New Age Islam
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Radical Islamism and Jihad ( 21 Jan 2009, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Taliban brutality in Swat: Muted protests won’t do

Taliban brutality in Swat: Muted protests won’t do

By Zubeida Mustafa

 

PAKISTANIS have perfected the art of protest. Karachi has posters plastered on the walls calling on people to demonstrate their solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza.

 

In 2007 Musharraf’s coup against the judiciary brought lawyers on to the roads until ‘democracy’ returned to this country. But why are the voices of protest so muted when it comes to Swat? To protest against such tragedies is a duty. And Swat is a tragedy that will ultimately shape the future of Pakistan.

 

Is there something more to the situation in Swat than meets the eye? True, the events there have been overshadowed by the larger picture of the war against terror in Fata and Afghanistan. But that doesn’t mean Swat has little to mourn about. It is not just the slaughter that has left the people speechless. It is the accompanying brutality and ruthlessness that make one’s blood curdle. Obviously, the idea is to spread terror. Some snippets from the press make chilling reading:

 

• The figure for civilian casualties runs into hundreds.

 

• 200,000 of Swat’s 1.7 million population have fled their homes.

 

• The government’s effective writ has receded from the state’s 5,337 sq km to 36 sq km around Mingora.

 

• To terrorise the people, militants resort to a public show of barbarity and instances have been reported of men’s throats being slit and their corpses being left hanging from poles with a warning that they should not be removed.

 

• Women have been ordered to stay home and those defying the ban have been proclaimed prostitutes and slain.

 

• Girls’ schools — the number varies from 170 to 200 — have been torched or bombed and female education prohibited.

 

• Men resisting the Taliban have been declared informers and accomplices of the government and shot dead or have had their property destroyed.

 

• The militants dominate the airwaves and Maulana Fazlullah’s FM radio continues to pour out its retrogressive messages of violence.

 

• Swat today has a visible presence of foreigners from Central Asia. What are they doing there?

 

• People speak of terrorists/training camps operating in the area.

 

• Tourism the mainstay of Swat’s economy is at a standstill.

 

These atrocities are shocking and you wonder why people are silent. And then one voice is raised on the Internet. It is Shaheen Sardar Ali’s, a native of that region who teaches law at the Warwick University. In a poignant piece,  Will the Gulai-Nargis Bloom this Spring in the Swat Valley? Dr. Shaheen Sardar Ali condemns Talibani Islam  http://newageislam.com/NewAgeIslamArticleDetail.aspx?ArticleID=1133

she asks: “How long before we will say: enough is enough and rise, speak and act? How much more suffering before we declare emphatically that we refuse to be harassed and silenced any longer and demand answers for the wrongdoings meted out to us? How many more humans will have to be slaughtered, before we stand up and say NO.”

 

There is method in the madness that has engulfed Swat. This is not simply a battle between two civilisations — one seeking to impose by force its own brand of the Sharia on the people and the other resisting this imposition. If it was just a struggle of this kind, the army with its superior firepower and commitment to defend the writ of the state could easily have checked the insurgency and brought peace to this idyllic valley.

 

The Taliban by and large do not enjoy the support of the population, we are told, and so this is not a classical case of guerrilla conflict which defies conventional strategies of law enforcement. If Swat continues to be in flames even six months after Operation Rah-i-Haq was launched, there is something sinister going on up there. Has the old game of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds returned to the agenda of the defenders of this land? While the army claims it is waging a war against the Taliban, strangely enough the enemy seems to be thriving as it expands its operations.

 

At stake is the credibility of the army which has not been helped by the contradiction between words and deeds that is striking. This is not something we are not familiar with. In his exhaustive study of the Pakistan Army, Crossed Swords, Shuja Nawaz speaks of “local militant groups with shadowy links, past or present, to the ISI”, which was, along with other agencies, “allowed to keep open ties to Islamic groups”. Even in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks we have the US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Richard Boucher, speaking last week of delinking the Inter Services Intelligence from terrorist groups in Pakistan. We do not know how deep and in which direction these links run.

 

The United States itself is not above all suspicion either. It was known to be engaging the Taliban in Afghanistan in 1997 when Washington was interested in procuring an oil and gas pipeline project for Unocal in that country. Now it wants them decimated.

 

And what about our political parties that now feign to be so powerless in Swat? They have all contributed in one way or another to facilitating the rise of Islamic militancy. Just read what Dr Fazal-ur-Rahim Marwat of the University of Peshawar recounts in his book Talibanisation of Pakistan. According to him, it was in June 1989 that the elders of Malakand convened a meeting of the representatives of all political parties that included the ANP, PPP and PML-N as well as an assortment of religious groups to set up the Tehrik-i-Nifaaz-i-Shariat-i-Muhammadi (TSNM) which chose Maulana Sufi Mohammad of the JI as its leader. The TNSM began gathering strength in 1994 when the PPP was in office in Islamabad and Naseerullah Babar was busy organising the Taliban in Afghanistan.Not to be left behind, it was the PML-N government in its second stint which extended formal recognition to the Taliban regime in Kabul in 1997, clearly indicating its leanings. Today, the ANP presides over the tragedy in Swat.

