Newspaper Articles

Militants in Swat: Can we negotiate with them from a position of weakness?

No, a thousand times no!

Tuesday, 24 Feb, 2009

Taliban militants holds several  men prisoner in Swat in this file photo. - Reuters

Taliban militants holds several men prisoner in Swat in this file photo. – Reuters

YOU never negotiate from a position of weakness: not in business; not in banking; not while making real estate deals; and certainly not when dealing with cold-blooded killers who think nothing of slaughtering defenceless old men and women and hanging their carcasses from electric poles in the main squares of the towns and villages which that night face their wrath.

The government of the Frontier, Pakhtunkhwa, call it what you will; and the Government of Pakistan, including their agencies both covert and overt, have cravenly given in to the murderous thugs who have brought so much pain and misery to Swat; who have made its once pristine rivers run red with innocent blood. They have given the mullah the proverbial inch; as said in this same space last week, just wait until he demands a thousand miles, and more.

Those that write that the situation was so bad in Swat that there was no other way but to make a deal with Maulvi Sufi Mohammad, who would in turn make a deal with his son-in-law Mullah Fazlullah (aka Mullah Radio), and that the crowds that came onto the roads to welcome Sufi’s caravan testified to the fact that the deal was a good thing, should think again. For the deal is unravelling before our very eyes.

On the very day after the so-called deal was signed young Musa Khankhel, a journalist, was brutally shot in broad daylight; three days later the newly appointed DCO of Swat was kidnapped along with his half-a-dozen guards and some hours later exchanged for two Taliban with a third release promised impendingly. Already, the Waziristan Taliban have formed a ‘Shura Ittehadul Mujahideen’, to wage jihad “in an organised manner”.

The Taliban commanders who have united under one banner are Hafiz Gul Bahadur of North Waziristan; Maulvi Nazir of Wana, and our old friend Baitullah Mehsud of South Waziristan. According to news from Miranshah the three have declared President Barack Obama, Hamid Karzai and Asif Zardari ‘infidels’. An aside: if this is not a wake-up call, Mr President, what will be, for you to make up with the other big political party, the PML-N, and face the country’s enemies, which includes the establishment, together?

This is not all. In a clear, and alarming, sign that it is in a state of utter denial, the agency which was given the responsibility for combating the now victorious insurgents, and which failed all ends up to do its duty, is once more flexing its muscles in another worthless show of fake bravado. The ISPR has the gall to say that the “military option was still open if the Swat peace deal failed”.

Nor is this all. It has the brass to say that it needs “modern equipment” which would not only “enhance the efficiency of the armed forces [read Pakistan Army!], but also help reduce collateral damage”. What absolute poppycock is this, sirs? Just WHAT modern equipment are you asking for? More artillery pieces and helicopter gunships that were your favourite weapons while you were making feeble attempts to ‘fight’ the Taliban? No artillery gun or helicopter gunship that will reduce collateral damage has yet been invented.

The only way to limit collateral damage is when you physically ‘contact’ the enemy at close quarters. Not once has this tactic been used by the army in Swat, or anywhere else in the Frontier.

The extent of the failure of the Pakistan state and its great army is frighteningly alarming. The ineptness shown defies description and the refusal to even now accept its shortcomings and improve is extremely disquieting, nay distressing.

Swat was/is not the only ‘theatre’ in which the army has shown it is unequal to the task. Please consider the daily attacks on the main supply route we have offered to the Americans/Nato through the Khyber Pass. Think back to the photographs of the bridge most recently blown up, in place of which army engineers quickly put up a temporary structure capable of handling the supply-carrying vehicles.

Clearly seen in the background and barely a few hundred feet away is a picket post: little fort-like buildings for accommodations for up to a platoon of soldiers that dot the Khyber Pass, indeed all the passes leading into the Frontier and Balochistan. It was once said that these pickets were so located that each of them either had a water source of its own or was near enough one from where donkeys or mules could carry the water up to it — therefore the term ‘mule-tank’. It was said too that using heliograms, messages could be relayed for hundreds of miles, from picket to picket, warning of impending danger.

