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Accomodation with Militants in Swat: Implications For Regional Security

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  • April 24, 2009
    Fellows' Seminar
    Only by Invitation
    1030 to 1300 hrs

    Chair: C Uday Bhaskar
    Discussants: Kalim Bahadur and Siddharth Varadarajan

    In 1947 Swat was a princely state that was ruled by Miangul Abdul Haq Jehanzeb, the Wali of Swat, who was a progressive ruler and built a number of educational institutions, hospitals, roads and infrastructure. The state acceded to Pakistan in 1947, but retained its identity till 1969, when Wali relinquished power and the state of Swat was merged with the province of NWFP as the Provincially Administered Tribal Area (PATA). Until 1969 the Wali of Swat exercised absolute authority, and even after the merger continued to be the ruler in an honorary capacity till 1987.

    With the merger of the state in 1969, there was some tumult as many of the employees of the state were forcibly retired and there were large-scale protests, leading to confusion and anarchy. Swat became a haven for lawlessness and uncertainty. All the developmental projects were mired in red tape and there was all round deterioration. The public discontent was used by the religious fundamentalists to further their cause. Sufi Mohammad Khan, who was earlier a member of Jamaat-e-Islami, founded TNSM after leaving Jamaat-e-Islami in 1992, with the aim of establishing an Islamic order. In the ensuing clash with security forces Sufi Mohammad and 20 of his senior followers were arrested. But the provincial government of NWFP led by Sherpao for some strange reason withdrew the charges. After the US missile attack on Afghanistan in August 1998, TNSM threatened to attack American property and abduct American citizens unless USA apologised to the Islamic world for the missile attack. Many of his followers died in the misadventure and he was arrested on his return to Pakistan.

    In October 2007, after a few altercations with the security forces, his followers virtually took over the entire Swat Valley. As Sufi Mohammad began showing a willingness to negotiate a settlement, Fazalullah distanced himself from his erstwhile mentor. When Sufi Mohammad negotiated the deal with the government, the hard-line faction led by Fazalullah refused to abide by it.

    Subsequent to the US attack on Afghanistan in October 2001, the Taliban and Al Qaeda elements from Afghanistan fled to the inaccessible and mountainous regions of the FATA. Initially Pakistani forces largely avoided interfering with them, intending to use them in Afghanistan after the US withdrawal. However, this policy had to change under sustained US pressure and the Pakistani troops were forced to enter South Waziristan Agency in FATA and directed the local Taliban to surrender foreign militants. The aim was to create a distinction between the local Taliban and al Qaeda led foreign militants.

    Despite the failure of peace deals in South Waziristan, the Pakistani government subsequently attempted the same policy of accommodation with the militants in North Waziristan. Islamabad accordingly signed another peace deal with the militants, with Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s assistance, called the Miramshah Agreement on September 5, 2006. But like previous such attempts in South Waziristan it failed to bring peace.

    In the run up to the February 2008 elections, the caretaker provincial government of NWFP, in a desperate bid to buy peace, had proposed implementation of Shariat regulations in the entire Malakand Division comprising seven districts, Dir Upper, Dir Lower, Swat, Shangla, Buner, Malakand and Chitral in the NWFP. The proposal intended to take away from people, their right to submit a writ in the High Court and the Supreme Court, instead a Shariat court at the division level was to be set up as the final arbiter of justice.

    This deal was followed by another deal on May 21, 2008 with Maulana Fazalullah. In the peace deal signed with Fazalullah, the militants agreed that they would accept and honour the writ of the federal and provincial government and would not malign the religion of other citizens. However, the deal was unilaterally discarded just a few weeks later under directives from TTP chief, Baitullah Mehsud who was unhappy with the ongoing military operations in Waziristan. As a result, Swat was a fierce battleground by the end of 2008 and by January 2009, the militants were controlling most of Swat valley.

    Soon the ANP government in NWFP realised that the army was not able to overcome the Taliban led by Fazlullah and the Taliban rather than being defeated, had consolidated their grip on Swat. It accordingly signed a fresh peace deal with Sufi Mohammad on February 16, 2009. As part of the deal, Shariat laws have been enforced in seven districts of Malakand Division and Kohistan district of Hazara Division. The deal purports to abolish all “un-Islamic” laws and halt all operations by the security forces, as well as sets time limits for various trials, a maximum of six months for civil cases and four months for criminal cases. It also proposes setting up a divisional Shariat court or Darul Quza, which will be the final arbiter of all cases from the region. It would remove the need for local cases to be appealed through the normal court system followed in the rest of Pakistan.

    Many in the government perceive the peace deal as a split between the Baitullah Mehsud led TTP based in Waziristan and the Swat Taliban led by Fazalullah, but neither of the two has given any indication of a rift. On the other hand the deal saw consolidation of Taliban forces in Waziristan, as immediately after the deal, three Taliban commanders in South and North Waziristan including two who were perceived to be pro-government, joined hands. Although the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation was formally promulgated in the region only after the Presidential ascent on April 13, 2009, the Qazi courts had started functioning in Swat Valley from March 17, 2009. The supporters of the deal say that the laws being implemented are a relatively mild form of Shariat, and meant to erode popular support for the militants demand for expeditious Islamic justice. Under the proposed law, qazi (religious judge), will sit in the court, along with a regular judge, to ensure that the judgments conform to Islamic teachings. The deal draws its support not only from the ANP led provincial government but also from the army, which sees it as a face saving device after it failed to evict Taliban from this region. The opponents of the deal believe that it will facilitate a parallel legal system and lead to a demand by the Taliban to impose a harsher version of Shariat and for its implementation in other parts of Pakistan as well. The US has also criticised the deal as it believes this deal only provides time and space for the militants to rearm, as well as give up secular traditions for Islamic law.

    Issues Raised in the Discussion

    • Developments in Swat should not be linked to Sufi Mohammad, as it is not related to the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
    • It is unimportant whether the Taliban takes Buner or any other district, what is significant is to understand their plan and the reasons behind their success.
    • It needs to be pointed out that Pakistan is not as much against the Taliban as it is against the United States.
    • Army in Pakistan is totally convinced that the Taliban are allies and India is a greater threat than the Taliban.
    • The situation could become grave if the Taliban enters the urban areas in Pakistan. There are also possibilities of the Army joining hands with the Taliban.
    • An anthropological background on Swat needs to be highlighted.
    • There is a need to consider the impact of developments in Pakistan on India, Russia, China and Iran.
    • The interface between state and society in Pakistan should be taken into account.
    • Radicalisation is a serious problem in Pakistani society as 59.43 per cent of the population consist of youth.
    • There is a need to highlight the novel features introduced by the recently signed deals, given that such deals have been signed in the past as well.
    • It is important to understand how to contain the conflict.
    • Is the erosion of state authority in Pakistan a result of United States policy towards Pakistan?
    • There is a need to highlight how the various groups have looked at the peace deal.
    • There is a need to analyse how India could influence the situation and what could be the implications on militant groups in India.
    • Does recruitment to terror outfits emanate from socio-economic grievances? One needs to go to the root causes. Negotiating with terrorists is not wrong as it could provide a meaningful way to engage them.
    • Peace deals have not been successful as they are signed from a position of weakness.

    Prepared by Medha Bisht, Research Assistant at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.