Why has the security apparatus failed to cut the militants’ supply lines; how come random journalists can talk to Fazlullah but security forces are unable to track him down; and if the state’s helplessness is genuine, how was the administration able to successfully hold general elections in Swat?
From the Daily Times, Feb. 10, 2009
Swat, the paradisal valley that once attracted throngs of tourists, has been devastated by the insurgency that gained momentum in 2007.
The military has already conducted two concerted drives to root out extremist elements, and is now in the midst of a third. Each time, natives were told that this would be the last operation. Yet the extremists return and so does the military. Civilians then face the brutalities of the militants on the one hand and collateral damage on the other.
The people of Swat have never been extremist in their outlook towards religion. Even today, as evidenced by surveys, virtually the entire population of the valley abhors the militants.
That said, there is an extremely dangerous sentiment that is setting in among the people: anger and resentment at the state security apparatus’ inability to tame the militancy. Indeed, increasingly, the people of Swat are finding holes the state’s explanations of why this is so, and are growing alienated from the army. This is the real problem, whose repercussions could be dire in the long run.
Let us view the situation from the perspective of the Swati people.
There are three popular explanations provided for the Swat insurgency.
First, that a legal vacuum prevailing due to a dysfunctional judicial system allowed the Taliban to step in, with the people remaining indifferent. Proponents of this view argue that after the merger of Swat district with Pakistan proper and the imposition of the PATA regulation, a legal vacuum was created which disappointed the people who were used to the quick justice of the Wali era.
This argument is correct in that the natives were not satisfied with having Swat, a relatively more developed and civilised part of the country, relegated to a status equivalent to the underdeveloped Dir and Malakand areas through the notorious PATA regulation. However, there was never any serious debate on moving towards an Islamic system — sharia — let alone one that is as narrow and harsh as that of the Taliban.
The second, more mainstream, argument is that extremist elements — read Sufi Muhammad and Maulvi Fazlullah — had considerable leverage with the locals and thus managed to facilitate their insurgency. In reality, Sufi Muhammad was neither indigenous nor was he brought to prominence by local actors. Rather, as Major Amir (retd), then DG IB, said on record, Sufi Muhammad’s Tehreek-e Nifaz-e Shariat-e Muhammadi (TNSM) was organised thanks to subtle manipulation by the local administration of the erstwhile Malakand Division as well as by elements from the agencies. The objective was very limited: the then administration of Malakand wanted to regain the power that it enjoyed under PATA, an arrangement that had been dismantled through a Supreme Court order.
Similarly, Maulvi Fazlullah initiated his activities from an extremely small establishment. He was banished from his neighbourhood mosque due to his extremist views on jihad; locals also pleaded with the police to stop his radio transmissions.
However, the local government, in a meeting with the jirga, of which this author was a part, flatly expressed its inability to do so given that communications was a federal subject! Then, despite repeated requests from the locals and editorials in the country’s liberal newspapers, the establishment continued to ignore Fazlullah as he went on a rampage across the valley with his pro-jihad message.
The third and final argument is that the militancy in Swat is a reaction to the American-led occupation of Afghanistan. Again, facts do not back this position. There has hardly ever been any Swati presence in jihadi organisations, be they oriented towards Afghanistan or India. Swat is not known as a place where ultra-right sentiment flourishes. In fact, among Pakhtuns, Swatis are known to be a more materially driven people.
Further, before the non-Pakhtun presence was witnessed within the militant enclave in Swat recently, the area was never seen as a sanctuary for Afghanistan-linked militants. In fact, even Fazlullah, apart from his modestly-sized band of militants, has been unable to recruit natives to join his cause. In short, while resentment against the ‘American agenda’ grows, it is no worse than in the rest of the country.
As none of the societal arguments hold for the Swat insurgency, Swatis are wondering whether the state argument, i.e. the state has not been sincere in its efforts, is more realistic.
Swatis ask why Sufi Muhammad was not kept in check by those who facilitated his rise; why was Fazlullah not tackled when he had been condemned by his society and was running a lone propaganda project; why did the intelligence agencies fail to predict Fazlullah’s behaviour and movement; why, even at a later stage, did the state not take notice of the public burning of CD shops and TVs (the same led to a major offensive by the state in Islamabad)?
Further, why has the security apparatus failed to cut the militants’ supply lines; how come random journalists can talk to Fazlullah but security forces are unable to track him down; and if the state’s helplessness is genuine, how was the administration able to successfully hold general elections in Swat?
The above is not to point fingers at the state. Rather, it is to highlight the questions facing the embattled people of Swat. They remain unsure about their state’s sincerity in fulfilling its social contract with the people. This is an extremely dangerous trend which, if not tackled, could further alienate the people from the state. It is high time that the state rethinks its security paradigm and become more open in its communications with the people. It should clear up the contradictory picture that is forming in the people’s minds.
Talimand Khan is currently based at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute in Islamabad and is a native of Swat. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org