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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2674

Peace returns to the Swat valley of horror and terror

By Asif Haroon Raja

Swat known as the paradise on earth has been ripped apart by Fazlullah led militants for the last two years causing immense grief to the residents. Half of the population has migrated and living in makeshift camps. The main demand of the people as well as the militants is to establish Islamic laws since existing Anglo-Saxon laws have failed to provide them speedy and inexpensive justice. Despite two major military operations peace could not be restored. A peace accord was signed between NWFP government and Maulana Sufi Muhammad on 17 February and it was agreed to introduce Islamic Sharia in seven districts of Malakand Division including Swat and in Kohistan district of Hazara Division. The other districts are upper and lower Dir, Malakand, Shangla, Buner and Chitral.

Peace deal in Swat has evoked mixed responses. While the accord was hailed by the war weary people of Swat, it ruffled the feathers of the west as well as the liberals in Pakistan and foreign-funded NGOs. The liberals have been all along censuring bloodletting as a consequence to operations and demanding an end to it. Insensitive to the miseries of the affected people, they describe the accord as capitulation to the extremists having grave ramifications for Pakistan and are desperate to scrap it.

USA, NATO, UK, France, Australia and India voiced their serious concerns over the Swat deal. Holbrooke termed the militants in Swat as murderers, thugs who had posed a danger to Pakistan as well as to USA. The International Crisis Group think tank has recommended to Pakistan to refuse signing Nizam-e-Adl Regulation Order and refrain from entering into similar peace deals with militants elsewhere. Their anxiety is understandable when seen in the backdrop of their perverted role in adding fuel to fire in Swat through covert operation.

This dichotomy in stances speaks of hidden agenda of seeking destabilisation of Pakistan. In order to assuage their rising anger, Zardari has withheld counter signing of the agreement reached at and conditioned it to restoration of peace in Malakand Division. He has dithered despite the fact that the people of Swat and all political parties supported the accord and there were jubilations in Swat. Zardari otherwise ha scant regard for agreements unless those are meant for personal gains.

Among the literary circles, some have welcomed it while others have condemned it as a sellout. The westernized Pakistani elite extremely unhappy over the Swat peace deal are painting dreadful scenario and making hue and cry that the government and the army have capitulated to the Taliban. They say that 12000 strong contingent of army gave in to 5000 militants since they were unable to defeat them. They wail that Pakistan lost its first battle in Waziristan and has now lost the second battle in Swat. They fear that the Taliban would sooner than later enter the main cities but would be resisted by the populace who loathe them. They are now saying that the people of Swat never sought Sharia laws and had accepted the peace plan hinging on Sharia with a heavy heart since they had no other alternative. Arguments given on this account are that the people of Swat had rejected Mutahida Majlis Amal (MMA) and voted for liberal Awami National Party (ANP) in 2008 elections.

In actuality, the reason for their change of heart was not that they preferred a liberal party over a religious party but because MMA government in NWFP had failed to implement Sharia and also could not stop the bloodshed of Pashtuns. The Supreme Court had blocked the Hasba Bill passed by Frontier Legislature. The ANP had fought the election on the slogans of putting an end to bloodletting of Pashtuns, holding dialogue with the militants and restoring peace and order. The ANP failed to abide by their promises and thus lost the confidence of the people within a month of taking over power. The people of Swat have been yearning for the return of the golden days they had spent under the Wali of Swat during which the system of justice was to a large extent based on Islamic laws, with the Wali acting as the final arbitrator.

Swat merged with Pakistan in 1969 and placed under Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA) after promulgation of 1973 constitution. From that time onwards Swat is under President of Pakistan through governor NWFP. In 1975, the Governor gave Deputy Commissioner Swat legal powers in addition to his executive powers. This arrangement put in place two set of systems which caused inordinate delay in meeting justice. Lack of justice fuelled resentment among the people of Swat and paved the way for the birth of Tehrik Nifaz-e-Shariat Muhammadi (TNSM) under Maulana Sufi Mohammad in Dir in 1989 after Sufi opted out of Jamaat-e-Islami. He spearheaded TNSM peacefully, but the movement turned violent in 1994 which led to a paramilitary force operation.

The situation got defused when the then government of PPP ceded to demand of Sharia. Shariat Ordinance promulgated in 1994 by secular PPP government in practical terms meant little except changing the nomenclature of judges to Qazis and normal courts to Qazi courts. The system failed to satisfy the people since the courts in Malakand Division continued to function under Peshawar High Court and Supreme Court in Islamabad, and chief factor of time and expense remained as before. To pre-empt second bout of violence, PML-N government amended Shariat Ordinance and promulgated it as Shariat –Nizam-e-Adl Regulation in 1999 but failed to remove the anomalies. The people again started to agitate for real Sharia.

