short, I see the ANP formula as capitulation before mullahs rather than restraining them.
(The writer is a peace activist and Senior Research Fellow at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Islamabad)
Swat valley locals happy to buy Sharia peace
17 Feb 2009, 2102 hrs IST, Nandita Sengupta, TNN
NEW DELHI: The world may be outraged over Pakistan government's truce with the Taliban but Swat valley, the focal point of the deal, erupted in
joy on Tuesday.
There was general merriment on the streets of Mingora, the valley's most important town, say activists based in Peshawar and Mingora. Not everybody supports Taliban. But many are relieved by the promise of normalcy after being sandwiched between Taliban and the army over a 20-month stretch of bloodbath.
"We wanted peace at any cost. In Swat, people are very happy and celebrating," Musarrat Hilali, Peshawar-based lawyer-activist told TOI on phone. "Everyone's calling it the great surrender but even I am 10% happy. At least I feel safe," says Hilali, a staunch supporter of ousted Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.
Fear among locals had reached sickening heights in the last year with 1,200 people killed in the valley also described as the Switzerland of Pakistan. Over 170 schools and colleges have been reduced to rubble by bombing and around 300,000 people displaced.
The imposition of Sharia law is being seen as a way out of the impasse. For the past two years, local courts were deserted. Which is why out-of-work advocate A Vilayat, who works in Mingora, is preparing to return to court. He is expecting work to be altered by the new Sharia laws. "Sharia was imposed earlier in 1994 then in 1999. This
time we expect more changes," he says.
On Tuesday, talks between the jirga (elders) of the Taliban and local administrations were expected to bring in new hierarchies. There will be no concept of Supreme Court anymore, says Vilayat. "The headquarters of the new courts for the region will be in Mingora. Cases won't have to be taken to Islamabad any longer," he says.
Criminal cases will have to be closed within four months, civil cases within six months. A three-month crash course will be mandatory in the Islamic Council for those who haven't studied Sharia laws in their LLB. A Sharia representative, possibly from the Taliban, will be present with greater power in every court. In 1994, such a person was paid Rs 5,000 per month; in 1999, Rs 10,000. The final stop for all appeals will be the Mingora court.
Designations will be changed, so a judge will become a qazi a sessions judge, a zila qazi. A beard will be compulsory for all judicial officers.
"People are romantic about Sharia," says columnist-activist Zubair Torwali who fled Swat in December. "With this truce, the government believes it has isolated the militants from the locals, and the militants believe they won because their demands are being met."
Despite the relief, everyone knows the peace may be short-lived. "This rule may spread to the rest of the country. It's not the judicial system. It's a question of who is the power centre. In Pakistan now, anyone can impose their writ on the strength of the gun," says Hilali.
Torwali, for one, will wait till March to see how things will pan out before planning a return. "We are sceptical. I am not sure what will ultimately happen."
But Vilayat is not expecting anyone to return right now. Many houses have been destroyed like the schools. "Schools are expected to open by March but where are the schools?" he laughs in resignation.
Pakistan defends Swat decision
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Tuesday defended its decision to set up Islamic courts in a large part of the North West Frontier Province to buy peace from the Taliban in Swat, calling it a positive step towards restoring government rule in the militant-overrun valley.
But a spokesman for NATO, which has troops in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, called it a “reason for concern” that a “safe haven” had been created for extremists.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the pact needed to be studied, but flagged the “direct threat” that extremists in Pakistan posed to the U.S. “and a number of other nations”.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani welcomed the agreement and said it was in line with the government’s “3-D” policy to tame militancy: dialogue, development and deterrence.
Minister for Information and Broadcasting Sherry Rehman said on Tuesday the Swat deal would ensure peace and help provide speedy justice to the people.
Under the deal, signed between the NWFP government and a group called the Tehreek-e-Nifas-e-Sharia Mohammadi, a system of Islamic courts will be set up in the Malakand division of the province, which includes seven districts including Swat Valley.
This is not the same as imposing Sharia law as the new Nizam-e-Adl courts are meant to dispense justice under existing Pakistani laws.
But experts fear much will depend on how the qazis, the Islamic judges who will head the courts, interpret the law. The TNSM’s part of the bargain is that its leader, Maulana Sufi Mohammed, will help to return Swat to government rule. For this, he must persuade his son-in-law, Maulana Fazlullah, who has ousted the government from most parts of Swat, to accept government rule.
