Last week, I recommended that all power centres should adopt a clear direction and give a mandate to the foreign minister for his visit to the United States to review US policy towards Afghanistan. The general belief, which I shared, was that the army was evolving a new strategy in its war against the insurgents in Swat and that this would reverse the ongoing Talibanisation of the area.
What we have instead is an agreement crafted in Peshawar by the provincial government to enforce the ‘Nizam-e Adl’ in Swat.
This is an agreement with Mullah Sufi Muhammad. He may be the founder of the Tehreek-e Nifaz-e Shariat-e Muhammadi, and may have been a potent force in the 1990s. His spectacularly unsuccessful effort to assist the Taliban by taking 10,000 Swat youths to Afghanistan in 2001 and the decimation of this force, however, made him into a spent force. He courted arrest because he would otherwise have been lynched by the grieving parents whose children he led into Afghanistan.
It taxes credibility to suggest that this man will be perceived after his long years of incarceration and his isolation from the current insurgency — led by his estranged son-in-law Fazlullah — as being genuinely representative of the insurgents, or even of the people of Swat, who voted overwhelmingly for secular parties in the last election.
One cannot see Fazlullah — a.k.a. Maulana Radio — and his new patron (or partner) Baitullah Mehsud accepting Sufi Muhammad’s leadership even if the latter’s 300-vehicle convoy is welcomed in Mingora by crowds of war-weary Swatis. Fazlullah, and more importantly Mehsud, have a vision that goes well beyond the narrow confines of Malakand Division or even the tribal areas, and will not accept any restrictions on their ability to use Swati territory for operations elsewhere.
So why did the ANP leaders in Peshawar enter into this agreement?
That there was nostalgia for the swift justice that was available in the days of the Wali of Swat was clear, but it was also clear that the Swatis did not want extremism, and the induction of the Nizam-e Adl under the auspices of the likes of Fazlullah could mean nothing else. Sufi Muhammad has already declared that there is no place for elections in Islam and that he is opposed to democracy.
The ANP did this perhaps because it saw that the army and law enforcement agencies were not going to be able to quell the insurgency. The army would plead that no insurgency could be vanquished without the cooperation of the locals; yet the locals prepared to fight the insurgents felt that they could not get government support.
Local leaders, including ANP and PPP stalwarts, had developed the perception that for some reason or the other, elements of the insurgency were regarded as “untouchables”, protected by powerful patrons, while locals resisting the insurgents received short shrift from the authorities. They were perhaps hoping against hope that the agreement would buy them time to set things right elsewhere.
There is now a second argument that the purpose of the agreement was to drive a wedge between the Swat insurgency and the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan of Baitullah Mehsud. This is based on the pious but implausible belief that the TNSM wants nothing more than the imposition of Sharia in Swat while it is the TTP that has other ambitions.
Both arguments are fallacious. The time bought is time bought for the insurgents. Sufi Muhammad, as shown by his unsuccessful foray into Afghanistan, shares the TTP’s ambition to re-establish Taliban rule in Afghanistan. He may not, but Fazlullah certainly wants, like Mehsud, the rest of Pakistan Islamised.
Furthermore, Sufi Mohammad and Fazlullah do not control all elements involved in the insurgency. If rumours are to be believed, there have been insurgents from Uzbekistan and Punjab that have moved into Swat.
It is a sad but almost foregone conclusion that this agreement will be no more effective than the ones concluded in the past, and that while there will be a welcome albeit temporary respite from the daily bloodletting in Swat, the strife will soon resume with the government in an even worse position than it is now. In the meanwhile, analysts in Pakistan and abroad will be examining with foreboding the fallout elsewhere in Pakistan and the region.
So far the Americans have been cautious in commenting on the agreement, suggesting that this was Pakistan’s internal affair, that it fell within the ambit of Pakistan’s constitution and that they were expecting further information from Pakistan on its implementation. There is no doubt, however, that this has caused concern in the establishment and is not seen as boding well for the region.
The foreign minister’s visit to Washington may take some time to materialise but our chief of army staff will be leaving for the United States on his first official visit as Admiral Mike Mullen’s guest today. He will be the first authoritative interlocutor to whom the American establishment will put questions about the import of this agreement:
Why does it mean for Pakistan’s internal polity; for the situation in the tribal areas; for the policy of denying sanctuary to Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban in Pakistan; and for the efforts toe ensure that Afghanistan is not used by extremists to launch attacks on the West?
His answers hopefully will be along the following lines:
* The agreement is admittedly unique in so far as it seems to have different laws in different parts of the country. But this has a long history; it is not an act of desperation. It has been entered into in good faith and in the belief that Sufi Muhammad will carry weight with the insurgents. The army will, however, continue to maintain a heavy presence in Swat and the training of forces for counterinsurgency will continue in Swat itself. While the army will be in reactive rather than proactive mode, it will make its presence felt whenever necessary.
* One element of the agreement, once peace has been restored, will be that insurgents not from the area will be asked/forced to leave. There will be an expectation on the part of the administration that connections with such clearly anti-Pakistan elements as the TTP will be attenuated if not severed.
* The agreement will ensure that normal administration is restored even while the courts are made more sharia-compliant. Normal administration will mean that in all other respects, there will be no restrictions on citizens that do not apply in other parts of Pakistan. As normalcy returns, there will be growing demands from local business interests to adapt the application of sharia to the requirements of the tourist trade, a major source of employment in Swat.
* If the agreement does not yield these results, proactive military action will be resumed and from then on there will be no “untouchables”. All locals prepared to resist the insurgents will get protection and there will be no more incidents of paramilitary forces not receiving army assistance when they call for it. Specially trained police forces will be inducted and their concerns about the measure of institutional support will be fully addressed.
* The Pakistan Army realises that if the peace deal fails, the army, as much as the politicians, will be engaged in a battle for the survival of Pakistan and this will take priority over the protection of the eastern border. India will realise, or should be persuaded to realise, that Pakistan’s internal problem is part of the larger problem of the region and it is in India’s interest that Pakistan’s armed forces should have no distractions. With the government’s blessings, the size of the force deployed in Swat will be multiplied and will work closely with local politicians and administrators.
* The situation in the tribal areas and the other border areas will continue to see a combination of military, political and economic development measures. We need to highlight the economic development aspect by identifying and undertaking on a priority basis high impact projects that generate employment and provide alternatives for the youth of the area.
The writer is a former foreign secretary
Reproduced by permission of DT