I digress. The question to ask is if the picket seen behind the blown-up bridge was manned; and if it was not, why not? WHY this lackadaisical approach to everything, even tried and tested standard operating procedures? It is galling in the extreme to me as an old soldier when I see that the most basic tactics of operating in an insurrectional situation are not employed.

It angers me no end when I hear people who should know nothing of our country and its people’s ways, lecture us that our troops, particularly the Frontier Corps, don’t know how to fight an insurrection. If the Tochi Scouts don’t know tribal warfare who does, for God’s sake? If the Kurram Militia doesn’t know, who does? US Navy Seals?

If only our brass-hats gave more time to training their commands than they give to running housing colonies and factories and bakeries and tikka joints and tarting up their cantonments.

This deal should never have been made. It is the thin end of the wedge. Punjab is already under attack: Mianwali has had two police posts blown up and that poor Polish geologist who was then duly beheaded, was taken from Attock. We will rue the day. And now for the harsh words spoken by an increasingly distressed Nawaz Sharif.

Asif Zardari should even now do the right thing and, in keeping with the Charter of Democracy and his own promises, immediately ask his party to move the 18th Amendment removing all the undemocratic changes to our constitution made by the Commando. Who, by the way, has some gall too, smoking his fat Cohiba on television and lecturing us angrily. The man should be held to account for his many crimes, chief among which is the near destruction of the Pakistan Army.

Asif should also know that having Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif disqualified through the courts will only make him look worse, and make them ever more popular.

P.S. The same crowds would have come out on to Swat’s roads had the Frontier government moved itself and all its minions to Saidu Sharif to govern from there. What good now to distribute 30,000 rifles among the villagers?! Poppycock again. (Dawn)

Militants in Swat

Tuesday, 24 Feb, 2009

TTP is looking to carve out a place for itself in the future set-up from which it can ensure its relevance and safety.—AP

TTP is looking to carve out a place for itself in the future set-up from which it can ensure its relevance and safety.—AP

The kidnapping of the Swat district coordination officer by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan is an indication of just how rocky the road to peace in the area is. Muslim Khan, the TTP’s spokesman in Swat, initially denied the DCO had been taken hostage but later admitted to having swapped the official and his bodyguards for militants in state custody.

This was not the only transgression by the TTP in recent days: several locals belonging to the ANP have also been kidnapped from Mingora. Given that Maulana Fazlullah’s militants have declared a 10-day ceasefire and are engaged in peace talks with Sufi Mohammad, the kidnappings suggest the militants remain conflicted about peace in the region.

At the very least, it can be surmised that Maulana Fazlullah has been wrong-footed by the government’s pledge to implement Sharia in the region more effectively. The TTP commander has acknowledged that the new regulation is in line with what the militants have been demanding, but what he can’t say is that their agenda goes beyond simply introducing a better legal system, and includes territorial control.

Having camouflaged their fight against the state as a quest for justice, now that the state has acted to strip away the militants’ fig leaf they are resorting to accusing the state of artifice and deceit. ‘The government violated the (ceasefire) agreement by arresting our men in Peshawar and killing one in Dir. Therefore, we had to do this,’ Muslim Khan has said, justifying the kidnapping of the DCO.

In the days ahead, the TTP may well keep upping its demands and imposing new conditions for peace that the state will find difficult to accept. Top of that list would be the withdrawal of all troops from Swat and the release of all militants in state custody.

From the TTP’s point of view there is an additional problem: ensuring their personal safety once normality returns to Swat. After beheading and killing and maiming with frightening savagery for the past two years, the militants have made many enemies among the locals; remaining there in peace time will almost certainly invite revenge attacks.

So if this is really the endgame of militancy in Swat, the TTP is looking to carve out a place for itself in the future set-up from which it can ensure its relevance and safety. Hence the mixed signals of talking peace while reminding everyone of their capacity for violence.

However, the state must remain firm: legitimate demands for a better justice system should be met but control of the area should be taken back and the terror infrastructure dismantled. Sufi Mohammad’s call yesterday for the militants to end their violence, not interfere in the administration of Swat and accept a phased introduction of legal changes is the way ahead. It remains to be seen if the TTP will acquiesce. (Dawn)