Surrendering Swat

Pakistan’s strategic retreat will be irreversible…unless the military establishment is transformed

First the facts: the Pakistani government has struck a deal with Maulana Sufi Mohammed, who heads an organisation called the Tanzim Nifaz Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM) to impose Nizam-e-Adl regulations, which are based on Sharia law, in the Malakand Division of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). This region consists of Swat and a few other districts where the Pakistani army has been unable and unwilling to take on the Islamist militants who have effective control. But it is not Mr Sufi Mohammed’s TNSM that holds sway—rather, it is his Maulana Fazlullah’s militia, including the Shaheen Commando Force, affiliated to Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that has imposed a reign of terror in Swat. And to spice up this Frontier version of Santa Barbara, Mr Fazlullah is Mr Sufi Mohammed’s son-in-law.

It is the third time in the last year that the the Pakistani government is attempting to strike a deal with the father-in-law in order to get the son-in-law to cease violence. It has failed twice—because Mr Fazlullah and Swat are pieces on a larger chessboard that also includes, among others, Baitullah Mehsud and Waziristan. These two militant leaders have been able to whipsaw the half-hearted attempts by the Pakistani state machinery into submission.

And a little background: The erstwhile princely state of Swat, headed by the Wali, had a traditional justice system based on an admixture of tribal and Islamic laws. This was abolished when Swat was integrated into Pakistan in 1969—and was replaced by a corrupt, tardy and unpopular bureaucratic system under the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA) regulations. General Zia-ul Haq’s Islamisation project and the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan got mixed up with the popular resentment against a failed judicial-administrative system. Mr Sufi Mohammed’s TNSM began as protest movement against the PATA regulations, which naturally took the shape of a call for Sharia. In 1993, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled against the PATA regulations. You would think that some other system came into effect. But it didn’t. A judicial vacuum followed—nobody bothered with trifling matters like a proper judicial system for the people of Swat and its neighbouring districts.

There have been previous announcements of the imposition of Nizam-e-Adl in Swat, but it is unclear if the people’s need for a justice system, any justice system, was met. But the issue of a justice system is distinct from what Mr Fazlullah & Co are trying to establish. The Taliban agenda is to set up an Islamic state on the lines of Mullah Omar’s erstwhile regime in Kabul. Going by their electoral preference—for the secular Awami National Party—it is clear that the people of Swat don’t want that. But now that the Pakistani state has abandoned them, that’s likely to be what they are going to get. [Update: See Sepoy’s post]

Where does all this take us? Well, the fact that the Pakistani government had to settle for political realism within its boundaries suggests that it does not have the power to prevail over the TTP. The attempt to explain away its surrender as a tactical move is hogwash—unless the Pakistani military establishment undergoes a radical transformation, it is unlikely that the government will ever be able to reclaim the lost territories.

Strategically, the surrender will embolden the Taliban forces elsewhere. General Kayani was caught describing the Haqqani militia in Afghanistan as Pakistan’s “strategic assets”. As long as the military establishment continues to believe that the Taliban can be strategic assets it is only a matter of time before the Taliban hegemony crosses across the Indus into the Punjab province. K Subrahmanyam thinks that the Pakistani generals might not want to live under such a regime. But who knows what a combination of delusional thinking, radicalisation and political realism might lead to?

Tailpiece: It is touching to see an op-ed columnist describe Mr Sufi Mohammed as “a simple and peaceful man who does not preach violence except in the way of jihad against non- Muslims.”

Related Links: Swat in Pragati: Articles by Manan Ahmed & Ayesha Saeed

40 thoughts on “Surrendering Swat”

  1. It is now imperative that India be ready for armed conflict. In fact, the current economic situation is a harbinger of war – the situation in Pakistan can be a flashpoint for global conflict. (Note I am not at the moment concerned about conflict for Kashmir or something like that – but an overall Af-Pak conflict where China US and UN might be involved.)