 

It is difficult to define the changing equations between the numerous stakeholders. Now when the genie is out of the bottle, who will take the blame? The common people of Swat will have to bear the brunt and for many of them the gula-i-nargis will never bloom again, though the crisis is not of their making. zubeidam@gmail.com

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Mr PM, go to Swat and FATA not Davos

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Shireen M Mazari

 

Yes, many of us have been guilty of ignoring the escalating crisis in Swat as well as across the FATA region which has now spread to the settled areas right up to and into the provincial capital of Peshawar. Like many other commentators, I have written on the ongoing destructive US-led war on terror but have not actually gone to the FATA region and seen for oneself the actual state of terror and killings that are going on – both at the hands of the drones, the militants and the Pakistan military. Perhaps each of us sticks to familiar areas and hopes others with greater knowledge and expertise on FATA and the Frontier province will focus on the increasing despair and devastation being visited on our fellow Pakistanis in these areas. But the truth is that all of us as Pakistanis should look more closely at what is happening in our own land.

 

There are those who have pointed out that Swat is not an area where the US military has intervened to kill with their drones and missiles, so one cannot lay the blame for what is happening at their doorstep. To some extent that is certainly the case. The problem in Swat can be dated to the time the local administrative system with its free Qazi courts was abolished and the national administrative model with all its failings and corruption was implanted in Swat. But the issue now is far beyond the restoration of the Qazi courts since criminal elements have become enmeshed with various brands of militant extremism and the fallout of the US "war on terror" into the areas bordering FATA, to enforce a reign of terror in the region. But perhaps the worst aspect of it all has been the abrogation of governmental responsibility by the provincial and federal governments. Everything has effectively been handed over to the military which has neither the capacity nor the mandate for establishing governance. Surely the provincial government should have taken charge and called the paramilitary or even the military forces simply to maintain law and order and protect ordinary civilians till the police was bolstered – and these coercive forces of the state should have been under civilian control in terms of their operations, as provided for in the Constitution. Instead, the civilian order moved out and handed everything over to the military – or that is simply what seems to be evident. And so we have seen the Army rushing from one area to another putting out bush fires! While the Taliban – and it is interesting to note that the Tehreek-i-Taliban-Pakistan only emerged after 2004 so the roots can be traced to the US's murderous war on terror – are destroying schools for a warped ideology, the army has also chosen to use schools as their trenches and their shelters thereby making them military targets.

 

It is time the provincial government, with adequate resources provided by the centre, move back into control and begin establishing the writ of the government by reinstating the Qazi courts and providing effective governance and rule of law to the people of the area. The much maligned process of dialogue needs to be established but with the backing of force on the part of the government. And by definition, dialogue has to be with militants since they are the source of the problem and they are our citizens. Paramilitary forces should be there to provide the security for schools and to the local people including the local political leadership. It is inconceivable that if the media can access the militants and those terrorising the populace, the state cannot bring the guilty to justice and the military and paramilitary forces, with all their intelligence and physical resources cannot identify, isolate and arrest those guilty of murder, mayhem and terrorisation of the people of Swat. Clearly, deliberate games are being played by various powerful elements within the state while the people of Swat bleed on.

 

The same is true of FATA. The military should never have gone in simply because the US wanted it so. In any case, no military can function effectively without a political and economic policy framework since it cannot do an endless holding operation as it is being made to do in FATA. It is time to take the military out while bringing in political and economic measures as well as instituting a political dialogue with all Pakistani stakeholders without preconditions as was done in Northern Ireland. As for citing earlier failed dialogues, the fact of the matter is that all dialogues were destroyed by US military attacks whenever dialogues had taken place or were taking place. This is what turned the locals against the military also- since the latter began to be viewed as fighting the American war.

 

In any case, it is time to take the military out of FATA and replace it with paramilitary forces – again under civilian control. The civilian government, in this case the federal government, has to take ownership and direction of policy for re-establishing peace in the area. Why has no political leader visited these troubled areas in all these years, especially after the February 2008 elections? There is a need to bring the Political Parties Act into FATA as well as numerous small businesses, without waiting for the US funded ROZs which will then not be needed. So what if some of that money goes to waste; some will be used effectively and set the ball rolling. If the locals see they have a stake in the system, they will isolate the militants and the foreigners. As for the suicide bombers, as has been stated in more detail in earlier columns, these are not the ideologically dedicated bombers of the Palestinian variety, or part of any military fighting cadre as in the case of the LTTE. Instead these are brainwashed, extremely poor young men (between the ages of 16-22 it would appear from some of the data) who are removed from local madrassahs to remote areas and brainwashed by professionals. But if the FATA population isolates the foreigners and militants, the brainwashing centres will also suffer a setback. Meanwhile the state needs to ensure that the DPIs from Bajaur and other areas are not kept in such miserable conditions that they become breeding grounds for future militants.