Maulana Sufi with his 10,000 followers left for Afghanistan in October 2001 to join the Taliban fighting the Americans. His devotees say that he had gone alone to assess the situation but his followers without waiting for his call joined him at their own. Most of his pupils got killed or were interned once the Taliban were toppled. Sufi was arrested on his return to Pakistan and was sentenced to ten years imprisonment. He preferred to stay in jail since the people of Malakand held him responsible for the massacre of the men he took to Afghanistan for Jihad. His son-in-law Maulana Fazlullah took advantage of his absence and reactivated TNSM. Continued deprivation of speedy and inexpensive justice paved the way for another round of an armed struggle under Fazlullah in late 2006 for enforcement of full Sharia. It resulted in army operations in November 2007 and July 2008 respectively.

This period also saw inking of peace deal with Maulana Sufi in April 2008 and his release in May and a separate deal with Fazlullah. Both deals could not last long because of lack of trust and sincerity and above all meddlesome role of external powers. Now another deal has been signed between Frontier government and Sufi on 17 February and the former has agreed to further amend the Sharia law as desired and it is named as Nizam-e-Adl Regulation 2009. The major changes are setting up of an appellate court under Federal Shariat Court and making judges and lawyers accountable for delaying court cases beyond stipulated time. Unlike the seculars believing in material progress and giving scant attention to spiritual progress, the nine-point peace plan announced by Maulana Sufi on behalf of TNSM does not seek any material benefit.

The liberals turned a blind eye to scenes of jubilations throughout the Swat valley once the peace deal was agreed to between ANP government and Maulana Sufi on 17 February 2009 and Sufi led the caravans of peace within the restive valley which had seen immense death and destruction. The displaced persons numbering 40% of total Swat population are returning to their homes and hearths with broad smiles on their faces and life is fast coming back to normal. Schools have reopened and civil administration is gradually taking over the control. The Taliban are removing their check posts and are not hindering the movement of the army convoys. So far, except for an incident on 3 February in which two soldiers were killed by the militants and the army retaliated by pounding their hideout, there has been no exchange of fire between security forces and militants. Kidnapping and murder of a journalist on 18 February was in all probability committed by forces which are against peace.

Cessation of hostilities and an apparent end to bloodbath, has given no pleasure to the seculars. They argue that lasting peace in Swat is a pipedream since Maulana Sufi after his long absence of nine years has lost his clout and is no more in a position to uphold tenuous peace. Introduction of parallel judicial system in their view would lead to disintegration of the country. Once their hopes for the annulment of peace deal and recommencement of dance of death started to fade away, they have now started to recount the acts of depravity carried out by the militants in the last two years. Among the list of crimes listed, rape has been added well knowing that no rape had been committed by Taliban. In fact they had provided speedy justice to the victims of injustice and levied harsh punishments to the criminal elements.

The detractors of so-called militants ignore the fact that like in FATA, there was an open war between the army and the militants in Swat and the balance of power was heavily tilted in favour of security forces. Casualties suffered and destruction wracked to property and homes of the militants was much larger than what the security forces had suffered. The civilians suffered more from the cross fire of militants and troops. More than 200 schools have been destroyed in Swat in the last two years. One reason for razing school buildings in Swat and FATA is that these are occupied by the army and used as store houses or living bunkers.

The people of Swat in particular and Frontier in general are annoyed at the adverse reaction of the West and liberals who have portrayed the deal negatively and say that it would benefit the Taliban alone. They invite the liberals spreading false news and negative perceptions o visit Swat and gain first-hand knowledge of the true feelings of Swatis who have borne the brunt. The ANP has taken a good initiative and now the Federal Government should also expedite replacing draconian Frontier Crimes Regulations in FATA with Sharia laws.

The valley of horror and terror has for the time being become peaceful; however, peace is tenuous since criminals and quislings are still active to disrupt it. Lot of blood has spilt in the valley and it will take time for the situation to get back to normality. All those who have stake in process will have to move ahead very gently to disperse the clouds of antagonism and rebuild harmony and tranquility and restore the lost glamour of Swat. All criminal elements particularly foreign agents should be nabbed and given exemplary punishment.

Asif Haroon Raja is a security, defence and political analyst based in Rawalpindi.

- Asian Tribune -

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