Amir Mir: Peace deal in Swat a high-risk affair

Govt-TNSM deal a high-risk affair

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

By Amir Mir

LAHORE: Islamabad’s decision to sign a peace deal with the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi by enforcing the ‘Sharai Nizam-e-Adl Regulation’ in the Malakand division of the NWFP, primarily to bring back peace to the Swat valley, is a highly risky affair for both Maulana Sufi Mohammad and the government since both sides have put their credibility at stake and will have to prove in the coming days that they are capable of honouring their part of the treaty unlike the past.

It is not for the first time that the TNSM and the NWFP government have inked a peace deal to end fighting in exchange for implementation of Shariah or Islamic law in a large region of the Northwest Frontier Province. It was on April 20, 2008 that the NWFP coalition government signed a six-point accord with the TNSM led by Maulana Sufi Mohammad whose son-in-law Maulana Fazlullah alias Maulana Radio calls the shots in Swat. The then imprisoned TNSM Amir had promised to renounce militancy and suicide attacks, refrain from targeting the Army and the government installations and not to oppose female education and immunisation programme for children. In return, the government withdrew all pending cases against Sufi, commuted his remaining prison term of four years and set him free unconditionally.

Sufi’s release meant that the coalition government in the NWFP, comprising the Awami National Party, which champions Pashtun nationalism and secularism, and the Pakistan People’s Party, a left-of-centre secular party, wanted to use him as a partner in tackling militancy and extremism and bringing peace to Swat. However, in a strange move, almost a week after his release, Sufi disowned his son-in-law, Maulana Fazlullah, saying he would not talk to him again for the sake of peace in Swat as he has shown disobedience to him. While there are those who believe it was a shrewd move on the part of Sufi who had already been freed and who wanted to carry on his old agenda of enforcing Shariah in the Malakand division, the NWFP government circles believed it was hard for Sufi to take back the initiative from his son-in-law who had already established himself as an unchallenged commander of the TNSM in Swat and strengthened his position by joining forces with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, led by the South Waziristan-based fugitive Commander Baitullah Mehsud.

Therefore, Sufi Mohammad deemed it fit to simply disown Maulana Fazlullah, thus failing to fulfil his part of the peace deal under which he was released. The Sufi’s inability to pursue his son-in-law prompted the NWFP government to pursue Fazlullah independently, only to strike yet another peace deal in Swat with him almost a month later — on May 21, 2008. It took the NWFP coalition government hardly three rounds of talks spread over 13 days to reach their peace accord for Swat. The 16-point handwritten accord in Urdu was described by analysts as a comprehensive document of give-and-take by the two sides. The TNSM leadership had renounced militancy in return for acceptance of their longstanding demand that Shariah be enforced in Swat and the rest of Malakand region. Fazlullah had promised not to challenge the writ of the state, refrain from attacking security forces and government installations and stop opposing girls’ education and immunisation of children. He denounced suicide bombings and agreed to disband his private militia — Shaheen Commando Force. Though it was not yet announced, a general amnesty for the Swati militants was to cover Fazlullah and his top lieutenants.

The NWFP government also gave in to the militants’ demand to retain control of the TNSM’s sprawling Madrassa complex in Fazlullah’s village, Mamdheray, and establish an Islamic university there, besides allowing them continued use of their FM radio. An 11-member joint committee of the provincial government officials, NWFP assembly members and militants’ representatives was formed to monitor and implement the accord, because of the worries that problems could arise with regard to the still undecided timeframe for eventual withdrawal of over 20,000 Army troops from Swat. However, the peace deal was unilaterally revoked by Maulana Fazlullah hardly a few weeks later under instructions from Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan Ameer Baitullah Mehsud who was furious over the ongoing military operation in the Waziristan region. Mehsud further asked the ruling coalition to step down immediately or else face an armed movement from the militants, as it had failed to honour its promises made with the Swat chapter of the TTP in the peace agreement.

Almost nine months later, the NWFP government has inked yet another peace agreement with Sufi who has once again promised to extend his support to bring back peace to Swat by prevailing upon his son-in-law to lay down arms before the military operation in the valley could come to an end. As per the peace deal, Sufi will be at the forefront of establishing a new political administration in Swat. He will pave public opinion for a new local administration, to be established in Swat, by holding public gatherings throughout the district. Nevertheless, there are those in the political circles who are sceptical about Sufi’s ability to neutralize Fazlullah and his lethal militant network despite reports that Baitullah Mehsud has already severed all contacts with Maulana Fazlullah for not toeing his line recently. At the same time, it remains to be seen how much political support and clout Sufi and his TNSM still retain in Swat and in the rest of Malakand region following his 2001 misadventure when he had taken thousands of his young followers to fight out the US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan which had invaded Kabul in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks. (The News)

Background of Sufi Muhammad and TNSM:

Peace deal to legitimise TNSM
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
By By Amir Mir
LAHORE: The Pakistan government’s decision to sign a peace agreement with Maulana Sufi Mohammad, the Ameer of the defunct Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi, who is well known for his constant defiance and innate inclination to challenge the writ of the state, has clearly revived the lost glory of this terrorist of the past besides legitimising his TNSM, which was banned by the Musharraf regime on Jan 12, 2002 for its involvement in anti-state terrorist activities.

