Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi
February 19, 2009
“Zameeni haqeeat alag hain. Swat ke log to aman aane se bahut khush hai! (The ground realties are different. The people of Swat valley are very happy to have peace!),” Rahimullah Yusufzai, the distinguished Pakistani editor based in Peshawar, told rediff.com. He was referring to the Pakistan government’s peace deals with hardliners that has created an international uproar.
Yusufzai is a long-time observer of the Taliban movement and a prolific commentator on the tumultuous events in the lawless tribal areas along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Resident editor of The News daily in Peshawar, he told rediff.com in a telephonic interview that the people of Swat are celebrating the peace deal because they will not be killed, attacked, uprooted or displaced in the ongoing confrontation with various shades of the Taliban and the government.
Yusufzai says the peace deal is primarily about the security of people living in the Swat valley.
Wednesday’s brutal murder of Geo TV reporter Musa Khan has been extensively covered in the Indian media. rediff.com contributor and Geo TV newscaster Hamid Mir told a press conference in Swat on Thursday that the tragic killing is aimed at disturbing peace in the Swat valley.
According to Yuufzai, “In the last year, four journalists have been killed in Swat. Nine journalists have been killed in the tribal area. We are on the frontline. One journalist died this year in a suicide attack; one was killed in a crossfire. Things are difficult. We are in the wrong place at the wrong time!”
“If you don’t want the Taliban,” Yusufzai said, “then defeat it! But if you can’t do that what is the government’s option? This deal is a difficult deal. One cannot guarantee its success, but it is for peace in the region.”
People living in the Swat valley want peace with or without Sharia laws.
The strict implementation of Sharia laws worries critics as does the possibility of the Taliban taking physical control of the region, which is located just 160 km from Islamabad
Yusufzai says the deal is not stopping children from going to school. “Why do critics get upset about Sharia laws? Islamic law has been always there in the North West Frontier Province. People have been following it since (then prime minister) Benazir Bhutto allowed it in 1994. It is not new or brought in with the peace deal. This area was unique and has been following its own unique ways.”
India has repeatedly said that it does not distinguish between the good, bad and ugly Taliban.
But the ground reality is that the government of Pakistan has no choice but make the not-so-fine distinction to save its people getting killed as collateral damage when its army fights the Taliban.
The Obama administration in Washington, DC has decided to send 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Some critics have said it is possible that the peace deal with a milder faction of the Taliban suits the American plan in Afghanistan since the Pashtuns on the Pakistan side will remain pacified to some extent at least.
While the deal with the Taliban has dominated news coverage in India for the last three days, a commentator based in Islamabad told rediff.com that the Indian audience is receiving a mix of facts, lies and propaganda.
Actually, the peace deal is not with the Taliban, it is with a defunct and banned outfit older than the Taliban. The Pakistan government’s peace agreement is with Maulana Sufi Mohammad, the amir of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi. Sufi’s outfit was defunct, but he has revived it with this peace deal and made it legitimate. The TNSM is older than the Taliban and came into existence in 1992.
Sufi has been an anti-government agitator for many years.
Yusufzai does not deny the inherent dangers of the peace deal with the Taliban because Sufi’s son-in-law Maulana Fazlullah, who heads the Pakistan faction of the Taliban, is fighting a war against the Pakistan army and its paramilitary forces.
The controversial deal is now on a weak wicket because it is believed that Sufi does not have much influence over his son-in-law. What Sufi can bring to the table will depend on Fazlullah’s readiness to “surrender.”
“The success of the peace deal depends on many factors,” says Yusufzai. “How do you reconcile with the Fazlullah-kind of leaders? But I still have a little bit of hope for the success of the peace deal.”
There was no great enthusiasm within the PPP for enforcement of Sharia in Swat. But, it was felt that if this was all it took to bring about peace there, then it should be done. The ANP government in the Frontier was already under extreme pressure of the militants with some of its leaders killed and others hiding in safe places. It too needed some relief. Thus, the decision to go ahead and cut a deal with Sufi Mohammad.
This may have bought some breathing space for the federal and provincial governments, but the problem is that such deals in the past have only strengthened the militants. The people of Swat are fed up with bloodshed and the disruption of their normal life. It is natural for them to welcome anything that could lead to peace but there hopes may be misplaced. Just a day after the ceasefire a correspondent for Geo TV and The News, Musa Khankhel, was killed in cold blood. By the time this goes into print other violations may also have occurred. With such early signs, it is difficult to be optimistic.
The reason for this is simple. The militants in Swat may claim to be fighting for the enforcement of Sharia – and a small minority may be motivated by this – but not all. The likes of Fazlullah are fighting to claim territory and create a state within a state. In this, they are backed by a fair number of foreign militants who have penetrated into Swat. A peace deal for them only means no military interdiction and greater freedom of action.
A day after the accord, TV channels were reporting that check posts on approaches to Swat were being manned by the militants. Does the deal then only mean an abdication of responsibility by the state and a virtual takeover by the Taliban? It may have given some political relief to the PPP and the ANP but this clearly is not peace. It is surrender. Real change would be if the militants melted away and the state was able to establish control. Is that likely to happen?
