Pakistan military fails to woo tribal allies under grip of Taleban


Member of The Month JANUARY 2010
Regular Member
Aug 14, 2009

The region has been described by the US President as the most dangerous place in the world. No one who lives here would disagree.

Pakistan's rugged tribal areas are now in the fourth year of a fierce struggle that shows little sign of ebbing and every indication that the daily toll in lives will continue to grow.

The past few days provide a telling snapshot. More than 70 people were killed in a bungled Pakistani air raid against suspected militants; 45 Shia Muslims were killed by Sunni suicide bombers in burkas; a police station was hit by a suicide car bomber, killing 7; and 25 died in another suicide attack on a market in Peshawar, the regional capital.

During this period US military drones continued their daily strikes in North Waziristan, while Pakistani forces engaged in fierce battles with Taleban fighters over their strongholds in Orakzai. The impact is starting to show on the deeply conservative Pashtun population that straddles the mountainous frontier between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Which way they turn could decide the future of the American campaign and ultimately the fate of this country.

In the village of Ghazni Khel, the arrival of three Western visitors this week came as a huge surprise to locals. Young children have never met anyone from London. Their parents say that the last time anyone bothered to visit was four years ago — that includes politicians from the capital only a few hours' drive away.

In particular, local residents were horrified when not a single representative of the central Government came to the funeral of 100 young people killed on New Year's Day by a Taleban suicide bomber during a volleyball game at the village of Shah Hasan Khel.

"We feel we have been forgotten," said Salim Saifullah Khan, the local tribal leader, who represents the area in the Pakistani senate. He has been trying to lobby for development projects — such as a new hydroelectric dam — and demonstrating to visitors that the real victims of the present war are civilians.

Their world changed dramatically four years ago when the Taleban began to assert their authority. Militant checkpoints appeared on the major roads. Music was banned and hi-fi systems ripped out of cars. Some changes were welcome, such as Taleban courts that administered justice in a matter of hours where the local authorities could take months. In some areas they also redistributed land, giving peasants areas previously owned by landlords. But Taleban rule also meant brutal summary justice. Money was extorted in the name of jihad against America. Kidnapping became commonplace and the local authorities found themselves under siege.

Doctors and other professionals have been hit particularly hard. They are frequently abducted and pressed into work before being ransomed.

Last year a GP, Dr Inshaullah, was intercepted by gunmen on his way home with his 13-year-old son. The two spent 70 days in North Waziristan, where their abductors demanded a ransom of £150,000. He eventually managed to escape but some of his colleagues are still missing.

The military insists that it has gone a long way to reassert control over the area at considerable cost. Certainly Taleban strongholds such as Bajaur, the Swat Valley and South Waziristan are now largely under government control. But the campaign of intimidation continues through skilful propaganda. Those who stand up to the militants receive threatening phone calls and are accused of being CIA spies. In Dr Inshaullah's case the police made it clear that they were not interested in pursuing his abductors even though he can identify them and knows where they live.

"People are very intimidated," Khalid Munir, a former army officer, said. "They have been terrorised by the Taleban. They are scared to go out at night. They are scared to speak. The war is not over.

"The Taleban may not be as visible as they were before but they are still there."

Balbir Singh

New Member
May 13, 2010
Locating the Swat operation

By Zubair Torwali

Officially known as Operation Rah-e-Rast, the military offensive in Swat has now completed a full year. It is indeed this offensive that earned credibility for the powerful army chief of Pakistan, and – to some extent – for the democratic government as well. The applause aside, let us locate the offensive with the people of Swat.

When asked about the effectiveness of the offensive, Mukhtar Yousafzai – head of the independent Swat 'qaumi jirga' and a seasoned political activist — analyses the situation as follows: "In Swat, it was the state agencies that groomed, promoted and protected the terrorists. They were given full liberty to use modern means of propaganda and power such as FM radios [and] sophisticated weapons and had full backing. It was designed to make Swat another Afghanistan. The local leadership was either killed or demoralised. Journalism was banned and free voices were choked. Swat was made a safe haven and, in the end, it was handed over to the Taliban to establish their writ in the way they liked. Swat thus became a paradise turned into hell. But the brave people of Swat did not surrender."