Generally referred to as the Pakistani Taliban, primarily to distinguish it from the Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Omar, the Sufi-led TNSM or the Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Laws is a militant organisation which had fast emerged in the Malakand Division of the NWFP and in the Bajaur Agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) as a private army to reckon with. Known as a pro-Taliban Jihadi organisation, the TNSM had been founded by the Sufi way back in 1989 after discarding the umbrella of the Jamaat-e-Islami. While quitting the Jamaat, Sufi Mohammad had issued a decree, declaring that the religious political parties and electoral politics were unlawful and contrary to the Islamic principles. “There is no room for vote in Islam and the concept of democracy, which some religio-political parties are demanding, is wrong,” he added.

Ideologically, the TNSM Ameer is dedicated to transform Pakistan into a Taliban style Islamic state. The motto of his organisation is ‘Shariah ya Shahadat’ (Islamic laws or martyrdom) which rejects all political and religio-political parties for they follow Western style of democracy and openly condones the use of force in Jihad. The members of the group are identified by their shoulder-length hair and camouflage vests over traditional Shalwar Kameez, being the trade mark of Sufi Mohammad, which has become their identity and are now referred to as the black turbans.

In the words of Sufi: “Those opposing the imposition of Shariah in Pakistan are Wajibul Qatal (worthy of death). The TNSM rejects democracy as un-Islamic: “We want immediate enforcement of Islamic judicial system in totality: judicial, political, economic, Jihad fei sabilallah (holy war in the name of Allah), education and health. In my opinion the life of the faithful will automatically be moulded according to the Islamic system when the Islamic judicial system is enforced,” Sufi had declared in November 2001 shortly before being jailed in Pakistan on terrorism charges.

Almost six years later, on May 16, 2008, as Sufi was released by the government following a peace deal, he had reiterated his stance that he was struggling for the enforcement of the Islamic laws that ensure harmony and justice in the Pakistani society. On February 17, 2009, almost nine months later, the government finally conceded to his persistent demand for the enforcement of Nizam-e-Adal Regulation in seven districts of the Malakand division and Kohistan district of the Hazara division by abolishing all “un-Islamic” laws besides putting the security forces engaged in the military operation in Swat in reactive mode. In return, Sufi has reached Swat with a promise to convince his son-in-law Maulana Fazlullah and his fighters to lay down arms for the sake of peace.

Sufi Mohammad first rose to prominence in 1994 when he had staged a sit-in in Malakand by blocking the Mingora-Peshawar road for seven days, cutting off the Swat valley from the rest of Pakistan, demanding the enforcement of the Islamic laws. Subsequently, armed clashes between the law enforcing agencies and the TNSM activists took place at different places. A sitting member of the NWFP Assembly, Badiuzaman Khan, was taken hostage by the TNSM supporters and eventually killed. The law enforcement agencies thus moved in to crush the insurgents who clashed with the administration and effectively brought the whole administrative structure of Swat to a standstill by seizing control of the government buildings and the Saidu Sharif airport.

The uprising followed the February 12, 1994, Supreme Court verdict declaring the PATA Regulation that governed the Provincially-Administered Tribal Areas of Malakand as unconstitutional. The void created by the SC judgment led to the demand for the Shariah enforcement. Over three dozen people, including 12 security force personnel, were killed in a week of fighting before the government was able to re-establish its writ, but only after signing a peace agreement with Sufi to enforce the Shariah in Malakand. However, the deal could not be implemented, thus prompting fresh violence. Peace was only restored after another deal that served as a clear victory for the TNSM as Sufi Mohammad handed himself over to the military and the federal government agreed to enforce the Shariah in Malakand. Sufi remained in the government custody for a short period of time.

By November 1994, senior government functionaries reportedly sent Sufi official letters addressed to “Honorable Maulana Sufi Mohammad bin Hasan Mahmud” updating him about the government directives to enforce the Shariah law and requesting his cooperation. Immediate official instructions were then issued to establish religious courts. Sufi’s followers meanwhile started driving on the wrong side of the road claiming to defy the traffic rules introduced by Britain a century ago. Men were also told to grow beards. In short, Talibanisation began to take place while the political leadership failed to contain it and to put an end to the problem at its outset. Already a conservative area, Malakand suffered in the process with the TNSM extremists openly pursuing their agenda.