The ageing Sufi Mohammed waded into the Taliban-dominated Swat on Tuesday heading a “peace caravan” to open negotiations with the militants, but analysts are sceptical of his influence on Fazlullah.
From Pakistan, Taliban threats reach New York
Pakistani immigrants from Swat Valley say some of their families are being singled out for threats, kidnapping and even murder by Taliban forces.
The fate of the Swat Valley dominates conversation among the Swati immigrants in the U.S. The picture shows displaced Pakistanis arriving in a secure area of the troubled Swat Valley.
Last June, Bakht Bilind Khan, who was living in the Bronx and working at a fast-food restaurant, returned to his village in the volatile Swat Valley of northern Pakistan to visit his wife and seven children for the first time in three years. But during a dinner celebration with his family, his homecoming suddenly turned dark: several heavily armed Taliban fighters wearing masks appeared at the door, accused Khan of being an American spy and kidnapped him.
During two weeks of captivity in a nearby mountain range, Khan says, he was interrogated repeatedly about his wealth, property and “mission” in the United States. He was released in exchange for an $8,000 ransom. His family, threatened with death if it did not leave the region, is now hiding elsewhere in Pakistan.
“Our Swat, our paradise, is burning now,” said Khan, 55, who returned to the U.S. and is working at a fast-food restaurant in Albany, trying to reimburse the friends and relatives who paid his ransom.
Pakistani immigrants from the Swat Valley, where the Taliban has been battling Pakistani security forces since 2007, say some of their families are being singled out for threats, kidnapping and even murder by Taliban forces, who view them as potential American collaborators and lucrative sources of ransom. Some immigrants also say they have been threatened in the U.S. by the Taliban or its sympathisers, and some say they have been attacked or kidnapped when they have returned home.
The threats have brought an added dimension of suffering for the immigrants, who say fresh reports of hardship arrive in New York every day, sometimes several times a day, and spread quickly among the several thousand Swati immigrants in the region: families driven from their villages, houses being destroyed, relatives disappearing. The fate of the valley dominates conversation among the exiles.
“It’s 24/7,” said Zakrya Khan, 30, owner of two gyro restaurants in New York whose staff of 15 is almost entirely Swati. “This is their only concern now.”
Though every community of exiles from a conflict-ridden country suffers when relatives who remain behind are caught in the fight, the immigrants from Swat also bear the burden of believing that their presence in America is endangering their relatives back home, where the Taliban has imposed its authority over much of the region.
More than that, Swati immigrants say they have been left with the sense that the more they try to help their families back home, the more harm they may do, an excruciating dilemma that has filled many with a combination of helplessness, fear, sadness and guilt.
If they speak out, they fear, it could lead to retribution for them or their relatives in Pakistan. Some exiles who have participated in anti-Taliban political demonstrations or agitated in support of Swat residents say they and their families have come under pressure as a result of these activities. And few dare leave the U.S. for fear of losing the single largest income stream their families have.
The Pakistan government announced on Monday that it had struck a tentative deal with the Taliban amid a 10-day ceasefire to establish Islamic law in the region and suspend military operations there.
But some Swati immigrants said they were sceptical the deal would hold — two other accords in the last six months failed — and they were bracing for a resumption of violence.
Before the start of the Taliban’s incursion into the region in 2007, Swat was treasured as a vacation spot, particularly among Pashtuns, the dominant ethnic group in the region. Known as “the Switzerland of Pakistan,” it has snowy peaks, fruit orchards, lakes and flower-covered meadows. But the tourism industry has evaporated amid the Taliban’s uprising, and by some estimates, hundreds of thousands of residents have abandoned their homes, fleeing for Mingora or other regions of Pakistan.
Immigrants have been coming from the Swat Valley for years, well before it became a front in the war between the Taliban and Pakistani troops. There are an estimated 6,000 to 7,000 people from the Swat Valley in the U.S., about half of whom live in the New York metropolitan region, said Taj Akbar Khan, president of the Khyber Society USA, a Pakistani charitable and cultural organisation.