Continuing, Yousafzai says, "They spread out "¦ organised demonstrations, appealing to the civil society within [the country] and the world outside by demonstrating in Washington, Toronto, London and New York. They circulated memorandums to the embassies of all the nations. Indigenous writers came out and used the might of their pens to bring into the limelight the plight of the people of Swat. Owing to the efforts of the people of Swat, the army decided to launch a third offensive against the Taliban." He says the two phases of the offensive before Operation Rah-e-Rast were "merely war games".

"They were never aimed at eliminating militancy from the valley. It is this third phase, known as Rah-e-Rast, that has some credibility."

Asked to elaborate Yousafzai's statement on credibility, Mukhtar Lala says, "The Taliban are on the run, their strongholds have been dismantled to a great extent, their leadership and network stand afflicted with remarkable harm and they are now isolated."

However, Mukhtar is extremely worried about the recent wave of target killings that have targeted some important figures of civil society, such as members of the Swat qaumi jirga and other peace committees. "The peace in Swat is too fragile to rely on "¦ it is suspicious and vulnerable. The blowing up of CD shops and the circulation of threatening letters by the Taliban have again frightened the people, who consider these latest developments as the beginning of a new rising in the valley," he says.

An internationally recognised researcher on Swat, Dr Sultan-e-Rome says of the operation, "A failure "¦ the fresh wave of target killings right under the nose of the army is a testament "¦ [the decision to] force civilians to form lashkars and be their own watchmen during the night, an increase in the number of army posts and frequent checking and curfews are other testaments."

However, Rohul Amin, a lecturer in Swat, says. "There is marked improvement in the Swat situation, but there is [still] a sense of fear and insecurity among the people after the new spate of target killings of peace committee members. These attacks will scare tourists away during this season as well. Apart from this, business is picking up and schools and colleges are open. There is the writ of the government. People are satisfied with the success of the operation," says

Ihsanul Haq Haqqani, a senior journalist from Swat, aptly says, "No doubt, the operation was a success, but the post-operation policy is enough to convert the success into a horrible failure. The civil administration and the political leadership are happy to keep the army engaged in the aftershocks. The army should conclude its job at the earliest."

Even after a year, one wonders how the trust of the people can be reinforced. Mukhtar Lala has a remedy. "The target killings and the bomb blasts are a result of security lapses. The army is Swat has forgotten its core concern – the security – and is now involved in other rehabilitation activities, which are not their responsibility." He says, "The military should design measures that would improve its credibility by dealing in a people-friendly manner with civilians. It should be open to criticism and counselling by the civil society of Swat. The media must not be controlled through the ISPR. The Maliks and Khans of Swat should gather on a single platform above party affiliations and unite for the sake of over 1.6 million people of Swat." He says the Swat qaumi jirga would be organised in each village and at the union council level.

Whether the elimination of militancy from Swat is possible or not, the people of this scenic valley are determined to assist the military in their fight against the militants if the army performs its duty wholeheartedly and builds a better relationship with the people. Unnecessary measures and humiliation of the general public by security personnel would be counterproductive. While the people of Swat have not surrendered to the Taliban, the state is prompting the population of the valley to lose trust.

On the current situation, Ziauddin Yousafzai, the spokesman for the Swat qaumi jirga says, "Over the last year, security forces have been successful in restoring the writ of the government. The prevailing peace is borrowed and temporary. It is tranquillity in the shadows of guns. Peace without guns is our dream and aim. That needs a clear vision and good intentions on the part of the state institutions and the people."

Zubair Torwali is a freelance analyst and activist based in Swat where he heads Centre for Education and Development.

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