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Farhat Taj: The army finally gets it right

It was retaliation par excellence. A convoy of the Pakistan army was ambushed by Taliban terrorists in the Kanjo area in Swat. The convoy had intended to go to Mangora to reinforce the army units there. Several soldiers died on the spot. The army responded with robust force and attacked the Taliban holding strategic positions on the heights containing Mangora emerald mines. From those heights the Taliban used to attack the Mangora circuit house, where the army was stationed. All the militants on the heights were killed and the state property, the emerald mines, was regained. Moreover, the army conducted successful attacks on other strongholds of the Taliban in Rahimabad and Takhtaband, and killed them there. “I am so pleased to see the forceful attacks. It is like avenging a slap in the face with a kick in the face,” said a resident of Swat from Mangora. He also informed me that all the people in Swat were very happy with this retaliatory response of the army. “This is what we expect from the state army and this is how the army must deal with the Taliban beasts,” he said further

Moreover, hundreds of Taliban terrorists have besieged the police station in Matta, a stronghold of the Taliban, for three days now. All roads leading to the police station have been mined by the militants so that the security forces could not reach the police station. Policemen and FC soldiers are within the police station. Entire Pakistan should be proud of them. They are resisting the militants, despite the fact that they are short of food, water and fuel. “The resistance of the besieged policemen and soldiers is very reassuring. Our prayers are with them. We love them. May God be with them,” people of Swat who I contacted told me.

A wonderful achievement of the besieged policemen and FC soldiers is that they have killed Ibn-e-Aqel, the Taliban leader who was leading the siege of the police station. He was one of the cruelest Taliban leaders. He had mercilessly beheaded civilians, soldiers and policemen in Swat. He was the man who excavated the body of Pir Samiulla, the man who had led an armed resistance against the Taliban. Ibn-e-Aqel was the brother of Ibn-e-Amin, the top Taliban commander in Ber Swat area. Both the brothers have been strong opponents of Afzal Kahn Lala, a leader who stood up to the Taliban in his native village in Swat.

People of Swat say enough is enough. They have suffered enough atrocities. All those in Swat that I am in contact with told me they want the Pakistan army to eliminate the Taliban once and for all. For that purpose, they told me, they were ready to suffer as IDPs for some time. But the army operation must be swift, targeted and must kill the Taliban.

Indeed most Pakhtuns want the Pakistan army to annihilate the Taliban. The army would do itself a good if it crushed the Taliban. The Pakistan army has always had a high reputation in the eyes of the people of NWFP and FATA. This reputation is battered now. The army is seen as unable to eliminate the Taliban, or as ready to kill Pakhtun civilians but tacitly supporting the Taliban. Once Afzal Khan Lala, a veteran ANP politician, told me that he had clearly told Chief of Army Staff General Kayani that people in Swat believed that the army and the Taliban were one and the same. The same is the perception of people all over NWFP and FATA. Retaliations against the Taliban, like those in Swat in the last couple or so days, would improve the reputation of the army among the Pakhtuns.

But retaliations and reactions against the Taliban here and there in bits and pieces are just not enough. The army needs to deal with them all over Pakistan. The Taliban must be eliminated. They must be crushed for good. There are no moderate or good Taliban. There are no Taliban that can be engaged in dialogue. They all are mad beasts.

Look at the track record of the Taliban. They occupy a place. Unleash a reign of terror on the civilians there. Then they give it up and run away for life when faced with huge might. They did that in Kabul when the US bombed them and they will do so in Swat, Buner and Dir, where the army is conducting an operation against them. They will abandon the area and run away to FATA. They will wait in FATA for an appropriate time to reoccupy parts in NWFP.

The army need to be in a proactive mode. It must chase the Taliban in the tribal area and kill them in operations that are offensive not defensive. It must destroy the Taliban and Al Qaeda installations and training camps in FATA. The army must restore the sovereignty of Pakistan and retake the areas in FATA and NWFP that have long been occupied by the Taliban. The Pakistan army must free the Pakhtun citizens of Pakistan, who are forced to live under one of the most brutal occupations of our time.

