Talat Masood: Revisiting the Swat deal with the Taliban

Revisiting the Swat deal
Monday, March 23, 2009
Talat Masood

The Swat peace agreement, signed between the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat Mohammadi (TNSM) and the ANP-led government of the NWFP, seems to be running in serious difficulties. Broadly, the agreement aims at imposing Sharia law in Swat and Malakand division.

Regrettably, the agreement was signed from a position of weakness. The army was hesitant to undertake another major counter-insurgency operation in Swat, when two earlier ones had failed to dislodge the militants from their hideouts. Moreover, the ANP having given a commitment that it would seek a negotiated settlement, and the army not in favour of a military operation, preferred a negotiated settlement.

The government and militant leader Sufi Mohammed offer different interpretations to the agreement, and differences have surfaced on the question of the formation of the courts. Sufi Mohammed, who refuses to accept the present panel of judges for presiding over Qazi courts, has announced the formation of Qazi courts, appointed his nominees as Qazis and is establishing appellate courts. In reality, the Taliban are aiming to transform the entire legal and administrative system and are not prepared to integrate the Sharia in the existing judicial and bureaucratic structure.

The TNSM in all probability will apply a harsher code of conduct. During the Wali’s times the ruler was in full control of the state and it was his appointed courts that were functioning. And the state’s administration was the implementing authority. Mullah Fazalullah is now calling the shots and the state has buckled in.

The Taliban of Swat have tasted power and will not be content with the adoption of Sharia. Mullah Fazalullah and his father-in-law of Sufi Mohammed practically rule Swat. The civil administration cannot go against their wishes and even the army at places has to move with their concurrence. No NGO’s are allowed to function without their approval. The close linkage between Mullah Fazalullah and Baithullah Mehsud is another source of serious concern.

Lack of clarity in policy formulation, poor coordination and weak resolve on the part of the provincial and federal governments and ambivalent attitude of the army in fighting counter-insurgency operations has emboldened the Taliban.

It is evident that the army that has proven itself in conventional wars has been less than effective while fighting insurgents in FATA and Swat. This phenomenon is not peculiar to Pakistan. Great Britain had won World War 1 with its allies but was forced to negotiate a treaty with IRA leaders.

The clamour for Sharia and the support of Sufi Mohammad and Mullah Fazalullah is essentially a demand for justice and good governance that the people have been denied. The fairness and quick implementation of justice was the key to its acceptability. Whether the same standard of fairness and quick disposal of justice prevalent in the 1960’s will be maintained by the newly appointed Sharia courts is questionable.

People are also deeply worried about their personal security. Many people in Swat have been compelled to provide at least one member of the family to the TNSM. In the current circumstances, when the government’s writ is virtually absent, ordinary people consider associating with Taliban a means of providing security to themselves and their families. In this way they associate with the system where maximum power resides.

If the Sharia demand increases in the entire NWFP and is ultimately adopted then there would be two legal systems in Pakistan. Sharia operating in the west and the Pakistan penal code in the east! It is possible that in future militant groups in Punjab may make similar demands in their area of influence.

On the other hand, if the government is able to use the peace deal to get a foothold in Swat and establish its writ by placing a strong administrative structure that can provide a reasonable level of governance then it could be justified. But the converse seems to be happening. Mullah Fazalullah by putting Sufi Mohammed in front has very cleverly outsmarted both the ANP government and the military and consolidated the Taliban position. The growing demands of Sufi Mohammed on the government are a clear indication of their motives. (The News)

The writer is a retired lieutenant-general. Email: talat@comsats.net.pk