    It is required that Indian armed forces be ready and alert (do we have enough weapons, arms and ammo?) we may not want to mobilize any force – but we have to be ready.

    Also current economic crisis leads to a war for consumer and this might be led by China – in an extreme situation we might be lulled as Russia was by Germany in WWII.

  2. How much longer for Peshawar, Quetta and then Islamabad to fall?? Countdown has started…

  3. Edward Lear will be spinning in his grave.

    Calling those eminent self-confessed libertarians who said “let Kashmir go”? Are they ready to stand by their position knowing that this is the likely outcome? How is Geelani-Syed Salahuddin-Azadi different from Sufi-Fazlullah-Adl?

    It takes an India to beat this monster down.

  4. Soon SWAT teams from Swat will SWArm the Islamic Republic….or so I hope.

    Finally the act of Pak’s creation will be taken to its logical conclusion – an Islamic utopia where Islamic law rules supreme.

    Will civil war break out in Pak as the fundoos take over ever larger areas and the more productive ones economically (like the urban hubs?). Will civil war break out if and when they openly declare Islamic law in the Punjab? I doubt the Pakistanis have gumption for fighting any kind of war – civil or otherwise – against an enemy that is more avowedly Islamic than themsleves…

    Interesting times onlee.

  5. I honestly thought this was a joke paraphrase
    ““a simple and peaceful man who does not preach violence except in the way of jihad against non- Muslims.”

    but, thankfully, the man was serious.

    You should really push for some mileage with that line. Make sure no one ever forgets that.

  6. I read somewhere Pakistanis think India is paying the Talibans for their current dhamaka in SWAT and other areas. How [un]true is this?

  7. The beginning of the end.

    Today, it is Swat. Tomorrow it’ll be Punjab.

    The Land of the Pure will become the purest country on the planet.

  8. Atlantean: The beginning of the end. Today, it is Swat. Tomorrow it’ll be Punjab.

    While I hope so, I’m not holding my breath. Pakistan is that leper that keeps discarding parts of its body without kicking the bucket. It’ll get progressively more “moth-eaten and truncated” (Jinnah’s words) as time passes without quite dissolving itself. The Army will ensure that it does a macabre impression of Ajit and his liquid-oxygen 🙂

  9. Sorry if this sounds naive, but is dissolution of Pakistan and it’s subsequent takeover by Taliban something we should look forward to, from what the comments suggest?

    This is making me very tense. Taliban is coming closer and closer to Indian borders.

  10. I think libertarian has it right. Pakistan will always be that close to implosion, but manage to carry at least a veneer of civilization to ensure some form of survival.

    Nitesh –
    No, it is not a good idea to have the Taliban next door to India. The people are under the delusional belief that a disintegrated Pakistan under any context is useful. If it is to happen, it should happen on India’s terms and not otherwise.

  11. Taliban taking over Pakistan increases the pressure on the worthless Indian govt. to STOP TALKING and do something worthwhile on the ground other than provide periodic sound bites to the lying mainstream media and their american buddies.

    If the Taliban come next door, India needs to kick them out and the gutless, worthless leadership would actually have to demonstrate leadership skills, which is why their buddies seem to be on a fearmongering campaign that blames the army for ineptness and whitewashes the incompetence of Manmohan Singh and his cohorts.

    A professional army will wipe the floor with the Taliban, period. If the geriatric pieces of human garbage in the Parliament do not have the guts to protect India, it is only a matter of time before India unravels from the inside out, and the disintegration would be well-deserved.

  12. Nitin –
    If you have a subscription to Stratfor, they have an article talking about Zardari pushing for a “Marhsall Plan” in Pakistan. The Marshall Plan certainly was not as extensive as MacArthur’s but maybe some unexpected people are reading INI.

  13. Keshav,

    Our argument is that Marshall Plan in this case is like throwing money off helicopters. A MacArthur plan is different, and a prerequisite for Marshall Plan to work.