Many Swatis suspect that the Taliban has spies among them, and that insecurity mirrors the rampant mistrust in the valley where many residents fear the Pakistani security forces almost as much as the Taliban and do not know whom to trust. Perhaps with the help of state-side sympathisers, the Taliban has been adept at tracking the flow of money from the U.S. and has turned to kidnapping recipients of the money with the goal of securing hefty ransoms, the exiles say.
Ajab, owner of a fried chicken shop in Paterson, said the Taliban kidnapped a brother-in-law last year near the family’s village in the Swat Valley. During 75 days of captivity, the Taliban fighters told the brother-in-law that one of the reasons they had kidnapped him was that he had relatives in the U.S., including Ajab. The fighters released him after the family paid a $20,000 ransom. “We are sad that because of us, our relatives are getting into trouble,” said Ajab, 51, who spoke only on the condition that his last name not be published to protect his family’s identity.
Not all of the violence visited upon the families of exiles has been due to the exiles’ presence in the U.S. But the difficulty of watching it at such a remove has been no less agonising. Leaving behind his family in Swat, Jihanzada came to the U.S. in 2001 to earn money to build his dream house back home and to pay for the future weddings of his five children. He did numerous menial jobs in Boston and New York.
“Everything I earned I sent back home,” he said in an interview last week at a fast-food restaurant in Brooklyn where he works. He, too, spoke on the condition that he not be fully identified for fear of alerting the Taliban to his presence in the U.S. “If they knew I was here, they would definitely harm my family,” he said.
The house was completed early last year; Jihanzada still has not seen it: he has not returned to Pakistan since he left eight years ago. But during fighting last summer between the Taliban and the Pakistani security forces, a bomb dropped by Pakistani aircraft demolished the house. Jihanzada’s family had evacuated before the fighting began and are now living in Mingora. His eldest daughter’s wedding was postponed.
Jihanzada, who said he could not return to Pakistan because he had an asylum petition pending, received photographs of the destruction soon after the attack. Asked how he felt when he first saw the photographs, he dropped his head, concealing his face behind the brim of his brown restaurant cap and trying to stem a surge of sadness.
Finally, he continued: “This is every Pashtun’s dream: You earn, you build a home, your children grow up in it and when you get old you go and sit at home and enjoy life. I’m sad because my struggles start again.
(Majeed Babar contributed reporting.)
” — New York Times News Service
Sweat over Swat
Sheren Zada | Mingora, Pakistan
Battle-weary residents welcomed a pro-Taliban cleric dispatched by the government Tuesday to convince militants in the former tourist haven of Swat to stop fighting in exchange for the imposition of Islamic law and suspension of military offensives there.
Sufi Muhammad arrived in a caravan of some 300 vehicles in Swat’s main city of Mingora a day after he struck the truce, which a US defense official called “negative” and several analysts said represented a surrender to extremists fanning out from nearby strongholds close to the Afghan border.
“We are happy. People are welcoming us,” Swat resident Shah Wali, who was traveling with the motorcade, told The Associated Press. Many in the caravan wore black turbans - a Taliban trademark. People along the way lined the route, waving and cheering the procession, television footage showed.
Several Swat residents welcomed the attempt at peace after months of fighting that killed hundreds, forced up to a third of the valley’s 1.5 million people to flee and halted tourism in the stunning scenic area now believed to be mostly under militant control.
The provincial government in northwest Pakistan announced the deal Monday after it met with Islamists led by Muhammad, who has long demanded that Islamic, or Shariah, law be followed in this conservative corner of Pakistan. As part of the deal Muhammad agreed to travel to Swat and discuss peace with Maulana Fazlullah, the leader of the Swat Taliban and Muhammad’s son-in-law. Muhammad was detained in 2002 after he sent thousands to fight US troops in Afghanistan, but Pakistan freed him last year after he agreed to renounce violence.
It is unclear how much influence he has over Fazlullah or exactly where they would meet, though a spokesman for the Swat Taliban leader welcomed Muhammad and has spoken positively of the truce. The Swat Taliban said Sunday they would observe an initial 10-day cease-fire in a show of good faith.
Pakistan’s inability to re-establish its authority in Swat has embarrassed the shaky civilian government and the military. However, Pakistani leaders insisted the deal was not a concession, but an attempt to fulfill demands by locals for a more efficient justice system.
