Pakhtunkhwa Times

Politics as a redundant superstructure

Posted in 1 by ppfcanada on April 22, 2009

Friday, April 17, 2009 The News
Shafqat Mahmood

A wave of fear is sweeping across the urban landscape of the country. Parents are worried about their school-going children, women fear random threats on the street, and men are trading sheepish jokes about how long a beard they will have to keep when the Taliban take over.

The threat to the schools is real. Reports are that some well-known among them have closed in Islamabad. In Lahore, threatening phone calls have been received by girls’ schools where men also teach or those that have co-education. As a result, they have begun to curtail their study periods so that the children remain on the premises for a minimum period. Security procedures, or what passes for security in the shape of untrained guards, are also being beefed up.

Women, unfortunately, always become the first target of religious zealots. In Karachi, there are persistent reports that they are being harassed. It also happening in other cities and these are not women dressed in any revealing fashion. Their crime is not wearing the veil, or going about their business without mail relatives in attendance. At least some have stopped driving. Others are all worried.

While girls’ schools and women are a particular target of extremists, families who have a normal, relatively open way of living are also beginning to develop fear. The general feeling is that an entire way of life is under threat. This is not just the worry of what the Taliban call liberal fascists. These are ordinary people who do not stop their women from going out either to work or for other business, people who socialise along with their wives and others who want to give equal opportunities to their male and female children.

This pervasive fear of creeping Talibinasation is not surprisingly, the main topic of conversation at social gatherings these days. I have never in recent memory heard so many people talk of finding safe havens abroad. Those that have already acquired citizenship in some western country, and there are many among the elite who have, are looked at with envy. Those who were not so astute are now trolling the internet to search for ways to get out.

An important reason for this panic is that absolutely no one believes the state can protect them or their way of life. The abject surrender of the National Assembly before the Taliban threat has further heightened this feeling. With the honourable exception of fellow-columnist and MNA, Ayaz Amir, and the abstention of the MQM, no one in a house that contains many so-called liberals had the courage to stand up and express their true feelings.

It is not so much the nizam-e-adl itself that is bothersome to people. Everyone recognises the deep flaws in our judicial system. Many also feel that this bluff of the Swat Taliban needed to be called because their real purpose is not the enforcement of an Islamic judicial system. They want to carve out an independent domain to rule. The real disappointment is that the Pakistani state, its institutions and its political forces have caved in so quickly.

The Taliban know the fear they are causing and are adding to it by targeting law enforcing agencies. The attack on the police check post at Charsadda is part of a careful strategy to demoralise the police. What stands between them and a total takeover of the country is a tottering state structure and the discipline of the armed forces.

The state has very little left, although no praise is enough for those brave policemen who for a meagre pay risk their lives and sometimes pay the ultimate price. The armed forces are disciplined and well-led but face a complex situation and a form of warfare they are not trained for. This is all we have to face, the rising tide of extremism.

The political battles among the elite, in fact politics in general, now seem to be a redundant superstructure unable to impact the reality on the ground. It was thought that political forces would be able to counter the menace of a minority Taliban through the support of the people. The debacle of the ANP government in the NWFP has put paid to this thinking. Either its support among the people is thin or it is effectively terrorised because it has just given up. It is neither able to mobilise the people to stand up to the Taliban, nor effectively use the force of the state to confront them.

Political response is critical because the problem of extremism is in essence a battle of ideas. Its overt manifestation in the shape of terrorism can be fought with force, if indeed such a force is available. But this alone is not a solution. It is the ideology that has to be exposed and rejected by a vast majority of the people. If this is done successfully, extremists can never win by terror alone.

It is here that the role of politics and political parties becomes critical. If they have a genuine mass base, they can mobilise it and present a solid wall of resistance to extremism. If they do not, they are just an elite superstructure that periodically goes to the people to get their vote. The size of their vote bank may suggest a mass base, but this would be misleading. People may vote for them because they like a particular personality or they are the least evil of the choices available. This does not constitute a mass base.

The MQM for its flaws consistently shows a mass base of support. People say that these gatherings, in which people sit like zombies to listen to the telephonic fulminations of Mr Altaf Hussain, are arranged through coercion. Or that the entire organisation survives on fear. Whatever the truth, the MQM has shown that not only is it able to sweep elections in Karachi, it can mobilise its support whenever it wants. Thus, it may be confined to just Karachi and parts of Hyderabad, but in these places it is a political force to reckon with. It will be able to mount an effective challenge to extremism in its political domain.

