"We have reservations about the operation". We (Pakistan) pay lip service to peace in Afghanistan but we tolerate militants’ sanctuaries in Fata.

“We have reservations about the operation”

— Afrasyab Khattak, Provincial President, ANP; peace envoy to the NWFP government

By Tauseef-ur-Rahman

The News on Sunday: Who are Taliban and what is their agenda in the Swat valley?

Afrasyab Khattak: The extremist insurgency in Swat is not an isolated phenomenon; it is connected with the militancy that has its bases in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). There is a very popular myth about former president, Gen Musharraf, taking an about-turn of sorts. If there was an about-turn, it was a double about-turn because the Taliban and Al-Qaeda operatives were allowed to enter Fata and set up bases for fighting from across the border. When the pressure on insurgents increased in southern and eastern Afghanistan, they started expanding their bases to acquire depth on east of Durand line. They had a plan to Talibanise the settled districts. Now it has emerged as a type of a parallel state with Waziristan as its capital. They chose Swat because it is a district situated in the north of the province and away from Waziristan so that it may not look like an expansion of Taliban’s Emirate of Waziristan.

Secondly, connected with Shangla, it is a transit for ‘Mujahideen’ who want to come from Azad Kashmir to join fighting in the Kunar province of Afghanistan.

Thirdly, the sophisticated mind behind the apparently crude and primitive Taliban chose Swat because the absolutist feudal rule of Waali had succeeded in disintegrating tribal structure in Swat so that there is no tribal base for resisting the onslaught of neo-fascism that calls itself Taliban.

TNS: How do you see the present law and order situation in the valley?

AK: The problem was mishandled by the MMA government which allowed this monster of violence to grow without any hindrance. More regrettable was its refusal to recognise the existence of a developing insurgency spreading from Fata into Swat. So, there were no preparations on the counter insurgency front. There was no investment into building the civil security apparatus to meet the challenge of insurgency.

When the ANP-led government took power in April 2008, it was confronted by an ever strengthening extremists’ insurgency without institutional preparation to meet the challenge.

TNS: Is your party satisfied with the military operation taking place in Swat?

AK: We have certain reservations about the military operation. The first operation that was launched in July 2007 was inconclusive. Taliban were chased out of the valley by the army and they took shelter in Peuchar and other camps in the mountains. But, their legacy – FM radio stations and heavy weapons – remained intact.

As for the second phase of the operation which started on July 29, 2008, it has been ineffective in the sense that Taliban’s activity has increased both quantitatively and qualitatively in Swat. Since most of the operation has been carried out through long-range guns and air force, the collateral damage is quite high.

TNS: The Army holds ANP responsible for the regrouping of Taliban, thanks to the May-21 agreement with militants. What is your take on that?

AK: The agreement was very important as it politically exposed and isolated the militants. Had it not been for the Swat agreement there would be no popular resistance and uprising against Taliban in Dir, Buner and other districts of the province.

TNS: So, whose failure is it?

AK: We believe that the major cause of militancy and extremism in Fata and Pukhtunkhwa is the duality in our Afghan policy. We (Pakistan) pay lip service to peace in Afghanistan but we tolerate militants’ sanctuaries in Fata.

TNS: How do you explain the refusal of 600 Elite Force to perform in Swat?

AK: There were mistakes committed in preparing this elite force. Most of them were earlier recruited to serve in their own districts but were suddenly asked to go into the troubled valley. These mistakes are being rectified and very soon a strong civilian security apparatus in Swat and the rest of the province will be put in place.

TNS: Police and other government officials are quitting their jobs in Swat. Comment.

AK: Actually, when the large-scale insurgency erupted, civil security apparatus was ill-prepared to meet it. We have to provide more resources for building a civil security apparatus to meet the challenge in coordination with traditional armed forces.

TNS: The chief minister and other ANP ministers have been talking about some good news to come in a couple of weeks. What could that possibly be?

AK: Naturally, we cannot put up with the status quo. We are working on a new political initiative to improve the situation, but it is rather premature to go into details at this point.

TNS: How will you respond to the hit list issued by the Swat militants?

AK: That is all rubbish. They are outlaws and fugitives. They have no legitimacy whatsoever. Instead, it is the government which will bring them to justice.

TNS: Where are the militants getting the financial support from?

AK: We believe Fazlullah is paying Rs 15,000 a month to about 10,000 people, apart from arms supply and other expenditures. There is a link between terrorism and drug trafficking, but we believe that the Arab money is still pouring in through Waziristan.

TNS: Do you think the Shariah Regulation will bring about an improvement in the situation?

AK: We have done our homework to address the concerns of the people and we shall make public our reform package of the judicial system to provide quick and inexpensive justice to the people of the Malakand division.

TNS: Don’t you think this will encourage the people of other districts to make such a demand?

AK: No. In fact, Swat, Chitral and Malakand division have a particular history. They have been demanding it from the late 80s and 90s and the demand is limited to these areas because of its particular condition. I think in other settled districts the traditional system is well entrenched and accepted.

TNS: What future do you see of the Valley, in the context of its current security situation?

AK: The democratic government is determined to rectify the past mistakes, to defeat the insurgency and to carry forward the process of political integration and socio-political transformation. These goals can be achieved only through the unity and determination of both the state and the society. (The News)