Some 2,000 militants are believed to operate in the valley, and, in defiance of the presence of some 10,000 paramilitary and army troops, they have already set up their own courts, meting out punishments in line with an exceptionally harsh brand of Islamic law.
Many analysts questioned whether the fighters would listen to Muhammad and said they doubted the deal would stop violence. Similar deals struck in the past have failed, including one last year in Swat that security officials said the insurgents used to regroup and re-arm.
“This is simply a great surrender, a surrender to a handful of forces who work through rough justice and brute force,” said Athar Minallah, a lawyer and civil rights activist. “Who will be accountable for those hundreds of people who have been massacred in Swat? And they go and recognise these forces as a political force. This is pathetic.”
A senior US Defense Department official, said “it is hard to view this as anything other than a negative development.” He requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of relations with Pakistan and because he was not authorized to speak on the record. Officials said the main changes to the legal system under the agreement are included in existing laws that allow for Muslim clerics to advise judges when hearing cases and the setting up of an Islamic appeals court, they said, would ensure speedier and fairer justice.
The rules do not ban female education or contain other strict interpretations of Shariah that have been demanded by many members of the Taliban in Pakistan — restrictions imposed by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan before it was ousted by the US-led invasion in late 2001.
Musharraf denies backing Taliban
Describing as a “white lie” claims made in a new book that he had secretly backed the Taliban while participating in the US-led war on terror, former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf said on Tuesday that it was a conspiracy aimed at weakening Pakistan and the army. He also rejected reports that he had told slain former premier Benazir Bhutto that her security after her return to Pakistan in 2007 depended on her relationship with him. Musharraf said claims about his “double dealing” with the Taliban in the book, The Inheritance: the world Obama confronts and the challenges to American power”, written by New York Times journalist David Sanger were a “white lie and a distortion aimed at creating misunderstandings” and a “malicious campaign” directed against him, the Pakistan Army and the ISI.
Three killed in Pak car bomb attack
At least three persons were killed and 11 others injured on Tuesday when a car bomb went off outside the house of a government official, who played a key role in raising a tribal militia against the local Taliban, in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. Witnesses said the car bomb exploded near the ‘hujra’ (guest room) of the official, Muhammad Fahimullah, in Bazidkhel residential area on the outskirts of Peshawar, the capital of NWFP. Fahimullah had played a key role in raising a ‘lashkar’ (tribal militia) to oppose the activities of the local Taliban on the outskirts of Peshawar. Local officials said militants were killed in a gun battle with police in Bazidkhel last week and the Taliban might have carried out the car bomb attack in retaliation.
Swatis in US: Lucrative source of ransom for Taliban
Pakistani immigrants from the Swat Valley have alleged that some of their families were being singled out for threats, kidnapping and even murder by Taliban forces, which view them as potential American collaborators and lucrative sources of ransom, the New York Times reported on Tuesday. “It’s 24/7,” said Zakrya Khan, 30, the owner of two gyro restaurants in New York whose staff of 15 is almost entirely Swati was quoted as saying. “This is their only concern now.” Iqbal Ali Khan, the general secretary of the American chapter of the Awami National Party, a dominant secular political party in Swat, told the Times that he had received three threatening phone calls in the past two months. The callers, who did not identify themselves, told Khan he was “too active” and ordered him to bring USD one million with him on his next trip to Pakistan. “Or you know what will happen,” one caller was quoted by Khan as saying. The most recent call came last Tuesday. “You’re still active,” the caller said, Khan recalls. “This is the last warning.” On Wednesday, he told the paper that he received a dire call from his brother, who at that very moment was hiding in a forest on the outskirts of the valley’s largest city, Mingora, with their 97-year-old father. Estimated 6,000 to 7,000 people from Swat Valley are presently residing in the United States, about half of whom live in the New York metropolitan region, the paper said. ap
Swat Valley: The story so far
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 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.
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 organised huge road blockades in the Malakand Division to demand the enforcement of Islamic laws in the area. Benazir bought peace by accepting all his demands except one - that the Islamic courts to be set up in the Malakand Division be totally autonomous with the appellate courts in Peshawar and Islamabad having no jurisdiction over them. Her acceptance of TNSM’s other demands was not reversed by her successors Nawaz Sharif or Pervez Musharraf.
