The government’s six-point agreement with the TNSM comes as no surprise. The mainstream political parties, including the ANP, had consistently declared during and after the election that they would try to establish peace in the NWFP and the FATA areas through a multi-pronged strategy which would include dialogue. On the April 3, when the Army chief General Kiyani gave his presentation to the leadership of the ruling coalition he categorically stated that in Swat the Army operation had brought relative peace. General Kiyani specifically turned to the ANP leadership, encouraging them to use the political route to take forward the process of establishing peace. The ANP, which leads the NWFP coalition government, has won the majority of seats from Swat district.
This position of the political leaders and the Army chief on the need to take the dialogue route was an offshoot of multiple factors. These included, above all, a policy of military force backed by dialogue, which failed to deliver sustained security and peace in the NWFP and FATA region. The insecurity through terrorist and suicide attacks spread into various parts of Pakistan, driving a growing wedge between the people and the government including the Army, While suicide bombing spread fear and terror amongst Pakistani. They did not share the broader threat definitions articulated by the government whether it was extremist or militant.
The public policy of the Musharraf government, which was largely devoid of political ownership, failed to gain the one factor without which no insurgency can be won by any government–the elements of people support. Nor can a government expect its citizen to bear the cost of fighting its citizen to in fighting insurgency and terrorism
It is against this backdrop that the ANP government took the significant step of entering into an agreement with the long jailed TNSM leader Sufi Muhammad. Sufi Muhammad, who in his political prime, had led thousands of Pakistani fighters into Afghanistan in aid of the Taliban. He was a likely candidate for a political government to open dialogue with. In 1994, Sufi Muhammad did enter into political negotiations with the Benazir government, and with the Nawaz Sharif government in 1999. As the unchallenged leader of the TNSM, Sufi Muhammad had then commanded the support of thousands of followers from Malakand Agency. In neighbouring Afghanistan the Taliban were ascendant and in Pakistan key sections within the intelligence agencies, were sympathetic and supportive of the Taliban.
In 1994 the Bhutto government, confronted with the TNSM demand to enforce Shariah and by its simultaneous ability to bring out thousands of armed follower in support of his demand, entered into an agreement with the TNSM. Under the agreement, the Shariah Ordinance, under which Qazi courts would be established in Swat and Malakand, was reached. In 1999 the ordinance was amended in order to make the Qazi courts more effective. At present, Sufi Muhammad’s following is relatively reduced compared to that in the Nineties. His followers are also less prone to use violence compared to the other forces that have emerged in the region.
Sufi Muhammad’s reduce following is directly linked to the rise of his son-in-law, Maulvi Fazlullah, led to the TNSM introducing more aggressive and militant ways in the movement. Fazlullah, leading in the post 9/11 context with the rise of weaponised anti-US and ideologically-inspired violence, became more violent. His forces enter into guerrilla battles with Pakistani soldiers, blatantly and repeatedly threatened the civilian administration in Malakand and Swat Divisions directly and violently destroying the structure of the State.
It was this attitude of consistently attacking police stations, district administrations and local political representatives that led to the start of military operations in Swat. While different claims are made regarding the popularity of Fazlullah, it is clear that the people of the area are seeking security and peace.
The two factors that have provided an enabling environment to various armed militias to previously establish a virtual free reign, have been the failure of the MMA government to directly resist the attacks of these militant group on people’s right to make their own choices regarding the dress code, girls’ education, sporting beards or listening to music. Linked to this factor of not resisting this undermining through the use of force, citizens, has been the failure of the State to protect the lives of its citizens.
It is significant against this backdrop that the major thrust of the Sufi Muhammad-government agreement has been two-fold. One, that the TNSM will not threaten or attack the institutions of the state, including the army and the civilian law enforcement agencies. Two, that while the TNSM is free to propagate Shariah, under no circumstances will it resort to violence.
This agreement is both logical and constitutional, while it grants citizens or a group of citizens the right to propagate their beliefs, it forbids them to do so by undermining the rights of others to freely to make their own choices.
Through the agreement the government also intends to resurrect the effectiveness, credibility and, consequently, the image of State institutions including the army. Sufi Mohammad’s followers have undertaken not to target State institutions.
However, for the implementation of this agreement specific mechanisms will have to be put in place for government-TNSM coordination on the common approach and message that the government, the TNSM leadership, the elected political leadership, the civil administration and the security agencies will have to develop and disseminate among their followers, their institutions and the public. The message of tolerance, of no to violence and to violation of law and of a mutually cooperative attitude will have to be systematically reiterated by all stakeholders of this latest attempt at peace-making.
As for the effectiveness of Sufi Mohammad as the unchallenged leader of the TNSM, that will depend on the quid pro quo that the government may have agreed to. This quid pro quo, which was evolved during the caretaker government and enjoys the support of the then-federal government and the army, is an amendment to the Shariah Ordinance. Under the amendment, additional qazi courts will be established to ensure the implementation of the Shariah in Swat and Malakand Divisions. Such an amendment will likely raise Sufi Mohammad’s stature among his followers. They have been demanding more effective dispensation of justice in the post-Wali-of-Swat era in which the spread and effectiveness of courts and the accessibility to good and inexpensive legal aid is highly deficient. In a culture of conciliatory settlement of disputes the end of the jirga has created a vacuum detrimental to the interests of the local population which has suffered from the fallout of the nationwide crisis of governance. The growing demand for qazi courts has been in direct proportion to the absence of effective state institutions.
Finally, the question is the success factor of the TNSM-government agreement. If Sufi Mohammad is handed down the amended Shariah Ordinance, will he then be able to attract his son-in-law’s supporters who have all argued that their ultimate objective has been the enforcement of Shariah? There is no ready answer. Fazlullah’s supporters have been using force to push their version of Islam on the local population. Will they abandon the use of force once the Shariah ordinance factors in some of their demands?
Perhaps the possibility of this agreement delivering relative peace and security without engaging Fazlullah may be minimal. The government’s credibility and capacity to bargain with the more militant groups now increases with Sufi Mohammad on board. Fazllulah is likely to be more pliant now. Maybe past this agreement the government must open, with Sufi Mohammad’s assistance, behind-the-scenes dialogue with Fazlullah as well. Any demand that Fazullah surrenders before the opening of dialogue with him is unrealistic and will not work. Similarly, it is equally unrealistic to expect that without a chastened Fazullah on board there will be peace in the region.
The writer is an Islamabad-based security analyst. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Courtesy: The News, 23/4/2008