The other major political forces, the PPP and the PML-N have periodically shown a popular support base. The PML-N, in particular on March 15, demonstrated a huge following. But, so far, they have not been able to mobilise this base to fight the extremists menace. I have no doubt that both parties, and, yes, that includes PML-N although some people may not think so, are fundamentally opposed to extremism. But this opposition has to go beyond saying the right things. It has to be translated into grassroots opposition to the Taliban ideology.

Time is short for the major political forces to become relevant in this truly existential battle that Pakistan faces today. The Taliban are expanding and enlarging their area of influence. Their sympathisers have begun to terrorise major urban centres. Political forces have to stand together with the institutions of the state to fight them, or they risk becoming redundant. If they do, they will forfeit their right to rule.

Taliban influence in bureaucracy

Posted in 1 by ppfcanada on April 22, 2009

By A. Ameer

DAWN Saturday, 18 Apr, 2009 | 01:21 AM PST

THE growing threat of violent extremism in different parts of Pakistan including Fata and Malakand Division is a matter of serious concern.

The harrowing factor is that the writ of the Taliban is solidifying both in the north and the south not only in the Pashtun belt but also in the heartland of Pakistan.

That a high-level provincial official posted in Swat should write a letter to the NWFP home department implying the complicity of the commissioner of Malakand Division in the ever-expanding influence of the Taliban in the region is an illustration of what is happening and how.

An alliance of extremist forces in Kashmir, Punjab, Fata and the NWFP and their strategy for Pakistan’s disintegration in the near future have virtually paralysed the administrations in the different settled districts of the NWFP — not to mention the threats made by extremists to invade Islamabad very soon. After the February peace deal between the NWFP government and the banned Tehrik Nifaz-i-Shariat Mohammadi (TNSM), the Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) chapter of Swat started a three-pronged assault on the state.

Firstly, the Swat chapter of the TTP started recruitment and the construction of bunkers on a large scale in different parts of Swat while the military and security establishment and the government maintained control in different ways. The security establishment and the Pakistani government seem to be oblivious of the fact that the Taliban movement is far more agile than the security establishment’s response to their onslaught from different directions.

Secondly, the Swat chapter of the TTP, in line with the Taliban alliances in Fata and the rest of Pakistan, were readjusting and relocating therein and have started expanding their assaults from the north to the south of the NWFP. The present onslaught by the Taliban on Buner and Dir is part of this strategy.

Thirdly, the Taliban have started consolidating their positions vis-à-vis the security establishment by controlling strategic passes and side valleys of Swat, Buner, Shangla and Dir. In this scenario, reports that a part of the civil bureaucracy in the NWFP, Fata and elsewhere in Pakistan facilitates the process of Talibanisation is likely to be a worrisome factor for elements within and outside the country.

The present commissioner of Malakand Division is said to have been posted in lower Dir in the early 1990s when the TNSM was in the process of becoming a formidable extremist organisation with a jihadi ideology. The commissioner was said to have been a frequent visitor of Maulana Sufi Mohammad’s madressah and allegedly worked behind the scenes with the initial support of the local khans for the TNSM in 1994 when it brought the whole administration of Malakand Division to a standstill.

Many who saw the 1994 uprising of Malakand Division bear testimony to the fact that the present commissioner of the latter provided all-out help to the insurgents coming from Dir to Swat.

In the early era of Fazlullah’s rise in Swat, again the present commissioner of Malakand Division was posted as the district coordination officer. He was the one, according to local residents, who facilitated the establishment of Fazlullah’s FM radio. He was the one who convinced the local jirga of Mamdherai and Mingora to allow the FM radio to function. It was reported in 2006-07 in the local press that when the Taliban in Swat started destroying CD shops and barber shops and the owners would go to the DCO office for complaints, the DCO would tell them to close the shops because, according to him, running the business was un-Islamic. The present commissioner was also seen by the locals visiting Mamdherai markaz (centre) for Friday prayers frequently.

On April 5, 2009 a battalion of the Taliban militia with heavy weaponry crossed over the hills from Swat to Buner to avowedly supervise the implementation of the Nizam-i-Adl. The local residents of Buner had been resisting the inflow of the Taliban for a long time. The local elders intervened and tried to convince the Taliban to return but the latter opened fire at them, leaving several injured. Later the Taliban captured three policemen and two civilians, and killed them.

The local residents, the people of lower Buner and Sultanwas, gathered to move upward to face the Taliban while the people of upper Buner provided reinforcements. Fighting began and in the ensuing gun-battle some 17 members of the Taliban are said to have been killed. The questions on the minds of the local people were: why would the Taliban come with heavy weapons if they did not want to control Buner? And why were the Taliban allowed by the commissioner to move from Swat to Buner with heavy weapons?