There were allegations by Sufi 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 issued a fatwa calling upon his followers to go to Afghanistan to fight against the US troops along with the Taliban. A large number of his followers led by him crossed over into Afghanistan. Many of them were mowed down in US air strikes. The survivors, including Sufi, fled back into Pakistani territory.
Musharraf had Sufi arrested and kept in preventive detention. He banned the TNSM as a terrorist organisation on January 15, 2002. Maulana Fazlullah, a son-in-law of Sufi, assumed the leadership of the TNSM and resumed the struggle for the implementation of the promises made by Benazir.
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 ‘Frontier Gandhi’ Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan and Benazir’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) defeated. A coalition of six religious fundamentalist parties, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), came to power in Peshawar after the elections.
The MMA Government closed its eyes to the activities of the TNSM and Fazlullah. 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. 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.
The inaction of the MMA and Musharraf Governments made TNSM 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 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.
This position of an uneasy co-existence changed after the Army commando raid in 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 that of the 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, many of them from Swat’s tribal families, were killed.
Angered by the alleged massacre of the girls, 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 were 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 the assassination of Benazir at Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007 was carried out by the followers of Baitullah for her alleged support to the commando raid in the Lal Masjid.
The intense anger over the Lal Masjid incidents led to a wave of suicide terrorism in tribal as well as non-tribal areas, including Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Lahore. TNSM’s suicide terrorism 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. Faced with this anger, Musharraf ordered the Army and the FC to act against 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.
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 returned to their villages. After the elected PPP-led Government came to power in March 2008, TNSM re-grouped and staged a spectacular come-back, pushed the army and FC out of the areas recovered by them and re-established its control over nearly 80 per cent of the territory of Swat.
In the February 2008 elections, MMA’s constituent parties did badly. The ANP and the PPP, marginalised by Musharraf in 2002, recovered their lost position in the electoral map of NWFP. The ANP, which emerged as the largest single party in NWFP, formed a coalition Government in Peshawar along with PPP and other like-minded groups. The ANP was, in turn, accommodated by Asif Ali Zardari in the federal coalition.
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, like the PML, believes 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 the Government can do business.
Zardari was hesitant to openly support ANP’s moves lest there be any misunderstanding with the US, but did not raise any objections to the ANP entering into a dialogue not with Fazlullah, who had taken to arms against the Army, but with Sufi, 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 lasting over several weeks, the ANP-led Government, with a reported nod of approval from Zardari, has signed an agreement with him on February 16, 2009, under which it has conceded the demands of TNSM related to criminal justice system.
The Government is hoping that in return Sufi 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.
Fazlullah has announced a 10-day ceasefire and ordered the release of a Chinese engineer, kidnapped by the TNSM last year, as goodwill gesture towards the Government. The Government reciprocated by releasing some TNSM activists, arrested under the Anti-Terrorism Act. The release of the engineer came a few days before Zardari’s planned departure to China on February 20 on an official visit.
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 in persuading Fazlullah to accept the agreement reached by him with the ANP-led Government and call off the fighting.
From a single-point agenda the TNSM under Fazlullah’s leadership has acquired a multi-point agenda - enforcing an autonomous criminal justice system in the Malakand Division of NWFP as a whole, releasing all those arrested during the raid in Lal Masjid, restoring the authority of the Mullas, re-establishing the madrasas of the masjid, acting against those responsible for the alleged massacre in the girls’ madrasa, recognising the right of Pashtuns of Pakistan to go to Afghanistan to help their counterparts against US-led coalition, discontinuing US Predator (unmanned aircraft) strikes in Pakistani territory and withdrawing Army from Swat Valley making the FC, which consists largely of Pashtuns, exclusively responsible for internal security.
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.
Islamic law in Swat not ‘concession’ to militants: Pakistan
Rezaul H Laskar | Islamabad
Pakistan has said that its decision to enforce Shari’ah in parts of NWFP, including the troubled Swat valley, should not be seen as a ‘concession’ to Taliban militants who have long been demanding imposition of the tough Islamic law.
President Asif Ali Zardari will approve the implementation of Islamic laws in Swat and Malakand only after the peace is restored in the region, Information Minister Sherry Rehman said.
