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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2589

Ugly face of so-called Swat Taliban exposed

By Asif Haroon Raja

Peace deal was signed between the ANP government in NWFP and Maulana Sufi on 16 February; it was agreed to establish Nizam-e-Adl in Malakand Division and Kohistan District of Hazara in return for Fazlullah led militants surrendering arms and refraining from all sorts of violent acts. When Sufi’s son-in-law Fazlullah agreed to the 14-point peace agreement, it brought joy to the people of Swat who in large numbers had got displaced as a consequence to military operation in July 2008. They returned to their homes smilingly and normalcy was restored in the valley which had seen upheavals since 2007. None could imagine that peaceful conditions were temporary and that so-called Taliban pretending to introduce Islamic laws to provide cheap and speedy justice to the people were in actuality interested in power and money only.

When the Americans and western nations as well as liberal segment within Pakistan started to criticize peace deal and exerted massive pressure on the government to scrap the deal, the prevailing common perception that America had evil designs against Pakistan got reinforced. Apologists of Taliban said that it was now getting clearer that pro-west writers were spreading gloom and doom and magnifying threat of Talibanisation to give an excuse to USA to rescue them from horrors of monstrous Taliban hell-bent to impose Islamic laws in Pakistan. They said that liberal writers were constantly drumming that the state and army had utterly failed to provide protection and the only way left for them was to settle down in the west since it was better to live as second rated citizens in foreign lands and bear the stings of humiliation rather than living under barbarians. Notwithstanding counter arguments of sympathizers of Taliban, there is no denying the fact that liberals had got disillusioned with secular ANP which in their view had abandoned secular values and had succumbed to Taliban pressure.

Swat peace deal provided an excellent opportunity to Islamists to accomplish the unfulfilled desire of introducing Islamic laws in Malakand Division. Successful implementation of Islamic system could have become a role model for others to emulate and to introduce it in other parts of Pakistan as well. When certain acts of violence took place in Swat in which soldiers/policemen were gunned down and kidnapped, it gave ammunition to anti-Taliban elements to cry out that the militants had sinister designs and Sharia was just a façade to cover their hidden agenda. The anti-American elements argued that violence was resorted to by miscreants and RAW agents to defame Islamists and to annul peace deal. Things became worrisome when armed militants refused to close down check posts and continued with acts of vandalism to prevent re-establishment of writ of government in Swat. Some armed militants from Swat moved into neighboring Lower Dir and gained control after intimidating the locals, looting their houses and forcing many to flee. They next moved into Buner and began to consolidate positions through coercive tactics. Alarm bells were raised by Washington as well as people like Maulana Fazlur Rehman that the Taliban were on the march and soon they would gain control of Haripur, Tarbela and then enter Islamabad.

All this time, NWFP government kept reminding Fazlullah through Maulana Sufi that it had honored its commitment of Nizam-e-Adl but the other side had not desisted from militancy. Consequent to intelligence reports that militants were making hectic military preparations and recruitment on a large-scale and they had no intentions to abide by the terms of peace agreement, ANP Ministry was left with no choice but to request for military intervention.

When the military entered Lower Dir on 25 April on express orders of PM Gilani, it met with stiff resistance from the militants mostly Tajiks, Uzbeks and Afghans. When they were flushed out, they took up positions in Buner and gave a determined battle to the army. By the time the army pushed into Swat, the real face of militants disguised as Taliban began to get exposed.

A convention was organised by Mushaikh Council on 16 May. Ulema and Mushaikh from all hues took part and declared their unstinted support to the army and condemned barbaric activities of the Taliban giving a bad name to Islam. On May 18, an all parties conference presided over by PM Gilani vowed to unite the nation against foreign sponsored insurgency in Swat and Malakand, and to end terror. Apart from all the political parties, the religious scholars and organizations too favored the military operation.

These two events in the backdrop of interview of Maulana Sufi to a journalist Salim Safi in April in which he had declared democracy, parliament and judiciary as un-Islamic, helped in bringing a sea change in perceptions of the public. Grisly video clip of beheading of soldiers by the Taliban invoked feeling of revulsion. For the first time the people saw the ugly side of Taliban whom they had all along regarded as well-meaning.

A perception had been built that sole demand of Taliban was Sharia and nothing else. Criminal acts like burning of video shops, TVs, barber shops, resorts, and restraining women from moving unescorted, were also seen as essential steps to remove vices and to promote virtues in the contaminated society. Looting was ignored under the misperception that wealth looted from the rich was doled out to the poor. Reasons for getting influenced by the preaching of the Taliban through FM radio were lack of justice, poverty, unemployment, illiteracy and insensitivity of the elite class towards the poor. Apart from sufferings of the deprived class, power of gun wielded by Taliban and enticements offered were other factors that made them look the other way to certain detestable acts like burning of schools, hostage taking for ransom, suicide attacks on mosques, Imambargahs, funerals, ruthless beheadings and tying some to the poles and trees. These were in fact coercive tactics to terrorise the people and make them veer towards the Taliban.

To start with each recruit was paid $9 per day; later on, pay scale was increased to $ 40 a day as well as a weapon and security to the family. Each family was asked to hand over one male member to them to help them wage Jihad and in introducing Nizam-e-Adl and a daughter to be wedded to the Taliban or else the family will be beheaded. Since the Civil Administration and the police had been made ineffective, the people were virtually left at the mercy of the gun totting militants to make people obey their commands.

Fazlullah led Taliban had no dearth of money, weapons of all hues, ammunition, explosives, mines and electronic equipment since these were liberally provided by CIA, RAW, RAAM, Mossad. Other means of collection of money was bank looting, kidnapping for ransom, extortion from rich, drug and timber trade. Trained men mostly of Tajik, Uzbek, Afghan, Arabs and Chechen origins were sent in regularly wherever reinforcement was needed or guidance required how to conduct operations or prepare under ground tunnels/communication network. They had the advantage of built up areas, inaccessible heights converted into strongholds, and locals as human shields. They had tactical nexus with Tehrik-e-Taliban led by Baitullah.

They had own training areas at Peuchar and elsewhere with firing ranges and wide variety of training aids to impart training to local recruits and had improvised bomb making factories. That way, Swat militants were no less trained, motivated and equipped fighters than infantry soldiers. Rather, they were better paid and were fed with a superior ideological cause and had no logistic tail. Under the given circumstances, the lightening speed with which the army has cleared Lower Dir, Buner and Swat is amazing and deserve all kudos. I salute the braves who laid down their lives for the supreme cause to give us a better tomorrow.

Asif Haroon Raja is a defence and political analyst.

- Asian Tribune -

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