Dealing with Swat: General Kayani’s assurance, too little, too late?

Dealing with Swat
Friday, January 30, 2009

The COAS has said that the militant menace in Swat will indeed be overcome. Visiting Swat, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani pledged to take measures to restore the writ of the state. Ahead of his arrival in Mingora, the military spokesman stated that ‘decisive’ action against militants had been planned. All this makes one wonder that why did it take so long for the government to order such action given that a sense of drift had set in the valley for quite some time and dozens of residents had been brutally killed by the militants. The background to the current militancy is that Operation Rah-e-Haq was initiated against the extremists in the valley towards the end of 2007 and was wrapped up in mid-January with the military and the government claiming success. Soon after this, the ANP assumed office in Peshawar, and one of their key electoral planks was to talk peace with Swat’s militants. However, this otherwise sensible approach was not responded in kind by the Swat Taliban who in fact began targeting the local ANP leadership soon after the party took the reins of the NWFP government.

But it has almost been a year since that happened and one needs to wonder what took the government [read military] this long to order a fresh operation against the militants especially since with each passing day they only consolidated their grip over the valley – and in fact by the end of 2008 it was widely believed that much of Swat was under the control of Fazlullah and his men. While President Zardari has now been asserting that matters will be brought under control, we can only wonder why this wisdom did not dawn earlier. After all the attacks on schools in Swat, the action against those opposing the Taliban and the expanding control of the militants were hardly a secret. The dangers posed have been highlighted by the burning of a school in Bajaur. Quite evidently, the ‘inspiration’, if it can be called that, has come from events in Swat. The militant onslaught there must be stopped before the same kind of mayhem is created in other areas of the country.

It is of course better to act late, rather than to fail to do so at all.
In this respect, the military’s declaration of a new resolve is welcome. On the other hand, there should also be some analysis of what went wrong before. For some time, the ANP has been expressing concern about the state of the operation in Swat. Perhaps if their warnings and their pleas for tougher action had been taken heed of, we would not have faced the crisis we face today. There is a dimension to this which reaches beyond the borders of Swat or even Pakistan. Over the last decade, the image of Pakistan as a safe, civilized country has tumbled dramatically. It is now ranked as one of the most dangerous places on earth. This has affected investment, tourism and a great deal else. Our decision makers must remember that as the horrific tales from Swat make their way into the international media, Pakistan’s standing will continue to fall further. This must not be allowed to happen. The military and the government must work together to prove that the suggestions that they have colluded with militants in Swat are entirely untrue. This they can best do by stamping out militancy in the area, apprehending key leaders and restoring to the blood-stained valley the peace its people so desperately seek. (The News)