By that time, the Taliban movement led by Mullah Omar had already surfaced in Afghanistan after capturing Kandahar. As the Taliban and the TNSM had the same religious vision and ideals, Sufi Mohammad used to enjoy cordial relations with the Taliban rulers who funded him in a big way to make him extend the TNSM organisational set-up in other parts of the NWFP and in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. On September 6, 1998, the TNSM threatened to attack American property and to abduct American citizens in Pakistan unless Washington apologised for the August 1998 missile strikes in Afghanistan, targeting Osama’s training camps. The TNSM organised a protest procession in Mingora on September 20, 2001 where the speakers called for raising a voluntary army in order to extend support to the Taliban militia against the impending US strikes.

The Taliban rule in Afghanistan at that time actually provided the TNSM with an instant reference to argue and justify their rigid social policies. When the US-led Allied forces invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks, Sufi exhorted his followers to join the Taliban in Afghanistan in their armed struggle against the US-led allied forces. He had self-admittedly led over 10,000 Pakistani youngsters to fight the US-led Allied forces in Afghanistan in November 2001. Reportedly armed with Kalashnikovs, rocket launchers, missiles, anti-aircraft guns, hand grenades and swords, thousands of the TNSM cadres led by Sufi crossed the Pak-Afghan border. Thousands of the youngsters he had taken to Afghanistan in the aftermath of the US invasion were killed by the Northern Alliance troops and hundreds others were trapped by various Afghan warlords, who literally sold them back to their relatives in Pakistan for huge sums of money.

When a majority of his soldiers had been either killed or captured, he returned home only to be arrested by government forces. He was ultimately convicted on April 24, 2002, along with his 30 companions, to ten years of imprisonment for inciting people to go to Afghanistan and for violating state restrictions. He was then sent to a Dera Ismail Khan jail. Interestingly, he had refused to contest his case in the court of law, saying he does not believe in the existing courts and laws which were un-Islamic to him. In the aftermath of his Jihadi misadventure and the subsequent loss of lives, Sufi Mohammad lost much of his support in the Malakand division. A majority of his supporters went underground after the TNSM was banned on January 12, 2002 by the Musharraf regime along with four other Jihadi and sectarian organisations.

The TNSM had become almost dormant till the October 8, 2005 devastating earthquake struck the region, thus making the followers of Sufi capitalise on the great human tragedy and use it to revive their organisation. Since the volunteers of the TNSM were in the forefront of the humanitarian relief work, especially in the devastated areas of the NWFP, the popularity of the group once again shot up. In the process of helping out the quake-affected people, the TNSM re-established its stronghold in Malakand, Swat and Bajaur like other banned Jihadi groups and started mobilising its activists. However, contrary to many other banned militant organisations that deemed it fit to resurface under new identities by renaming themselves, the TNSM leadership decided not to abandon its previous identity.

Since the TNSM volunteers were in the forefront of the humanitarian relief work, especially in the devastated areas of the NWFP, the popularity of the Jihadi group once again shot up. In the process of helping out the quake affected people, the TNSM, now led by Maulana Fazalullah, re-established its stronghold in the Malakand and Swat areas of the NWFP and in the Bajaur area of Fata like other banned Jihadi groups and started mobilising its activists. Almost a year later, in the early hours of October 31, 2006, 82 people were killed in a missile attack on a religious Madrassa located at Chenagai village in the Bajaur Agency. The strike also killed Maulana Liaquat, the younger brother of Fazlullah, who used to run the seminary as a key leader of the TNSM. A few hours after the missile attack, Maulana Faqir Mohammed announced to avenge the killings of the innocent Madrassa students by carrying out suicide bombings against the Pakistani troops.

A week later, 45 Army recruits undergoing training at Punjab Regimental Centre training school at Dargai, 100 kilometres north of Peshawar, were killed and dozens injured on the morning of November 8, 2006, when a suicide bomber ran towards them and blew himself up. The TNSM had subsequently claimed the attack. Since then, there had been a significant resurgence in the activities of the TNSM, mostly targeting the country’s security forces, eventually prompting the newly-elected NWFP government to sign a peace agreement with Sufi on April 20, 2008 and release him from jail after six years of imprisonment. Almost nine months later, the government has signed yet another deal with Sufi Mohammad. However, only time will tell whether the deal signed by the government with the terrorists of the past to ensure peace in Swat bears fruit and actually brings the much-needed peace to the valley.