 

Sound too fanciful? Not really. In fact, only when militancy and chaos are at a peak does the state find itself able, if it has the gumption, to move drastically in an "out of the box" mode. But the first beginning that needs to be made is to create space between ourselves and the US so that we can effectively implement a policy of space denial to the terrorists in our midst. The alliance with the US has to go. As for some Pakistanis' excitement over the Obama presidency, we should get real. Obama has already committed more soldiers to Afghanistan, so the US military centric approach is going to continue in this region. Additionally, his silence on the Gaza crisis was a chilling reminder of the non-value of Muslim lives in the face of state terrorism by Israel. And let us not forget that Obama has repeatedly voiced his justification for US forces coming into Pakistan – and also Indian military forays into Pakistan in pursuit of "terrorists".

 

On the nuclear issue also, the hype is once again building up against Pakistan. The point is that with Obama, Pakistan has to revise its disastrous alliance with the Bush Administration. Bases need to be reclaimed; logistic routes need to be re-examined given the mayhem NATO supplies cause for the local population in Peshawar; and our military presence in FATA needs to also be reviewed. New rules of the game need to be put in place. Nothing has dented the military's standing in Pakistan's civil society more than its present actions in FATA and Swat. We cannot afford the mistrust that is being generated between the nation and the military – which may be part of the long term US agenda.

 

As for the Obama Administration supporting democracy, that will only happen when the Americans can distinguish between institutions and rule of law on the one hand, and individuals in power on the other, and move towards supporting the former rather than the latter. In US history so far that has not happened in terms of the Muslim world (remember toppling of Iran's Mossadaq, support for Zia, Musharraf, brokering of the NRO and rejection of the democratically elected Hamas). So let us look inwards for our own solutions, even if they begin with rejecting our present alliance with the US. Therein lies the real challenge. Let the President, Prime Minister and his cabinet members go to Swat and FATA and meet the people – instead of traipsing off overseas at the slightest opportunity. It is the Pakistanis in these beleaguered areas that need you right now – not Dubai, Washington or Davos.

http://thenews.jang.com.pk/daily_detail.asp?id=158160

The writer is a defence analyst. Email: callstr@hotmail.com

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Saving Swat

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

http://thenews.jang.com.pk/daily_detail.asp?id=158159

Militants, who now control well over half of the Swat Valley, have blown up at least ten schools for girls over the past week. The idea is to drive home the menace behind their warning that education for girls will be banned. People are listening. Indeed they have no choice but to do so. Private schools have refused to re-open after the winter break given the danger posed by militants. Some have simply announced an extension in their vacation till February 1. No one knows what will happen after that, but the fear is that 80,000 girls could be deprived of an education. The 'softened' militant stance, with education to be allowed up till the fifth grade, after all means nothing at all. Many parents are, at any rate, too terrorized to send children to school.

 

The federal information minister has promised schools in Swat will re-open by March 1. She has not clarified by what means this will be brought about or whether there is any expectation that Swat will, by then, be liberated. The NWFP government has suggested it could offer education to girls from Swat in other districts, possibly be establishing second shifts at schools that are already functioning. It is not clear how practical issues, such as distances or transport, will be handled or if these have also been considered. Unless entire families are shifted, the threat posed by militants will remain. The fact that many students in Swat have not been able to regularly attend classes for over a year will also mean they will struggle to sit matriculation or intermediate exams in April, even if they get a chance to do so. The need to save Swat from the brutality of militants must be taken up as an issue of the foremost priority. The government simply cannot afford to accept a situation where tens of thousands of girls remain out of school month after month. Even in the sprawling city of Mingora, the principal urban centre for Swat, schools have been attacked and destroyed. The issue is one of the fundamental right to education. No one should be able to snatch this away, using the force of guns and bombs, from hapless people.

 

The people of Swat have suffered enormously due to the conflict that has ravaged their homeland. They have faced atrocities at the hands of both troops and militants. Of the valley's 1.8 million people, over half are estimated to have fled. Those who remain live every moment in fear, forced most often to comply with the demands of militants who have made their ruthlessness obvious. These people must be saved. Sanity must be restored to the area, people enabled to resume lives and children, especially girls, permitted to attend schools and reach out towards the opportunities that education offers them. Denying them this amounts to an unforgivable crime, the perpetrators of which must be punished.

 

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/radical-islamism-and-jihad/taliban-brutality-in-swat--muted-protests-won’t-do/d/1142

 

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