The deal should not be seen as a ‘concession’ to the militants, she said last night, hours after the Government of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) entered an agreement with the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariah Mohammadi (TNSM), abolishing the legislation that goes against Shari’ah or Islamic law.
“It is in no way a sign of the state's weakness. The public will of the population of the Swat region is at the centre of all efforts and it should be taken into account while debating the merits of this agreement,” Rehman said.
The federal Government will monitor the situation in Swat and the security and well-being of the people of the region will be the top priority, she said. “The proposed Nizam-e-Adal Regulation (Islamic law) will bring speedy justice at the doorstep of the common man.
This regulation will also meet the demand of the people for the establishment of an appellate forum in their own area,” Rehman said.
The Pakistani Taliban also welcomed the agreement between religious hardliners and authorities to enforce Islamic law in the restive Swat and nearby areas.
Endorsing the pact signed by the North West Frontier Province Government and Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariah Mohammadi (TNSM) chief Sufi Mohammad, Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan said: "If Sufi Mohammad has signed the draft of the proposed Shari’ah package, then it is acceptable to us as he is an expert on Shariah."
Taliban a common threat, says Holbrooke
17 Feb 2009, 0236 hrs IST, TNN
NEW DELHI: India and the Obama administration had their first serious discussion about the deteriorating state of the Afghanistan-Pakistan
US envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke with Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee during a meeting in New Delhi. (Reuters Photo)
theatre in the backdrop of tensions following the Mumbai attacks and the Taliban takeover inside Pakistan. ( Watch )
US special envoy Richard Holbrooke spent the day meeting national security advisor M K Narayanan, foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon and foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee. Sources said he briefed the Indian officials about his travels in Pakistan and Afghanistan over the past week. Talking to journalists later, he said, "I carried no messages or guidance. I just wanted to hear the views of India on a wide range of issues."
What became clear is the common belief that it was Pakistan which needed greater attention, and that the Taliban problem may be manifesting itself in Afghanistan but its greater danger lay inside Pakistan. The discussions centred on the next steps that the US was contemplating in Pakistan.
With the US visibly reducing its dependence on Pakistan for the NATO supply chain, and now actively considering a multilateral approach to Afghanistan including Russia and Iran, the future of Afghanistan may now rest on more shoulders. But the problems in Pakistan are exponentially greater -- with its economy a basket case and the Taliban knocking on the doors of Islamabad besides the military-intelligence complex neck deep in Taliban activity.
Certainly, developments in Swat only sharpened the concern here. Walking out after his meeting with Mukherjee, Holbrooke said he had sought the Indian leadership's assessment of the situation in the region and briefed it about his visit to the two countries.
"For the first time in 60 years, your country, Pakistan and the US all face an enemy that poses direct threats to our leaderships, our capitals and our people," Holbrooke said. He described the threat from developments in Swat where Taliban has now imposed Sharia law, with Islamabad caving in. "I do want to underscore the fact that what happened in Swat demonstrates a key point, that India, US and Pakistan all have a common threat now," he said.
Recounting his visit to Pakistan last week, Holbrooke said, "I was in the tribal areas. I did not go to Swat but I was in Peshawar. I talked to people from Swat... They were frankly quite terrified." He said Swat had "really, deeply affected the people of Pakistan not just in Peshawar, but in Lahore and in Islamabad".
US frets over Pak's deal with Taliban
18 Feb 2009, 0145 hrs IST, Chidanand Rajghatta, TNN
WASHINGTON: The Obama administration’s yet to be formulated policy on Pakistan and Afghanistan is already being tested after Islamabad’s defiant
move to make another peace deal with the Taliban amid mounting US concern and frustration.
Both US and NATO officials have expressed disquiet about the latest ''peace'' deal in Swat, the kind which they say has in the past given Taliban and Al Qaeda elements space and time to regroup in Waziristan and other parts of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan.
US response to the rebellious Pakistani move has been muted given the upcoming review of Washington’s Af-Pak policy, but on a four-country Asia visit to China, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made no secret of American unease.
Washington is studying the agreement and trying to understand the Pakistani government’s ''intention and the actual agreed-upon language,'' Clinton told reporters on Tuesday in Tokyo, the first stop.
