Pakhtunkhwa Times

Swat: What Next? BY: Rahimullah Yousafzai

Posted in 1 by ppfcanada on February 2, 2009

Sun, 01-Feb-2009

During the last week, the military operation in Swat has become more focused and intense, apparently as a result of tremendous pressure by the politicians, the civil society and the media. The anti-Taliban Swatis have welcomed the change in the security forces’ tactics while the militants are adjusting their strategies to tackle the new challenge to their growing control of the valley.

Three recent military strikes in Ningolai, Matta and Manglawar are being cited as evidence of a change in tactics by the security forces to take the militants head-on. Those critical of the military operation until now felt such surgical strikes were needed to send across a strong message to the Taliban that the army meant business this time. However, villagers and peace activists in these areas are already complaining that most of those killed in the attacks were civilians and not militants as claimed by the spokesmen of the security forces. They alleged that some of the slain villagers were shot dead for curfew violations while trying to shift to safer places.

In particular, the eight deaths in Ningolai village are being mentioned as unwarranted and cruel. The military claimed all eight were militants and that a Taliban commander, Noor Bakhtiar, was among them. But a number of villagers from Ningolai told TNS that Noor Bakhtiar wasn’t a Taliban commander and had distanced himself from the militants after joining them for a while and then surrendering to the authorities. The 40-year old Noor Bakhtiar had even been given a letter certifying that he had been cleared of all charges and was free to work and travel. The villagers said he was shot in the head and his face had been blown away. He was apprehended at the security check post in Ningolai and shifted to the village school where the troops were based. His family, which includes his widow, six grown-up daughters and two small sons, weren’t shown his disfigured body.

The seven others who were slain included two 30-year olds, Said Ali Khan and Ajab Khan from Charbagh, two class nine students and friends Ejaz and Hazrat Ali from Ningolai, Sher Malook from Badar village in Charbagh area, Mohammad Ayub Khan from Kuza Bandai, and Gul Anbar from Ningolai.

The security forces until now were hesitant to launch big military operations due to the risk of causing civilian deaths in the densely populated Swat valley. Military commanders were also careful to avoid casualties among their troops. The use of gunship helicopters and, in some cases, jet-fighters and long-range artillery and mortar shelling invariably caused “collateral damage” and provoked anger among families that lost members. But it appears that the military was now willing to take greater chances while attempting to eliminate the militants. More cases of shells and bombs falling on unintended civilian targets and killing innocent people are now being reported from villages in Charbagh, Kabal and Matta and fuelling resentment against the government and the security forces.

Some of the “collateral damage” seems unavoidable in the congested villages where the militants often hide and operate. However, an unacceptable level of civilian deaths and damage to property causes resentment and forces some of the affectees to join the Taliban in a bid to avenge their losses. It also makes it difficult for the government, or the military, to pursue an effective policy for winning the hearts and minds of the people.

The Swati Taliban, led by Maulana Fazlullah, not only earned the ire of the government but also lost public support by embarking on a violent agenda. They resorted to target killings of their political opponents and destruction of their property. Many security forces personnel in their custody were beheaded or simply shot dead. Girls’ education was banned and schools were destroyed along with other government buildings and bridges. A parallel administration was set up and Shariat courts began summoning wanted people and awarding them punishment. A list of the wanted Swatis was released and all of them were threatened with consequences if they failed to report to Taliban-run Shariat courts. The Taliban FM Radio channels continued their illegal broadcasts and advanced the militants’ agenda.

There was no way the government and its security forces would tolerate acts that caused the erosion of the state’s writ and extended that of the militants. The military came under fire for failing to defeat the Taliban in Swat and many critics even accused it of colliding with the militants. The ruling parties such as the ANP and PPP also expressed their dissatisfaction over the military operation and their coalition government in the NWFP publicly conveyed its reservations over the direction and thrust of the army’s strategy in Swat. Stung by the criticism, the Pakistan Army command ordered acceleration of the military operation and, in some areas, house-to-house search was started to nab those suspected of links to the militants.

The toughening of the government’s stand was also evident from statem ents by the Army chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, who during a flying visit to Swat pledged to enforce the state’s writ, and by President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani who declared that parallel courts and administration would not be tolerated. Interior affairs adviser Rahman Malik repeated the earlier government stance that dialogue would take place with only those militants who laid down arms. He also predicted regaining control of Swat and flushing out militants in a few weeks’ time. With the hardening of posture by the government, the militants too became rigid in their attitude. This would lead to more fighting and bloodshed and the Swat situation would have fallout on the situation in rest of the NWFP and FATA because the Taliban group operating in Swat is part of the Baitullah Mahsud-led Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Are we then going to see widening of the conflict in the NWFP and, as a consequence, the further destabilisation of the country?

Who’s who

Profiles of top Taliban leaders in Swat

The Taliban set-up in Swat is an offshoot of the Tanzim Nifaz Shariat-i-Mohammadi (TNSM), which was founded by Maulana Sufi Mohammad, the aged former Jamaat-i-Islami man from Lower Dir district, as part of his struggle to enforce Shariah in the Malakand region. The Swati Taliban are more intolerant and radical than their comrades elsewhere in the NWFP and control large parts of Swat with their strongholds in Matta, Kabal and Charbagh tehsils. They have set up their own Shariat Courts, prisons and parallel administration. They use their three FM radio channels to propagate ideas, announce decisions and give their version of day-today events.