On April 6, a delegation of the TNSM along with the commissioner Malakand Division went to Buner to negotiate with the local elders. They tried to convince the local elders to allow the Taliban to enter the valley. While the delegation engaged the local administration and the elders of Buner, the Taliban started getting reinforcements. In the context of the Taliban expansion to Buner, it is interesting to note the ideological role played by the relatively less known Jamaati Ashaatutoheed WaSunna, the creation of Maulana Tahir Panjpiri, the father of the infamous Major Amir, a well-known IB and ISI operative in the past and allegedly behind the notorious Operation Midnight Jackal. Major Amir, Syed Mohammad Javed (the present commissioner Malakand Division) and Maulana Sufi Mohammad are said to have been quite close since a long time.

According to eyewitnesses, during the recent stand-off between the Taliban and the people of Buner, the commissioner of Malakand Division made efforts to convince the people to allow the Taliban to enter Buner. The commissioner is said to have become annoyed with the superintendent of police in Buner for informing the people about the impending onslaught by the Taliban on the former.

The present commissioner of Malakand Division belongs to a religious family in Shergarh, Malakand Agency. The provincial government of the NWFP deemed it a better solution to the problem to ask for his services during the peace deal with the militants of Swat recently. This seems to be a matter of concern for all those who want to resist the Taliban and preserve a modern civilisation as opposed to adopting a mediaeval way of life.

The fact is that parts of the civilian administration in Fata, the NWFP and the rest of Pakistan is infested with the jihadi ideology and connected to the sympathisers of the Taliban in one way or the other.

The writer works with a research organisation.

The retreat of Jinnah’s Pakistan Wednesday,By: Dr Maleeha Lodhi Share

Posted in 1 by ppfcanada on April 22, 2009

Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Dr Maleeha Lodhi

The writer is a former envoy to the US and the UK, and a former editor of The News.

An event in the life of a nation sometimes has deeper significance than what appears on the surface. The accord by which the government all but ceded administrative and judicial control to militants and their Taliban affiliates in Swat is such a development. This has profound implications for the country that have been obscured by the facile discussions on many TV talk shows. It may well mark a turning point in the country’s struggle with rising militancy.

The Swat deal signifies several things all at once. First and foremost it represents a retreat for Jinnah’s Pakistan. Whatever the apologists of the deal may claim, it is the very antithesis of the vision and ideals inspired by the country’s founder, the core of which was a modern, unified Muslim state, not one fragmented along obscurantist and sectarian lines. Several times during and after the struggle for freedom, the Quaid-e-Azam emphatically ruled out anything resembling a throwback to obscurantism or any variant of theocracy. His leadership rested on principle and according to one of his biographers, he preferred “political wilderness to playing to the gallery”.

Today the country’s erstwhile leaders do not lead but are led by their dubious interpretation of what the “people want” in Swat, an act of monumental self-deception as any climate of ‘opinion’ created at gunpoint represents coercion, not consent. Rattled by more aggressive actions by militants, the political and security establishments caved in to the challenge rather than confront it. The Swat deal signalled weakness and bankruptcy on the part of the ruling elite that chose appeasement as the pathway to address the country’s mounting internal security challenges. While the government showed no leadership or capacity to govern, the country’s security institutions failed to protect its citizens, and legislators (save for the MQM) preferred expediency to principle. Can any of these actors claim to have upheld Jinnah’s ideals or legacy?

The agreement forged between the ANP government and Sufi Mohammed, head of the outlawed Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), on February 16 was effected through a presidential edict on April 13, and endorsed by a hastily contrived parliamentary resolution. This followed months of policy chaos, on again, off again peace accords and stop-go military operations, accompanied by rising violence and the virtual collapse of any civil administration in Swat. Indeed this backdrop of rudderless, directionless rule at the centre reinforced the state of national disarray and created the conditions for the eventual Swat surrender.

Amidst this policy confusion, political leaders seemed bereft of any vision or the courage needed to steer the country in a clear direction, and preferred instead to strike a Faustian bargain with little regard for the consequences. Just as government figures were portraying the latest financial bailout from the international community as a triumph of its hat-in-hand diplomacy, Islamabad was conceding ground to militants in Swat.

A combination of factors, including political short-sightedness and expediency, pursuit of narrow agendas and fear of reprisals by militants, has resulted in choosing a course in Swat that will have serious ramifications for the country. This indicates, above all, a loss of nerve and will by the political and military leadership that seems to have convinced itself that it can contain militancy by conceding to it. But it has set the dangerous precedent of state power surrendering to a local militant force on the dubious premise of ‘peace at any price’.

