| Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Pir M Shah
In my recent interactions with friends from Swat, I could infer that the situation in Swat is akin to the ‘daur-e-jahiliyah’. According to them, a large number of women are suffering from psychological disorders due to the unprecedented violence. Polio, which has almost disappeared from the planet, is reappearing here, courtesy to the anti-vaccination campaign of the mullahs.
The orchards of Swat, which were once famous for peaches and apples, are now displaying decapitated dead bodies. Its yellow schools and red police stations that dotted the landscape of Swat have been razed to the ground. Decades of development is now being reversed by the ‘destructive revolution’ of the Taliban. A new type of ‘population planning’ is in progress with the unlimited use of ‘bullet’ therapy. For this new brand of violent vigilantes every working woman appears to be a prostitute until proven otherwise and every learning girl is a threat to their misogynist world-view. Not surprisingly, most people now in fact pray that drones attack and bomb these criminals.
Like FATA, there is no proper government-mandated system of taxation and the Customs Act does not apply to the region. Not surprisingly, one can find thousands of vehicles whose customs duty have not been paid in Swat. Also, the fact that PATA, like FATA, is not under normal Pakistani law enables attracts mafias of all kinds and hence the region has become a haven for gun-running, drug-trafficking, hired assassins, kidnapping for ransom and so on. One such area is Sakhakot where one can hire an assassin for as low as hundred US dollars.
This lawlessness in due time created a vacuum which was ultimately filled by ‘hyper-criminals’ in the form of Taliban. This descent into chaos did not take place in days but took years. Of course, the ‘mullah-military’ alliance is also to blame for what is going on there right now. A majority of the militants now holed up in Swat were initially trained in or motivated by conflict in Afghanistan and Kashmir. They later ‘refined’ their ‘combat capabilities’ by gaining expertise in places like Waziristan, Kurram Agency and of course Lal Masjid. They are what can be termed as ‘mobile mercenaries’. They are used to make one region ‘hot’ and when government forces react, the mercenaries simply relocate to another place to create unrest there.
Blame also lies on the shoulders of the previous Musharraf government which did not allow secular parties any space. The MMA, which ruled the NWFP government, created an atmosphere which was very conducive for extremists and militants and they consolidated their power during the time of the MMA government. The militants prospered and grew in size and influence – they had unhindered movement, and no one stopped them from fund-raising, recruitment or training. It should be noted that when tension increased between Baitullah Mehsud and his ultra-violent lieutenant Qari Hussain, after the cold-blooded murders of the Pir family in South Waziristan, it was the MMA which brokered reconciliation between the two.
Another factor was that the military failed to understand the dynamics of fighting an irregular war or insurgency. In any counter-insurgency operation, it is wrong to opt for the ‘hammer-sledge’ approach, which is what we see in Swat. The operation was launched towards the end of 2007 with deployment of four brigades and so far has achieved little. If anything, the militants are stronger now than they were at the beginning of the operation. The efficiency of the operation can be gauged quite easily if one were to collate the number of artillery shells fired and the number of militants killed.
The other group which has to be blamed is that of the politicians who have failed to take cognizance of the situation. There are two types here – one the ANP leadership which tested the troubled waters, so to speak, and failed to navigate through it. The others are those who will protest – if they do that is – in Sindh or Punjab when the situation is terrible in Swat. When the Taliban take out the dead body of Pir Samiullah from its grave and hang it, such leaders will claim that ‘external hands’ are involved. When the Taliban destroy schools in the name of Islam, such leaders call the perpetrators as non-Muslims — as if the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world have no criminals among them.
The sorry fact of the matter is that Qazi Hussain Ahmed, Imran Khan, Fazlur Rahman and Nawaz Sharif have never condemned the Taliban in spite of the fact that Taliban have claimed responsibility of all the crimes which they have perpetrated including attacks on Eidgah, mosques, bombing of jirgas, attacks on funerals and even a hospital. For every crisis these politicians have a ready-made scapegoat — America. However, till I last checked, there were no US troops in Swat and there have been no attacks there either.
Then comes the media, and by that one means the Urdu one in particular [e.g. Ansar Abbasi, Irfan Siddiqi, Shahid Masood, Hamid Mir, Kashif Abbasi] which has actually helped the militants propagate their retrogressive ideas. If a government official, soldier or cop is killed while serving and saving the people of Pakistan, he is not considered as ‘shaheed’ but when the militants die they are glorified as if they were all Robin Hoods when alive.
The people of Swat are — quite understandably – also confused. How can one of the world’s largest armies not eliminate militants whose numbers are in the thousands at the most? How is the government unable to jam the FM radio broadcasts of the militants? How come Fazlullah, Muslim Khan and Shah Dawran are accessible to journalists but the security forces cannot get hold of them? If Islam does not ban female education then why don’t the ulema and the religious leaders unequivocally condemn the action of the Taliban?
The writer is affiliated with the University of Dubai.