Pakhtuns are loyal citizens of Pakistan. But they feel abandoned by the state to the Taliban. The Taliban, whether Pakhtun or non-Pakhtun, are the enemies of Pakhtun. The army must show that it stands with the Pakhtuns by eliminating the Taliban. The Taliban understand the language of violence only. The army must aggressively communicate with them in that language.

Moreover, there are Taliban and Al Qaeda hideouts and installations in other parts of Pakistan, especially in Balochistan and southern Punjab. They too have to be taken care of. The state must take control of all jehadi madrassas and must use force, if necessary. (The News, 9 May 2009)

The writer is a research fellow at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Research, University of Oslo, and a member of Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy. Email: bergen34@yahoo.com

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Pakistan goes to war in Swat

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has declared war in Swat and he has all the important stakeholders on board. The peace deal — directly with Sufi Muhammad and indirectly with the Taliban — was sincerely followed by the government in the teeth of many dire predictions of conceding advantage to the Taliban under the guise of sharia embodied in the Nizam-e Adl. But even as Sufi Muhammad parleyed, his son-in-law and warlord Fazlullah violated the pledge of the “stand still” agreement, killed people, destroyed girls’ schools, maltreated women and generally intimidated a population that had returned from their earlier exodus by reposing trust in him.

The army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, says the army will fight till “decisive ascendancy” has been achieved in Swat. The army knows that it is backed by the entire nation. Earlier, when the parliament was briefed by the army on the expanding phenomenon of the Taliban, the reaction from the opposition was that it was “not Pakistan’s war” — and the general tenor of the joint resolution that emerged from it was for withdrawing troops and negotiating with the Taliban. When the NWFP government offered the Nizam-e Adl to Sufi Muhammad, the parliament endorsed its signature into law.

President Asif Zardari’s policy of getting the Nizam-e Adl clearly endorsed by parliament has turned out to be the right policy. The Taliban have offended all the parties that took part in this unanimous vote. The PMLN, which spent most part of 2008 garnering additional political support by positing military operations against the Taliban as “Pakistan fighting America’s war against its own people”, now has grounds for declaring that it “supports the government unconditionally in the greater national interest”. This support is crucial to the conduct of war in Swat. Together, the PPP and the PMLN have almost the entire voting population of Pakistan behind the war.

There is no doubt that there will be a period of attrition in this war. The Taliban of Swat are linked to the Taliban in adjoining territories and they have been preparing for this face-off because they never had any intention of abiding by the peace pledges of Nizam-e Adl. Foreign warriors and fighters external to Swat have always taken part in terrorism there, killing innocent people and spreading fear and intimidation among the common folk. According to ex-secretary FATA Brigadier Mehmood Shah, Uzbek warlord Tahir Yuldashev was only recently injured while engaging with the Pakistani security forces in the Swat region and was removed to South Waziristan for recovery.

Parliament remains the forum where the conduct of the war against the Taliban should continue to be discussed. An APC comprising elected and non-elected entities is not desirable because it will simply increase the complexities of the national consensus on the war. Many groupings may actually not like to be forced into expressing an opinion for or against the military operation. Some like the Jama’at-e Islami and Tehreek-e Insaf have articulated their opposition to it because they still think, wrongly, that it is not Pakistan’s war and that our army has gone out “to kill its own people”. The ANP, which increasingly speaks for the Pashtun majority in Pakistan located partly in Karachi, has decided to back the operation. This backing is in some ways more crucial than the support of all the nay-sayers in the unelected opposition.

A religious reaction against the Taliban has emerged in the rest of Pakistan. It is a good development provided it is not allowed to assume the shape of an anti-Taliban jihadi militia with unpredictable consequences for civil society in the future. The mosques in Punjab are sounding objections to the conduct of the Taliban and their local supporters, but this trend will die down unless the government also takes action against the old jihadis who have now joined the Al Qaeda-Taliban combine. Despite cases going on against them in connection with the Mumbai attacks, they are free to hold local agitprop public meetings and some have been reported as grabbing Barelvi mosques in South Punjab.

The army can do the job provided the civilian governments in the provinces take steps to prevent “revenge attacks” by the Taliban in their territories. Punjab is under a competent leadership which has already pledged to beef up the police to suppress the provincial reflex of dismissing terrorism as a “federal” problem. (Daily Times)