Shaky in Swat
Tuesday, March 03, 2009
It is no surprise at all that the truce in Swat is under threat. Indeed, we would all have been left perplexed if this had not happened. Sufi Mohammad Khan has now demanded that the Nizam-e-Adl regulation agreed upon with the provincial government now be enforced within two weeks and Qazi courts made operative. The fact that none of us really know what the peace agreement includes in the first place adds to the doubts surrounding the whole issue. The attack on a security convoy and the kidnapping of an FC commandant further highlights the futility of dealing with men who cannot be trusted. Sufi Muhammad Khan conveniently claims the attack was a 'mistake', but how do we know such 'mistakes' will not be made again? The fact is that the militants are divided; attempts are on from within their ranks to sabotage the truce and by doing so discredit Sufi Muhammad. It seems very likely that their tactics will succeed.
The authorities need to face up to the fact that they are dealing with desperate men; judging by their actions and their words, some at least among them seem poised on the brink of insanity. Who else but the deranged would behead people and stick their heads atop poles or hold up toddlers close to the gory scenes of such killings to ensure they witness them? Reason seems pointless when used against such people. There are indications that Sufi Muhammad is under immense pressure from more hard-line militants led by his son-in-law to step up demands on the government. It is increasingly clear that the truce in Swat cannot hold. Any hope of a lasting peace that allows people to resume normal lives can come only when the militants are vanquished and their leaders punished for the crimes they have committed. Until this happens, we will see, at best, only temporary solutions in Swat while the hold of militants grows steadily stronger as a result of the failure to decisively crush them. (The News, Editorial)
Atrophy of Muslim utopia
If the idea was to buy peace with sharia in Swat, it is not working so far. The TNSM chief, Maulana Sufi Mohammad, mediating between the ANP government in Peshawar and his son-in-law Mulla Fazlullah in Swat, has clearly decided to side with his son-in-law. He has demanded appointment of qazis and the release of Taliban prisoners by March 15, after which one can imagine all sorts of dire developments. On the basis of which strength is the great Sufi issuing his warning, if not the Taliban led by his son-in-law?
Meanwhile, the Taliban have not stopped attacking convoys and kidnapping soldiers to use as bargain counters. The DCO Swat was picked up by the Taliban before the ink was dry on the ANP-TSNM deal. The message of the kidnapping was: let our jailed men go. The men were released and the DCO was released. Now the Sufi wants the rest of them released too because that is a part of the deal. And who decides on the identity of the persons to be released? The son-in-law. Even if the men have been caught as common criminals in Peshawar?
As the Sufi delivered his latest warning, two Frontier Corps soldiers were injured in an attack on their convoy and an FC commandant was kidnapped. Is the Sufi put off by this? No. He is put off by the tardiness of the Peshawar government in implementing sharia. He wants qazis in place quickly and he doesn’t want magistrates posing as qazis. He has made it clear that he will personally screen all the qazis sent to Swat and will approve only those who accept the kind of sharia he wants. The law under the Constitution of Pakistan still in force has already been dubbed “un-Islamic” by him.
The Sufi says if the peace deal is broken by either of the two parties — Peshawar or the Taliban — they would be held accountable. The fact is that he can’t hold the Taliban accountable for anything. The Taliban are in power; he is merely a go-between. He can punish Peshawar through the Taliban; he can’t punish the Taliban, full stop. Warlord Fazlullah says he will let the Pakistan army and constabulary personnel through if an advanced notice is given to him. He controls the movement of the army and has been able to put an end to the checkposts it had in Swat.
This is not a good state of affairs. We have no desire to criticise the ANP government. It has gone for the deal after clearly stating that the army was making no headway in Swat even after a critical visit of the army chief to the affected region. The ANP leaders have made no bones about what they think of the possible “intent” of the army as it faces up to the Taliban terrorists. Therefore, if it has gone for a peace deal with the Taliban from a position of prostration to save its cadres from being caught and beheaded in Peshawar, one can hardly blame the ANP.
A much bigger damage is being done, however. The people of Pakistan were hoping that sharia would bring about the Islamic utopia in Swat which strangely fulfils the requirements of a set-piece city state where conditions of the ideal state could be created. Discussions on TV are now converging to a consensus that what the Sufi and his Taliban executive will bring about will actually be a dystopia of unlimited cruelty. The “shining city on the hill” will not be the ideal Islamic state but a nightmare comparable to the courts of Somalia that dished out contradictory judgements and finally set up their own armies to force arbitrary punishments down the throats of luckless Somalians. (Daily Times, Editorial)
Swat Deal - What Next?