However, she added that ''activity by the extremist elements in Pakistan poses a direct threat to the government of Pakistan as well as to the security of the United States, Afghanistan and a number of other nations not only in the immediate region.''
But rights groups, NGOs, and think-tanks, were more direct in expressing a sense of foreboding about a prospective takeover of Pakistan by the Taliban, which they said the deal presaged. Many saw it as Islamabad ceding territory to the extremists and abdicating its responsibility to the people of Swat, many of whom are opposed to the Taliban and their extreme version of Islam.
''The government is reneging on its duty to protect the human rights of people from Swat Valley by handing them over to Taleban insurgents,'' said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director. ''Previously the government has launched indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks against the Taleban that have mostly harmed civilians. Now the human rights of these civilians will be in jeopardy if they live under Taleban laws.''
Belated noises from Islamabad that the deal was at the behest of the people of Swat are being met with skepticism in the overseas Pakistani community, the media, and the think tank community, all safe from the Taliban’s guns. ''Pakistan gives in to terrorists,'' raged Campbell Brown, a CNN anchor. On the blog American Thinker, one commentator remarked, ''That swirling sound you hear is Pakistan going down the drain...''
Pakistan’s move comes amid a massive trust deficit between Washington and Islamabad, and just days ahead of a visit here by the country’s army chief Pervez Kiyani, who was once seen as a hand-picked U.S ally, but is now regarded as a two-faced patron of terror, much the way his predecessor Pervez Musharraf is now being characterised.
Both Musharraf and Kiyani, and indeed the Pakistani military, have been exposed as duplicitous in a recent book called ''The Inheritance'' by New York Times reporter David Sanger in which he cites U.S intelligence phone taps that show Pakistani military’s double-dealing.
In one telling excerpt, Sanger describes a telephone-tap transcript passed to Mike McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence in May 2008, in which Kiyani is heard referring to the warlord terrorist Jalaluddin Haqqani as ''a strategic asset.'' Washington later intercepted calls from Pakistani military units to Haqqani, warning him of an impending military operation designed to prove to the US that Islamabad was tackling the militant threat.
''They must have dialled 1-800-HAQQANI'' a source tells Sanger. “]It was something like, ‘Hey, we’re going to hit your place in a few days, so if anyone important is there, you might want to tell them to scram’’’ The intercept was apparently the clue that led the CIA to uncover evidence of collusion between ISI and Haqqani in the bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul -- an act that would put Kiyani in the dock.
Surrender in Swat: The state withers away
Amit Baruah, Hindustan Times
February 18, 2009
Surrender. That’s what it is. The Pakistani state has capitulated to the Taliban by allowing the imposition of Shariat in the picturesque Swat Valley, part of the provincially administered tribal areas of the North-West Frontier Province.
And, the charge to buy peace in Swat, termed as the Switzerland of Pakistan, has been led by the two secular parties of Pakistan — the Awami National Party and the Pakistan Peoples Party.
“The fact is that this deal shows that the Pakistan military has in fact been defeated by the militants; that we are now incapable of retaining control of vast tracts of our own territory,” The News said in an editorial on Tuesday.
“This has implications for other parts of the country, where militants hold sway,” the paper said, pointing out that the day may come where the Pakistani state cedes power in more areas to the militants.
It’s not for the first time that the Pakistan government has tried to cut a deal with Sufi Mohammad, now considered a moderate in the face of the Taliban led by his son-in-law, Fazlullah. Previous attempts, too, have come a cropper.
Swat, known in ancient period as Udyana, had a significant Buddhist presence. The Pakistan army, despite the presence of 20,000 troops, has been unable to control the Taliban, which have burnt down hundreds of schools and beheaded people in public.
Some eight lakh residents, out of a total population of 18 lakhs, are said to have quit the Swat Valley. “Swat is a part of Pakistan but no governor, chief minister or the prime minister can venture to go there,” Haji Adeel, ANP leader, told Al Jazeera recently.
A small window to renege on the deal has, however, still been kept open by the Pakistan government, with Information Minister Sherry Rehman suggesting that President Asif Ali Zardari would sign the accord only after peace was restored in Swat.
Rehman warned the deal should not be seen as a “concession” to the militants. “It is in no way a sign of the state’s weakness.”
