Will South Punjab be another Swat?


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Apr 5, 2009
Will South Punjab be another Swat?

The interior minister, Rehman Malik, has told the Financial Times that “we suspect something similar to Swat may arise in South Punjab”. He says he has been sharing “information” with the Punjab government because jihadi militias like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) hail from South Punjab and “perhaps all those terrorists who fled from Waziristan or Swat might have taken refuge in South Punjab”.

Let us place these remarks in another context. The ex-information minister under the previous PMLQ government, Muhammad Ali Durrani, has proposed in parliament that South Punjab or the “Seraiki” region of Punjab should be made into a separate province in order to save it from decades of neglect — the kind of neglect that often breeds desperate movements of terrorism. In fact, more and more writers with expertise in the growth of terrorism in Pakistan are clubbing South Punjab together with FATA and Swat as the region most vulnerable to the Taliban-Al Qaeda network.

South Punjab comprises 13 districts with a total population of around 27 million. These districts are Bahawalnagar, Bahawalpur, Bhakkar, Dera Ghazi Khan, Jhang, Khanewal, Layyah, Lodhran, Multan, Muzaffargarh, Rahimyar Khan, Rajanpur and Vehari. There is a long-fuse movement for a Seraiki province in the south which has had its ups and downs, but is often demoralised because of lack of support from the more powerful North and Central Punjab whose influential personalities have given themselves agricultural land in the south.

How bad is the situation in South Punjab? There is not much news, but those who live there and are free to speak give frightening information. The interior minister has mentioned two terrorist organisations but has omitted reference to Lal Masjid whose family of clerics had General Pervez Musharraf on the run in Islamabad but who had hailed from one of the most madrassa-congested cities in the southern region: Dera Ghazi Khan.

South Punjab is vulnerable to terrorism radiating from the FATA stronghold of Baitullah Mehsud because Dera Ghazi Khan abuts on the NWFP city of Dera Ismail Khan, which has a border with South Waziristan. Multan remains the stronghold of the Deobandi school of thought by reason of having its wifaq (federation) of madrassas headquartered there. South Punjab also joins Sindh and Balochistan, and if these two provinces go on the boil, South Punjab will feel the heat most.

FATA and Swat-Malakand were “ungoverned spaces” under law and fell to the power of the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) simply because normal local administration was either not there or had disappeared. South Punjab is supposed to be under normal administration but in reality the writ of the state is weak there. Because of distance from the Punjab Assembly in Lahore, local power-brokers have taken over. The madrassa and its jihadi offshoots are strong, so are the feudal landlords with large holdings. The police work in tandem with them instead of subjecting them to equality under law.

Whether the north Punjabi politicians like it or not, there is a “power vacuum of the state” in the south which is filled by the above-mentioned elements. This means that there is no proper surveillance over the clerics who “empower” themselves by going jihadi and linking themselves with TTP and Al Qaeda. A south Punjabi “mastermind” was recently arrested while making his way back from South Waziristan after delivering an instalment of “cannon-fodder” boys to Baitullah Mehsud. When the TTP boss was looking for a safe place where to prepare the plot to destroy Islamabad’s Marriott Hotel, he found it in South Punjab.

How can better administrative control be taken to South Punjab? It is accepted on all hands that Lahore is too far and Lahori politicians don’t even try to break the stranglehold of feudal politicians over the vote-bank — in many cases captive — in the “Seraiki belt”. One solution of course would be Seraikistan on the model of Balochistan which will take the development budget closer to the people of the south, enabling them to establish a better policing system. But creating a new province will require a constitutional amendment.

Also the creation of more provinces in Punjab will get tied up with more provinces in the rest of Pakistan. And on that there is no consensus. In fact there is violent resistance to the idea. In default, therefore, it is up to Chief Minister Punjab Mr Shehbaz Sharif to have his second secretariat in Multan to ensure even governance and prevent the region from becoming like Swat. *
Feb 16, 2009
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They are quesioning will it be another SWAT? To try to scare India, why are they questioning this when it is state sponsored terrorism that they set up.

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