Swat – a report from the frontline
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Recently an AIRRA (Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy – an Islamabad-based research organisation) investigation team went to some parts of Swat that had been under army attacks. The team observed whether the attacks were targeted at the Taliban and their installations. It observed two villages -- Ladikas and Watkai in Mingora -- and Khwazakhela, a tehsil in Swat. The team with its access to the people of the area could manage to take Besham route from Islamabad to reach Mingora via Khwazakhela. Though continuous curfew and alternate threats from the military posts and the Taliban posts badly hampered the journey of the team but somehow some of the members could manage to reach Mingora via Khwazakhela and Charbagh with the exodus of the people from different parts of Swat valley. The team was able to access and interview several dozens of those families who were still stuck up in the valley.
The team observed that the security forces have successfully destroyed the installations of the Taliban and have disrupted their chain of command in that area. They have killed many Taliban there with very little collateral damage, albeit with the destruction of civilian infrastructure. The best example is the Taliban headquarter in Khwazakhela. The headquarters was located on a mountain. It housed the Taliban operational command led by commander Yamin, the intelligence department led by commander Rashid and the department of logistics and supplies. The aerial bombardment of the Pakistan army reduced all that to rubble. The entire side of the mountain housing the headquarters has been exploded and razed.
The Taliban terrorists had established the headquarters with great efforts. They had cleansed a huge portion of the forest on the mountain to make free space for the building. They recruited the youth on a large scale, strengthened their command and control structure, established their hierarchical structure, planted mines on the main roads, dug bunkers and occupied the strategic passes in only two and a half months. And they did all this after the peace deal agreed with the NWFP government in February of this year.
The team interacted with the people in the area. Most of those killed were confirmed Taliban. There had been almost no serious collateral damage. Nearby buildings collapsed due to the force of explosions. Some people got injuries when hit by the collapsing debris.
Moreover, the army has cordoned off several narrow alleys of Mingora to prevent the Taliban from escaping. The military has cordoned off Swat from the northeast (the Shangla side), the southeast (the Buner side) and the southwest (the Dir side). In Mingora city itself, the Taliban are reported to be lying dead in the streets and local people confirm that some of them are well-known Taliban leaders.
There are still stranded people in Swat. The people are facing enormous difficulties due to power failure and water reservoirs in their homes which have dried up. Food commodities have become scarce and fuel stations have more or less stopped functioning. Soldiers of the Pakistan army and the FC are sharing their limited food rations with the stranded people. This goodwill gesture has earned respect of the stranded people for the security forces.
It is suggested to the army to issue the photos or video clips of the killed Taliban to the media and of the destroyed Taliban installations. Local people and the IDPs often know the Taliban and location of their installations. They would confirm that the dead were indeed the Taliban and the installations shown as destroyed indeed belonged to the Taliban. This is important because it will ensure transparency and reassure people of the success being achieved in the war.
It is highly commendable that the security forces are conducting targeted operations that have considerably damaged the Taliban in Swat. I would once again request the army high command to destroy the Taliban networks, installations, headquarters everywhere in Pakistan, including FATA and south Punjab. Taliban leaders in each and every city or town of Pakistan have to be neutralised. There is a strong connection between the Taliban in Waziristan, Orakzai, Swat, South Punjab, Khost and Kunar in terms of supply of manpower, weapons and chain of command. This connection is the Al Qaeda-linked Jalaluddin Haqqani and his terror secretariat in North Waziristan. This connection has to be broken, which means that Haqqani's 'secretariat' must be destroyed. Other than the military front, the war against militancy also needs to be fought on the ideological battleground -- Talibanisation needs to be denied ideological space in the country's security and state apparatus and this can be done by targeting elements in state structures and institutions deemed as being sympathetic to the militants.
The army must carry the war against the Taliban to its logical end. The army owes it to the Pakhtun and by extension to Pakistan, because the Pakhtun are citizens of the country and hence deserve the same protection by the state as accorded to those in the other provinces. The Pakhtun have always taken pride in giving their best sons to the army. It is now the turn of the army to reciprocate in such a manner that truly honours the Pakhtun martyrs of the army. This means complete elimination of the Taliban so that the Pakhtun live their lives free of the jihadi fear and intimidation. If done successfully, this will bind the Pakhtun even more closely with the state and the army. In that context, the army must convert this war into an opportunity that will substantially contribute towards making Pakistan a successfully functioning multi-ethnic state.
While the army is rising itself to the occasion, the performance of the politicians is dismal. The soldiers are giving their blood to save us from the Taliban. They are sharing their limited food ration with the stranded people. The army has given a share of their salary to support the relief work for the IDPs. Where are political leaders? What is President Zardari doing abroad? He should be visiting the IDPs rather than foreign lands. What is Asfandyar Wali doing in London? Why is Afrasiab Khattak in Dubai? The IDPs constantly complain that the ministers, MPAs and MNAs only come when the media is there and leave soon afterwards, without tending to their (the IDPs) problems.
All MNAs and MPAs, especially those elected by the people of Swat, Dir and Buner, should stay with the IDPs of their respective constituencies as long as possible because these are after all the people who voted them into public office.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org (The News)