I am not even going into the codification issues of Sharia acceptable to all but there are other issues not strictly judicial. Where do men’s beards, girls’ schools, women’s right to work, choice of curriculums and other such things fall? Will these too be determined by the militants? There is a bizarre story doing the rounds that Sufi Mohammad ordered driving on the right side of the road during an earlier episode of Sharia enforcement. It resulted in many accidents but his self-righteous zeal was not deterred. Will such things too be part of the deal?
It is going to be rough going. The external situation may also be not conducive. The NATO allies in Afghanistan are already expressing scepticism and this is likely to grow, although there are some reports that the US is okay with it. The government, though, may have won some international credit by conducting a thorough inquiry into the Mumbai tragedy. It was also courageous to accept publicly that some local elements might be involved in it. This has established Pakistan’s sincerity and the credibility of its investigative process.
|Scarred in Swat
| The Pakistan report card
Friday, February 20, 2009
by Fasi Zaka
A week ago I went to Peshawar to deliver a seminar at a business school. By the parking lot I had an undergraduate student waiting for me. He stopped me and said, “I read your columns, and I am disappointed. You don’t write about the slaughter in Swat.” We agreed to meet in an hour’s time so I could hear him out.
He arrived on time, and his mood was subdued. A tall and handsome young man, his face was blemished near the edge of his lips and eyes. I thought they were birthmarks of some kind; he told me it was from a bomb by the Taliban in his city. Shrapnel was lodged in his chest near his heart, and in his legs. His calm demeanor wouldn’t lead one to believe he was a survivor of something so tragic and violent.
Like some of the Swatis I had spoken to, he was desolate. He felt abandoned, and the most apt way to describe him would be to say he and his people were trapped in a crossfire between the Taliban and the army, both of whom they distrusted. Once a proud Pakistani, now the title felt like an identity badge, a titular title, no pomp, no authority, no recourse or empowerment.
This particular boy had an uncle who was killed. He could not go back to Swat because the Taliban had set up check points with long lists of names of people they would abduct, or do worse. He had been marked for death. Whenever he could, he would visit Swat to avoid the roads where the Taliban roamed. He said even in the idyll of the evenings the air was filled with terror.
Young children not old enough to be at a funeral had seen dead bodies in the streets. The slightest offenses mandated death. His gripe was the same refrain, he had never seen dead militants, every action whether by the Army or the Taliban seemed to result in the loss of life for civilians. The colour green had bled to red, the green chowk now known as the Khooni Chowk. His old school was gone, the entire middle class with enough money to do so had taken their daughters out of the city. Schools were either occupied by the Taliban or the forces, and those that weren’t had been destroyed. Those that remain face an uncertain future. He didn’t believe the government was serious at all in doing anything for them.
For him, and several others I had spoken to, it seemed like they were watching their memories being washed away in front of their eyes, the warmth of the place they called home now unrecognizable.
He asked me to put his name in my article; it was the only way to show his defiance. I told him I wouldn’t; he was too young to attract any more attention. But, at the time I was confident that things would change.
Rehman Malik, Asif Ali Zardari and Yousaf Raza Gilani had begun to give unequivocal statements to the country at large that they would no longer stand by the abandonment of Swat and the extinction of government writ in the area. They were going to conduct an operation that would end the mayhem once and for all.
And now we know. Their “swift and decisive” victory was a compromise of capitulating to the demands of the Taliban to enforce Sharia. By giving in, they have legitimized the Taliban.
I read Ansar Abassi and Rahimullah Yousafzai’s pieces on the development, citing it as favourable. I have a great deal of respect for both, especially in Ansar’s case, because their reporting is literally singlehandedly helping drive the national agenda in terms of highlighting the failures of the government. But I disagree.
Yes, the nuances they highlight are true. Swat always had a judicial system similar to the one proposed, yes Maulana Fazlullah and Sufi Mohammed are different in their approach, yes some of the people want a new judicial system that is more effective in solving their issues.
But, are the problems of the people of Swat with the judicial system truly different from that of the rest of the country? Everyone in Pakistan wants speedy justice. No one wants to wait ten years for a decision. So doesn’t that mean we should apply the solution to Swat’s problems to the rest of the country? If not, why not?
The government’s solution is insincere. If anything we need to make the whole country uniform in the writ of the law, and that includes the tribal areas. This “settlement” is basically a stop gap solution to ensure that the government has some breathing space rather than do what is truly necessary, bring to retributive justice those who indulged in the killing spree in Swat and restore order.
Yes, people point out that there have been peaceful marches for the new “judicial system”, but if a man like Sufi Mohammed can send thousands of people to fight in Afghanistan, surely he can manage a few rallies in his neighborhood? What of the other Swat, the people still afraid to come out of their homes, and those who have left their homes, is this what they want? This concern for the judicial system in Swat should also extend to the deposed Chief Justice, to the Farah Dogars of this world as well. The insincerity and incompetence with which this issue is now being resolved will not solve anything in the long run. Will Maulana Fazlullah now redeem all his arms and ammunition to the government? Will a Sharia that is of Malauna Fazlullah’s liking allow girls to go to school beyond the arbitrary cap of the fourth grade?
It’s best summarized by what one reader wrote to me. He said, “Please we cannot take this anymore, from the savagery of the Taliban to the indifference of the government. Please use atom bombs on us, it will end our misery.” (The News)
The writer is a Rhodes scholar and former academic. Email: fasizaka@ yahoo.com
Swat peace deal: Another retreat? Article on BBC Urdu dot com
The second innings of Sufi Muhammad