Swat deal: an act of desperation? – Nasim Zehra

Swat deal: an act of desperation?
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Nasim Zehra

The writer is an Islamabad-based security analyst

Given the circumstances that have prompted the government to enter into a peace deal with Maulvi Sufi Muhammad of the TNSM and to announce the enforcement of the Adl Regulation 2009 after peace has returned to Swat, it would be simplistic to view these developments primarily as an attempt by the NWFP government to provide speedy justice to the people of the Malakand division and the Kohistan district. Equally, the rejoicing in Swat, by people who for many months had been living in terror and facing acute hardships in their daily lives, is to be attributed more to their yearning for security than hope of speedy justice.

All the political parties have welcomed this deal. They participated in the jirga convened by the chief minister of the NWFP. Only the Jamat-e-Islami opposed the deal, arguing that an end to the army’s presence should have accompanied the peace deal.

For over six months the NWFP men in khaki have talked about the Sufi Mohammad option. Through most of 2008 the military’s view was that conducting military operations in the populated areas of Swat would mean high civilian casualties. Instead, it believed that Sufi Mohammad could be promised Shariah in exchange for garnering local support for peace and by extension end to the activities of Fazlullah’s men. Now the ANP leadership also believes in this approach. Their hope is that Sufi Mohammad will go to Swat soon and hold a peace jirga there. “We hope he will take a white flag and walk through the streets of Swat,” one of the masterminds of this Sufi Mohammad plan had said last year.

The politicians and the army have found themselves in a no-win situation, largely, of course, of their own making. Despite two peace deals, one with Sufi Mohammad in May 2006 and one in May 2008 with Fazlullah and three military operations, Operation Mountain Viper(October 2007), November 2007 Rah-e-Haq 1 and Rah-e-Haq 2 (July 2008), the security situation in Swat continued to deteriorate, the writ of the State weakened and conversely the militants were strengthened.

Beyond these deals and military operations throughout 2008 the elected representatives and the army demonstrated an inability to effectively respond to the problem of acute insecurity amidst growing violence and terror. Militant forces strengthened despite the army’s presence. The ANP-Fazlullah deal proved unworkable. The army-ANP distrust grew. Especially towards the closing months of 2008, Swat’s endangered public was abandoned. Increasingly, a collapsing civilian administration, a non-engaging top national leadership, the hastily departing elected leadership and the locally present but paralysed troops, had left the citizens of Swat at the mercy of the armed militants.

Facts are already well-known of how the militants ruled the public space, terrorised the people, killed and slaughtered at will, destroyed schools and hospitals. In recent weeks official and unofficial sources started acknowledging that the militants had managed the control of 80 percent of Swat’s territory.

Meanwhile, the people of Swat, physically destroyed and deeply frustrated by a non-responsive administrative, political and security apparatus, began calling for what they believed would end their nightmare: the imposition of the Shariah. Their calculation was that Shariah being the militants’ demand, if it were to be adhered to by Islamabad and Peshawar the blood and terror in their lives would lessen. People turned to the militants even on security matters. For example, M Shah, the head of the Private Schools Association, stated that he invited the militants who had ordered the closing down of girls’ schools, to inspect schools and clear them for reopening. He had no confidence in the visibly incapacitated and nearly absent government and the inactive army’s ability to provide protection to Swat’s private schools.

Until 2007, unchecked by law enforcement agencies, the militants were able to expand in scale and influence under the MMA. The weakening of the State apparatus was a gradual process gathering momentum during the Establishment-supported MMA government in the NWFP.

It is against this backdrop that the people’s response to the Adl Regulation must be understood. Exhausted and terrorised they believe that the Regulation will end the bloodshed and enable them to return to their normal daily routines. Within the immediate context it is linked more to seeking security than speedy justice.

The demand for speedy justice is perennial — a national one, yet accentuated more in some areas and less in others. In the Malakand Agency the movement for Shariah courts as an apparatus able to dispense speedy justice, has been a decade-and-a-half old. The earlier elected government of Benazir Bhutto saw reason in their demand, in spite of it’s having emerged from outside of the parliamentary platform and subsequently did the military president Pervez Musharraf.

The two governments responded with the 1993 and 1999 Adl Regulations. The latest Regulation, if implemented, will ensure that the Apellate Court for the Qazi Court will be in the Malakand Agency, not outside of it. This in, and of, itself may not necessarily be the crucial question that arises from the new Regulation. It is more the question of who will be nominated with what credentials and from which school of Shariah orientation to the Appellate benches. On the issue of a parallel judicial system, given that in 1993 and 1999 Qazi Courts were already functioning in the Malakand Division, the parallel system already exists.

The key areas of concern with regard to the Feb 16 developments are two that the government cannot afford to ignore. One, that if the government, under duress from the armed militants, has moved the Adl Regulation 2009 Bill, what message does it send to other armed groups using crime and terrorism as blackmail tools to get their demands met? For example, this could include the Tehreek-e-Taliban of Pakistan. Two, what if the non-TNSM militants spreading acute terror and insecurity in Swat demand that the Adl Regulation 2009 plus more of Shariah be implemented before they would stop their activities? Already, Maulvi Fazlullah’s spokesman, Muslim Khan, has said that the 10-day ceasefire is there to check out the government’s intentions. They seek Shariah, surely of their own version, before there can be peace. Without Shariah there can be no peace, Muslim Khan clearly stated. Three, if Fazlullah decides he and his men do not agree with the government-TNSM peace accord, what practical value will the accord have as a security-enhancer for Swat? The armed men are with Fazlullah, not with the TNSM.

These risks are there, but the NWFP government, the Army and the agencies, and the governor, all believe that this peace deal and the Regulation are the only way out of the current crisis. The president, who cleared these moves after about ten weeks of delay, has conditioned his signing of the Adl Regulation 2009 on peace in Swat. Establishing peace through negotiations depends largely on Sufi Mohammad persuading Fazlullah to “play ball.” There may be a temporary halt in the fighting, but whether long-haul peace will flow from these negotiations is unclear. The odds do not heavily favour it. (The News)

Email: nasimzehra@hotmail.com

Some relevant comments:

Utmankhel1 said:

Dear all, dont think so muche, whether the deal works or not is decided in GHQ not by Fazlullah.
From the look of it, this does not sound an agreement by any standards. It seems more like Sufi Mohammad is feeling guilty for his role in starting this bloody game and now since he is dying he wants to undo some of his dirty work.

So far as ANP is concerned, well they did not have any option left.

1) They sent army to curb militancy, Army did the opposite; out of the 2700 killed in Swat, 100 are militants while 2500 are civilians. There is no point continuing the military operation.

2) Taliban’s representatives like Imran and Qazi were shouting full throttle for dialogue, and the right-wing media was out fully supporting them, so ANP had to do that.

3)ANP is trying to strip Taliban of any legitimacy in their demands. Sharia was one, though everybody knows it is strategic depth and not shariat which is the motive.