Signature, or no signature, the future of the deal and the institution of Shariat law, in itself, is a grave setback. Rather than bomb civilians from the air, the Pakistan army should have been able to deal with the insurgency led by Fazlullah and his associates by fighting on the ground.
The deal with the militants, in all likelihood, will unravel. Where will that leave the Pakistan state, army, and the country’s secular parties?
Pak’s truce with Taliban rings alarm bells in New Delhi
Pranab Dhal Samanta Posted: Feb 18, 2009 at 0209 hrs IST
New Delhi: The Pakistan government’s purchase of peace by acceding to the enforcement of Shariah in the Malakand division of NWFP — this includes the Swat Valley — has raised serious concerns in New Delhi on several counts — particularly the Pakistan Army’s apparent inability to squarely check the influence of Pakistani Taliban that is now beginning to reverberate even in the Punjab province.
Sources said it is tempting to conclude that the agreement marks nothing less than a “military surrender” even though some assessments from Pakistan suggest it could be a tactical retreat. Either way, the broad view in New Delhi is that the Pak Army has accepted its inability to go after Baitullah Mehsud’s Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in Waziristan without conceding ground in Malakand.
The truce is based on the assumption that Sufi Mohammed, founder of the Tanzim Nifaz Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM), with whom the agreement has been reached, will deliver on his word that violence will end. This is predicated on the influence he is said to hold over son-in-law Maulana Fazlullah, also known as Maulana Radio. Maulana Radio is the leader of militants who, under the TNSM, have been waging war in the Swat region.
Sufi Mohammed, arrested after he took 10,000 men to support the Taliban in their fight against NATO forces after 9/11, had showed a similar intent last April when a six-point agreement was firmed up. For this, his six-year sentence was commuted to four years and he was released from prison but later his son-in-law did not honour the agreement prompting Sufi Mohammed to disown Fazlullah. Things have come a full circle with Islamabad seemingly convinced that Fazlullah is on board this time.
These intricacies aside, New Delhi is of the view that these agreements are historically fragile and after some regrouping, matters worsen, particularly when Fazlullah has earlier recognized Mehsud as his leader.
Despite the official line that Nizam-e-Adl regulations have been agreed upon, not Shariah, there is clearly going to be differences over interpretation — this was witnessed during Zia-ul-Haq’s tenure when he sought to Islamise Pakistan laws.
Issues like whether fellow Muslims not be given sanctuary are bound to come up for debate when questions arise on handing over wanted terrorists.
As for the immediate impact of this truce, indications from Indian security agencies are that other fundamentalist outfits like Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed will feel emboldened. The truce with TNSM is being seen as a victory for the TTP, which is drawing in other locally active groups into its fold — many of these will be Kashmir-centred anti-India outfits.
Sources here point to two specific incidents in Punjab as disturbing pointers — the bombing of the Shia mosque in Dera Ghazi Khan on February 5 and the attack on a checkpost in Mianwali on February 7.
The latter is a small Pashtun town and an airbase in North-West Punjab close to the Frontier provinces where for the first time a shift in tactics was noticed. Unlike suicide bombs that were usually used for attacks in Punjab, this was a frontal armed assault indicating intent to capture and control. While these are unlikely to be TTP members, sources said, these were probably emboldened groups showcasing their allegiance to Mehsud.
Already, cable network owners have received threats in places like Muzaffargarh near Multan, where the LeT and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi are active. In the adjoining town of Kot Addu, the TTP — not previously known in that area — issued warnings to women to start wearing burqa. It’s quite possible that local groups may be behind this but the “Taliban branding” is beginning to create concern.
In this context, sources said, a military concession in Malakand is bound to double the currency of what is the Pakistani Taliban and encourage all Terror outfits operating out of Pakistan. India is also suspicious of the Pak military’s relationship with Pashtun sympathizers of the TTP because of the manner in which they have been settled in large numbers in Baluchistan to challenge Baluch nationalists.
Washington, too, has its compulsions. With US President Barack Obama committing to send 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, the US Army has been unable to move even a fraction of the logistics it needs because of stiff resistance and attacks from Mehsud’s men in the Khyber agency.
The US will hope that even as a poor option, the agreement in Swat — with which it has not interfered proactively — will purchase greater purpose and commitment from the Pak Army to enable easier movement of US logistics in the coming summer months.