Goodbye, Peshawar? Dr Farrukh Saleem

Peshawar — literally ‘High Fort’ in Persian — now stands encircled. Haji Mangal Bagh Afridi controls most of what is west of Peshawar. Dara Adam Khel, a mere 35 kilometres south of Peshawar, is controlled by Baitullah Mehsud’s loyalists. Charsadda and Shabqadar, both less than 30 kilometres north of Peshawar, are controlled by Commander Umar Khalid, TTP’s (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan) leader in Mohmand agency. Two weeks ago, Javed Aziz Khan of The News reported that Sheikhan, Sarband, Regi and Nasir Bagh were under Mangal Bagh’s absolute control while Mathra, Michni, Daudzai and Khazana were under Umar Khalid’s control.

What is the real plan? Is the ‘High Fort’ being surrounded with the intent of an assault? After all, Pakistan army’s XI Corp — some 60,000 soldiers — commanded by the brave Lieutenant-General Masood Aslam is headquartered in Peshawar (in 1971, Masood Aslam was wounded fighting in Chumb-Jaurian sector. He has served in Siachen and has been the recipient of Sitara-i-Jurat for his extraordinary service and bravery). Peshawar also has the Bala Hisar Fort, the Frontier Corps’ headquarters, where Major-General Mohammad Alam Khattak (Tamgha-i-Basalat) is the commander. Peshawar has the 7th Infantry Division, the Golden Arrow Division, Pakistan’s “oldest and the most battle-hardened division”.

Peshawar also has the Central Police Office. Malik Naveed Khan is in command but has neither human capital nor much else. The Sarband Police Station, which is right next to Khyber agency, according to Javed Aziz Khan, has a total of six bullet-proof jackets and not a single armoured personnel carrier (APC). The Matani Police Station has one APC but that is almost always at the workshop. Is Peshawar under siege? Athar Minallah, my dear friend, insists that there are Taliban in Bradford and in Birmingham. Question: What really prevents Bradford from falling into Taliban’s hands? It is not the 10the Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment; it is the civilian administrative apparatus. Cripple that civilian administrative machinery and Bradford Taliban will take over the City Hall, Bradford Cathedral and also the National Media Museum. And, in absence of an effective civilian administrative setup, almost all residents of Bradford will rush towards the Taliban for protection as well as for the dispensation of justice.

South Waziristan now belongs to Baitullah Mehsud. Hafiz Gul Bahadur is the Taliban supreme commander in North Waziristan. Maulvi Faqir Mohammad controls Bajaur. Mangal Bagh and Haji Namdar reign over Khyber. Commander Umar Khalid is the boss in Mohmand. That’s some 20,000 sq-km of physical Pakistan terrain. Is this terrorism or is it an insurgency? Should the state of Pakistan devise a counter-terrorism or a counter-insurgency strategy?

To be certain, violence is the common denominator in terrorism and insurgency. But, rarely will terrorists attempt to actually control physical terrain. In essence, what the state of Pakistan faces is not terrorism but an active insurgency.

A retired army brigadier, as knowledgeable in FATA as anyone I know, insists that the roots of this insurgency can actually be traced back to 1997. In 1999, this brigadier, with his FATA insurgency fact-file under his arm, had walked up to the DG-ISI but no one was ready to pay much heed. Then came 9/11 and that pushed the Talibanisation of NWFP some two years behind.

How do we get out of it? It is obvious that jirgas are meaningless and so are peace agreements. The best suggestion that I have heard so far is as follows: give the militants every sort of indemnity that they ask for. Forgive each and every one of their past crimes. Accept a hundred other conditions put up by the militants. All in exchange for just one. And, that condition is that no one — absolutely no one — will be allowed to run a parallel administration.

Where is the government going wrong? Well, the government blinks while the Taliban — the government’s ex-proxies — freely exhibit their muscle (for instance, they enter Peshawar at will and take from Peshawar whatever they want). Remember, tribal loyalties belong to whoever has the muscle. Act now or sayonara Peshawar. Adiَs Peshawar. Au revoir Peshawar. Mach’s gut Peshawar. Aloha Peshawar. Arrivederci Peshawar. Zai jian Peshawar. Just what language do our decision makers understand?

The writer is an Islamabad-based freelance columnist. Email:

Source: The News, 29/6/2008

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