  14. Atanu, not a great fan of Ayn Rand here, but her book “Anthem” comes to mind. Anthem is a peek into that “future” several centuries after socialism has been established. The comintern carefully monitors progress. Thr world is lighted at night by candles. The hero invents (rather, re-discovers) electricity and takes it to the comintern hoping he will be allowed to work on it further for mankind’s benefit. But the council persecutes him for undertaking experiments that the doctrine did not allow.

    An update to Anthem is badly needed, giving us a picture of the world centuries after shariat was established all over, with Mullah Omar XVI at the helm of affairs.

  15. Oldtimer:

    Shariat will definitely be the law of the land — but only in specific parts of the world. The parts where it is imposed, will swiftly regress to 7th century Arabia. Very tall walls will have to be built to contain the disease and keep it isolated from the rest of the world. In due course of time, those shariat areas will go the way of the dodo.

    Then the rest of the world will be able to get on with its development without the scourge of that inhumane ideology.

  16. India should act in close concert with the democracy loving and secular activists, journalists and politicians of the Pashtun provinces. These people need a voice and the Pakistani media is giving them only very sparingly. These people are also under a very serious threat because Taliban is targeting them intentionally and murdering them with impunity. The Pak army cannot be relied to provide cover against the Taliban. The most recent to fall is Musa Khankhel of Swat. This brave lad was just 28 years old and one of the last journalists to remain to operate in Swat.

    The true story of the Swat valley can be read on the web. Please do check the comments on this blog.

    What we should remember is that the battle against fundamentalist Islam will have to be won by liberal Muslims. It is primarily their battle, not ours, and they need all our support.

    Unlike what Atanu said, we can never isolate ourselves by building walls. It is simply impossible.

  17. @vakibs,

    I would love to agree with you.

    But at this point it doesn’t seem like liberal Muslim are even fighting this war. What happened to liberal Muslims in Pakistan when Swat was lost?

    Did liberal Pakistani Muslims come on the streets and protest against the Mumbai attacks with the same zeal they reserve for Gaza?

  18. I hope the Taliban take over major Pak towns soon and we see photos in ToI, IE, NDTV, IBN, The Hindu etc within a few weeks. Maybe then Indians will think twice about voting for a bunch of parties that pander to Muslims. Like, “The Pakistani elite pandered to jihadi islamists and look what happened.”

    (“The Pakistani elites pandered to islamists” is an over-simplification. But “The Pakistani elite pandered to jihadi islamists and look what happened” is a condensed version of events).

  19. The split of India with Pakistan during partition was not done right. If the British government had mobilized troops and took a period of three to five years to move people from one region to the other in a controlled manner, the hatred and venom one sees today between the two countries wouldn’t have arisen. The violence of partition and the gory memories are still living in the people’s psyche.

    Pakistan’s disintegration is more and more possible, considering the events unfolding. However, this time all countries involved should make sure that the ordinary people are not victimized and the split of the country is done in a controlled manner so that long term enmities do not arise. These people should not be allowed to have a military. There should be an international military with recruits from the locals and other nations that should be in place at all times. They should be allowed to have their police forces and laws. I can bet countries like Sindh will do very well. Culturally they are not war mongering people. The entire region, including Afghanistan must be split up and divided into entities that are ethnically or linguistically divided. This is the only option I see. The issues in Pakistan will begin to escalate soon. China is trying to get in as well. China is carefully watching a declining US in terms of money and power. It will use this occasion to step in and stem the efforts of the US and its allies. This is going to get ugly.

  20. vakibs – i can understand that the liberal muslims are scared to confront those who have hijacked their religion, on the streets of karachi, baghdad, tehran and riyadh. but what is stopping them from marching on the streets of london, new york and copenhagen?

  21. I diasgree with you, Atanu. Demography will always favor the walled-off areas. See UK. If you read about the recent poll, in five yrs. the numbers have been staggering.