Some of the leading Taliban figures who have lost their lives in military operations to date include commanders Khan Khitab and Hussain Ali alias Tor Mullah. Also killed was Ali Bakht, who led the Taliban negotiating team that held talks with the ANP-PPP coalition government and concluded their May 21 peace accord. He died fighting the security forces in his village, Deolai. Another Taliban political and religious figure killed in military operations was Saeedur Rahman, who headed the group’s Shariat Court in Matta area. The Taliban judges in their Shariat courts are known as Muftis and they enjoy wide powers while deciding disputes among the litigants, awarding punishment to those arrested by the militants, and advising the Taliban shura on Islamic aspects of every issue.

Listed below are profiles of top Taliban leaders in Swat. It is worth mentioning that some Taliban religious figures, including one hailing from Upper Dir district, sit on the Shariat courts setup in Swat and are fairly important in terms of the Taliban decision-making mechanism. Their names aren’t listed here.

MAULANA FAZLULLAH:

The 33-year old is the leader of the Taliban in Swat and son-in-law of the TNSM founder, Maulana Sufi Mohammad. His real name is Fazal Hayat and he belongs to Mamdheray, a village located near Mingora, across the river Swat, and renamed by him as Imam Dheray. He studied at his father-in-law’s madrassa in Lal Qila in Maidan area of Lower Dir district. He fought in Afghanistan against the US and Northern Alliance forces alongside the Taliban when he accompanied Maulana Sufi Mohammad and around 10,000 of his followers following the American invasion in October 2001. Following the collapse of Taliban regime in Afghanistan, he and his father-in-law, along with some of his men, returned to Pakistan where they were arrested and jailed in the Dera Ismail Khan prison in southern NWFP. After about three years of imprisonment, he was released. He began organising the militants upon his return to Swat, using his FM Radio to spread his message and influence and collecting donations to build a huge mosque and madrassa complex in his village. Presently, he is said to be hiding somewhere in the Peochar and Namal valleys and leading the Taliban in the fight against Pakistan’s security forces.

MAULANA SHAH DAURAN:

Hailing from Qambar village where he ran a madrassa, Shah Dauran is the deputy leader of the Swati Taliban and a hawk in terms of his religious and political views. Previous reports, some leaked by the government, about his death in combat proved untrue. He has a regular radio show on the FM Radio and his harsh pronouncements against anti-Taliban forces have been spreading fear and revulsion. Recently, he was shifted from the FM Radio channel meant for lower parts of Swat to the one broadcasting in the remote and upper reaches of the mountainous valley.

SIRAJUDDIN:

A cousin of Maulana Fazlullah and a resident of Mamdheray, he was an active member of the Democratic Students Federation (DSF), a leftist group of progressive students, in his college days. Now he is a hardline Islamist willing to die for the Taliban cause. He was assigned to coordinate Taliban military operations in the Manglawar, Malam Jabba and Charbagh areas.

MUSLIM KHAN:

He is the spokesman of the Swati Taliban. He took over the job from Maulana Fazlullah’s cousin, Sirajuddin. Muslim Khan, belonging to Kuza Bandai village in Kabal tehsil, was once a PPP worker. He also spent four years in the US earning his livelihood. Apart from Pashto and Urdu, he also speaks English. He is among the hardliners in the group.

SAID RAHMAN ALIAS FATEH:

He replaced Hussain Ali alias Tor Mullah as the top Taliban military commander following the former’s death in an attack on the mountain-top military post at Sarbanda. The former madrassa student is now responsible for organising military operations not only in Matta tehsil but also in other parts of Swat.

IBNE AMIN:

A young Taliban commander who has spread terror in the Matta area through his tough action and harsh punishment of anyone daring to challenge the militants. His brother Ibne Aqil, too, has emerged as a local commander in the Shwar, Namal and Gat-Peochar areas.

GHAZNAVI:

Whatever his real name, Ghaznavi is a former student of a madrassa in Karachi. He is among those Taliban commanders who are assigned special missions.

AKBAR HUSSAIN:

He is the Taliban commander for Kabal tehsil. He has taken part in many battles against the security forces and is still entrenched somewhere in the Kabal area. He received a huge welcome when he returned to his village after the May 21 peace accord with the provincial government.

MOHAMMAD ALAM KHAN:

He is commonly known as Binoray Mulla because he was the Imam of a mosque in Binoray village near Khwazakhela and was appointed ‘governor’ of the area when Taliban occupied most of Swat valley before the launching of military operations. Recently, he was assigned to make speeches on the Taliban FM Radio in lower Swat in place of Maulana Shah Dauran. In his first radio show, he mentioned his name as Khalil but most Swatis believe he is none else but Mohammad Alam Khan alias Binoray Mulla.

Rahimullah Yousafzai is a senior journalist/analyst, expert of Afghanistan and tribal affairs and executive editor of Daily the News International.

Courtesy: The News International

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