Tuesday, March 03, 2009
Saba Gul Khattak
The provincial government has reached a temporary political settlement in Swat, which has provided a respite. However, the present lull in violence does not mean that peace has returned to Swat. In fact, the militant groups continue with a combination of kidnappings and negotiations, and the people of Swat remain apprehensive about the fragile peace.
Although there are numerous valid criticisms and misgivings about the proposed Nizam-e-Adl, at this point we urgently need to debate practical steps to bring meaningful peace. Therefore, two key questions are: In the short term, how can the present lull in violence be used strategically to prevent things deteriorating further? And, in the long term, how can peace be made viable?
One does not know the labyrinthine ways in which the main actors--i.e., the provincial government, the military, the Pakistani and foreign intelligence agencies and militant groups--play their games. However, it appears that the Taliban groups are not the ideologically driven invincible force that they are portrayed to be. They seem to be mercenaries, probably acting at the behest of agencies, as they have reportedly agreed to indefinite ceasefire and the peace deal in lieu of Rs480 million from a special president's fund. If this is indeed the case, then critical spaces exist for pro-people negotiations between the military, political leadership, and intelligence agencies regarding the future. Finding the niches from which to argue for democratic arrangements is key.
If the government considers the current peace deal as an opportunity, it must first regain administrative control over Swat to ensure security and stability. This includes a consensus with the military. The provincial government must pursue its election promises of peace with support from the military and chart a holistic implementation plan for eliminating militancy in the province, not only in Swat. Otherwise, like the multi-headed hydra, militancy shall keep resurfacing.
To do so is not easy, as the confidence of state institutions has eroded. Therefore, as a second step in tandem with political moves, the provincial government must implement key decisions to restore the confidence of those who serve in these institutions. The police and military personnel, especially at the middle and lower end of the hierarchy, need assurance that their lives are valued; that they are not pawns in a larger game. Giving compensation alone (though better than nothing) is inadequate as it implies that token money to the bereaved families entitles the government to forget, and deliver the same fate to others.
Third, at the political level, the government must rely upon elected representatives at different levels. We must remember that the people of Swat were involved neither in provoking the conflict nor stalling it. Even now, MNAs and MPAs are excluded from negotiations and decisions and local-government representatives have become a lost tribe.
The representatives, both women and men, have a stake in the success of the peace process, hence the government can count on them. Specifically, the ANP will have to overcome its reservations about the local-government system (viewed as weakening provincial government powers), and work with local-government representatives. Granted that the current crisis have paralysed the local-government system system, local-government representatives, local communities and households can be contacted and given responsibilities in a systematic manner. For example, instead of distribution of 30,000 rifles among people upon the recommendation of the local SHO, local-government representatives can be contacted.
In principle, the government must depend upon elected representatives who can reach the hearts of people. There are still ANP leaders in Swat like Afzal Khan Lala whose determination to resist the Taliban inspires confidence and admiration. However, not every leader is an Afzal Khan Lala. Therefore, in the short term, experts can brief local-government representatives about measures for effectively ensuring peace in their communities with solid backing from the government. In the medium term, targeted programmes and trainings on successful experiences of conflict resolution, conflict prevention and peace-building should be planned for elected representatives and community leaders. The use of the mass media, especially the radio, would be key.
Although some politicians and analysts suggest the creation of lashkars, this may be amount to laying down the blueprint of what happened in Afghanistan: the emergence of local militias. They would ultimately threaten the government's power instead of being its allies. Thus, building community strengths through democratically elected leaders is vital. The process may be messy but will ultimately yield results.
A fourth aspect is the demand for accountability through a fair and transparent process. Many governments have used accountability for settling political scores--but this time the government must actually deliver the promised justice to all those who have been killed and wounded, or lost their homes, properties and livelihoods. There should be no blanket forgiveness for any militant group and criminal gangs operating in Swat.
Fifth, the government must take the issue of weaponisation and disarmament seriously. Although it may not be in a position to make the militants give up their arms at present, this does not mean that this goal be forgotten. Instead, this goal can be pursued in earnestness as a longer-term strategy and be part of political agreements.
The future of Swat is important not only for the people of Swat but also all Pakistanis as it signals the future relationship of the state with its people. If the federal and provincial governments wish to enforce their writ and control and pursue peace through the principles of non-violence, they must depend upon democratic and just processes that include people and respect their wishes. Simultaneously, both must translate their vision of peace into a concrete strategy. (The News)
The writer holds a PhD in political science and is an independent scholar. Email: email@example.com
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