  22. Finally, an article in The Economist that strips away the sugar-coating, and describes Pak’s sinking ship of state for what it is:


    Even Pakistan’s friends are seeing the handwriting on the wall.

  23. @Trilok, @Udayan

    You will see when you care to see. I won’t be asking you for their support if I didn’t know liberal Muslims exist.

  24. Suren –
    If that’s the way the BJP is saving Indian culture, India doesn’t need the BJP.

    Parties shouldn’t be talking down artists of all people or accepting the Mangalore incident.

  25. I will do one better in the PC department (regarding vakibs’ comment #30 above) state that not only do I know liberal Muslims, I conjecture that in every possible group of humans, liberal members exist. Just as an example, there must be liberal Hutus and liberal Tutsis. What that has to do with the price of tea in China, I don’t know.

    Vacuous statements are just that … totally empty of content or meaning.

  26. Atanu,

    If you acknowledge that liberal Muslims exist, then you should also acknowledge that it is primarily their responsibility to reform Islam and to eliminate extremism from it.

    Instead, you confound the entire problem with “Islam”, thereby antagonizing the liberals amongst the Muslims and providing fodder for extremists. Whether we like it or not, religious identity is a part of the identity of many people. Whatever criticism that one applies to any religion should not breach the limits of insulting the identity of people. How to draw that line ? Well. I say the easiest thing to do is to give the mouth-peace to liberal Muslims. As long as it is them who do the critiquing, nobody can complain of any insults.

  27. It is well known the extreme muslims put a death threat on the heads of Salman Rushdie for “insulting islam”. Samajwadi Party’s Yaqoob Qureishi places 5 crore bounty on the head of danish cartoonists, an more recently Taslima Nasreen. The “moderate muslims” who are usually first in line to scream “hindu fascism” were strangely silent as their fellow muslims abused innocent people for speaking their mind.

    Moderate muslims remain dishonest because speaking against the extremists in their community will get them killed post haste, so these moderate muslims pretend that the only source of fundamentalism in India is in hinduism. The moderate muslims in India, barring the odd brave soul every now and then that dares to speak the truth, are paying lip service against islamic extremism while pretending that all the real extremists in India are not muslims. Such behaviour is not going to win them any friends in non muslim communities in the long run.

  28. Pakistan’s disintegration will rip the veil of “moderate pakistan” in front of the world, and that is a first step towards everyone accepting that anyone supporting Pakistan is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

    Some people seem to be dropping a load in their pants at the thought of the Taliban next door, and pretending that India would be hurt by such an eventuality. Let me remind such people that the Taliban will not be speaking pristine english and posing for western photographers, they will be enforcing the Shariat on the pakistanis, and such evil could not befall a nicer bunch of people.

    The Pakistanis wanted to be the fortress of islam, and we are just seeing their deepest desires come true, with islam taking over all of pakistan from the ground up. The Pakistani punjabis who are so cosmopolitan and elite and westernized need to be under taliban rule for a few years before they change their worldview and stop feeding the islamist fire, instead of using jihad and religion as a means of political control of people and territory by strict implementation of religious law. They are getting eaten by their own monster and paying the consequences of their own past actions. Just get yourself a plate of mulaga bajji and watch the fun.

  29. What we are seeing in Pakistan is the formation of the classic power formation in an islamic theocratic state. The Clergy make their own rules based on their interpretation of the shariat, the “army” (the irregular army, i.e., the Taliban and a radicalized Pakistani army) enforces these rules, and the common man takes it up the chin and remains obedient to the whims of the “rulers”, exactly as it is in today’s Saudi Arabia.

  30. vakibs – just because a few muslim friends join us for a beer, doesn’t mean that there is a significant percentage of muslims who are liberal and fighting the fight.
    where is the proof? give me one example, just one, and i will shut up.

  31. This should be an eye opener to those who support hindu religious parties in India. Religious fundamentalism once unleashed is hard to put back into the bottle.

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