Advocates of the deal in and outside the government marshal a number of arguments to justify it. A major rationale adduced for the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation is that it is no different from the agreements reached in 1994 and 1999 by the Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif governments and is sanctioned by the special status enjoyed by the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas in the constitution. The verdicts of Qazi courts provided in the Adl Regulation will in any case be subject to appeal in the High and Supreme Courts and so will ultimately be consistent with the laws in the rest of the country.

Moreover, it is argued, that the regulation is in consonance with the wishes of the people of Swat who want the restoration of peace above all else. Trading a form of Sharia justice in return for peace is not being lily-livered but pragmatic. As the NWFP governor and assorted ANP leaders have declared, this regulation was “the only way to bring peace.” The deal in fact aims to separate the moderates from the militant Taliban.

These claims ignore the political context in which the deal has been forged, with whom and on what terms. Invoking the parallels of 1994 and 1999 is spurious logic as 2009 represents a vastly transformed environment in which the militants entrenched in Swat are affiliated with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) which, officials themselves say, poses a threat to the country’s security. How this agreement de-couples Sufi Mohammed’s TNSM from these allies no one has cared to explain. It is the TTP militants who hold sway behind the figure of Sufi Mohammed, who was the mediator between the government and the Swat Taliban.

Nor does the argument hold up that the system instituted in Swat will be consistent with Pakistan’s constitution. The fig leaf of the state’s writ overseeing the Nizam-e-Adl implementation has already been ripped apart by Sufi Mohammed who announced last Sunday that the decisions of the Qazi courts will be final and not subject to appeal in the High and Supreme Courts which he denounced along with the constitution and democracy as un-Islamic. He also declared that judges to the Qazi courts will be appointed with the consent of his organisation. This has thrown into sharp relief the reality of a parallel law being established.

The argument trotted out about Swat’s ‘special status’ overlooks the fact that modern statehood requires that laws are unified whereas the regulation fragments the system of law and justice. And as the people who will administer the new regulation are no experts in Muslim jurisprudence or even theology, this cannot even be considered a move toward Islamisation. It is little more than surrender to a medieval form of obscurantism practised by the Taliban.

As for the rather rich claim that the regulation has been promulgated in deference to the popular will in Swat, this confuses coercion with consent. If the men of violence are able to create a climate of fear and intimidation and the army too fails to come to the people’s rescue, local inhabitants will obviously want a cessation of violence. But this is fundamentally different from people becoming instant converts to the worldview espoused by the TNSM and the Taliban.

Few will take issue with a peace agreement if it is forged with those prepared to renounce violence and predicated on an explicit acceptance of the writ of the state. The Swat deal doesn’t meet this criterion. Negotiated in haste and under duress, the agreement has not been accompanied by any explanation as to the obligations agreed to by the TNSM, much less about how these will be enforced. Even an undertaking of decommissioning weapons is shrouded in mystery, contrary to official claims that the TNSM will ask its Taliban allies to surrender their arms.

The Swat deal marks a dangerous precedent for several reasons. One, it sets up a parallel justice system that has been ‘won’ in the shadow of the gun. One-third of NWFP, which the Malakand division represents, has been placed under this parallel law. Two, it cedes space to the militants who wreaked violence, killed at will, burnt girls’ schools and spread mayhem that led to the exodus of tens of thousands of people from the valley. Virtually handing over Swat in this backdrop is tantamount to the state acceding to a form of Taliban warlordism. Far from halting creeping Talibanisation, Islamabad’s concession has unintentionally conferred legitimacy to their agenda.

Three, it serves to embolden militant forces to advance further and beyond Swat. Already Sufi Mohammed has vowed to spread the system he calls the ‘sharia’ to the surrounding region and the rest of the country. The demonstration effect is also evident in the call given by the recently released cleric of Lal Masjid, Maulana Abdul Aziz, for the Swat success to be replicated in all of Pakistan. What is to stop a small band of militants from seizing territory, coercing the inhabitants and holding them to ransom until their cries for peace are responded to by Islamabad with another dose of ‘pragmatism’ and deference to public wishes? And four, the Swat experiment risks stoking sectarian tensions which will have further deleterious effects on the social fabric and the body politic.

Finally it is worth recounting what an Afghan friend once told me as she recalled her country’s experience: “They don’t have to seize the capital to take over the country”. The sense of distance and complacency that is bred by the atmosphere of power and privilege in Islamabad should not blind the government to the looming threat of militancy which its own missteps have heightened.