Saving Swat

The analysis of the recent ceasefire in Swat has drawn the ire of the desktop Napoleons in Islamabad and Karachi. The Western press has taken an equally blinkered view, liberal and conservative alike. Even otherwise sober analysts such as the Observer’s Jason Burke have joined the chorus. On the other hand, Rahimullah Yusufzai, the most informed and astute analyst of the region’s politics, sees ‘signs that inspire hope‘.

Maulana Sufi Mohammad has once again been tasked to perform a familiar role. He is trying to persuade militants in Swat to drop their guns and go home. His argument is that the government had accepted his demand for enforcement of Shariah, or Islamic law, and there was now no point in continuing the armed struggle that has turned Pakistan’s most beautiful and greenest valley into a battlefield.

The task before him is difficult and the environment in which he is operating is dangerous. But the elderly cleric is made of sterner stuff and even risks to his life won’t turn him away from doing what he believes is the right thing to do. Back in 1994, he did something similar by persuading the armed fighters belonging to his organisation, Tanzim-e-Nifaz Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), to stop fighting the state. A military helicopter flew him to all those places in Swat, Shangla, Dir, Kohistan and other districts where his black-turbaned followers had blockaded roads and set up hilltop positions to fight the troops from the paramilitary Frontier Corps and personnel of the other law-enforcement agencies. Accompanied by Major General Fazal Ghafoor, the-then inspector general of the Frontier Corps, and some other civil and military officials, he would disembark from the chopper, make a rousing speech to his startled fighters and urge them to return to their villages. On occasions, he would even reprimand them for taking up arms against their Muslim brothers in the FC. He would argue that the use of force for achieving the worthy cause of Shariah was wrong.

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Swat and the Doctrine of Necessity

‘The Swat accord is doctrine of necessity in its purest form’, Ayaz Amir argues.

Those armchair warriors — and there’s no shortage of them out here — who are wringing their hands over the Swat accord should ask themselves whether the government had any alternative. Necessity, and iron necessity at that, is the mother of this accord. The authorities were left with no other option because the Swat Taliban under the command of Maulana Fazlullah had fought the army to a standstill.

In Pakistan, as indeed elsewhere, sending in the army is the option of last resort. We had tried this option in Swat and it hadn’t worked. In fact the Taliban, far from being defeated, were in the ascendant, their grip on Swat tighter than before the operation began. The army was there, as it still is, taking distant artillery shots at the Taliban, and occasionally sending in helicopter gunships, but for all that confined largely to its bunkers.

Guerrilla insurgencies are not defeated by such long-range or long-distance tactics. So what was the ANP government in Peshawar to do?

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NWFP’s Sensible Compromise

The NWFP government has made a sensible decision. Pakistani military has no deterrence power in the region. The ill-conceived counter-insurgency operation has only hurt civilians, and has allowed the insurgency to spread. One only hopes the ceasefire is not undermined once again by the clowns in Islamabad at the behest of their Washington masters.

Our rulers: erratic, fearful and full of deceit‘, writes Shireen M Mazari, a sober defense analyst.

Just when one was about to commend the President for finally seeing the light in terms of agreeing to the NWFP government signing a deal with the TNSM for peace in Swat, we witnessed the usual backtracking from the Presidency, if Ms Rehman the official propagandist is to be believed. That, in turn, led to the ANP government being pushed into a state of confusion over what exactly it had signed on to in the agreement it made in front of representatives of all the major political parties – barring the JI which refused to attend. This has marked all the negotiations and agreements made to end militancy and violence earlier also – not just in Swat but also in FATA where US drones always put paid to any peace through negotiations.

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Criminalising Resistance

Following yesterday’s article on the criminalisation of dissent by Seumas Milne in The Guardian (posted below), The Guardian today reveals that the Government’s new ‘counterterrorism’ strategy due next month called Contest 2 will define as ‘extremist’ anyone who believes in ‘armed resistance, anywhere in the world. This would include armed resistance by Palestinians against the Israeli military.’ It would also include those who ‘fail to condemn the killing of British soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan.’

The gall of this plan is quite breathtaking. Not content merely with providing political and material support to Israel’s illegal occupation, not to mention launching illegal wars and occupations of its own, the British Government will now explicitly label all resistance to these illegal and unethical projects as ‘extremist’. 

This represents a shift from the misuse of anti-terrorist legislation to attack and smear organised resistance as violent or as being infilitrated by violent extremists, towards the active repression of citizens who oppose the policy or ideology of the British Government, apparently even pacifists.  A Whitehall source told BBC Panorama that Contest 2 is a “move away from just challenging violent extremism. We now believe that we should challenge people who are against democracy and state institutions “

And of course there is no suggestion that ‘Contest 2’ will cover those who support atrocities by the British or Israeli state.  Nothing extreme about massacring Arabs obviously.  And those who are “against demoracy”?  How about the EU’s response to the election of Hamas?

‘Intense, focused and targeted’

Rahimullah Yusufzai on developments in Swat and the delusions of the armchair militarists.

Unlike the earlier two phases of the military operations in Swat in 2007 and 2008, the latest one initiated in late January is being praised by the ANP-PPP government in the NWFP and sections of the population opposed to the militants. The more discerning elements of the civil society, who tend to criticise almost anything that doesn’t conform to their political and intellectual orientation, are also backing the intensified military action. The main reason for the support to the armed forces this time is due to the belief that the latest military operation is intense, focused and targeted.

This reminds one of a statement made by Gen Pervez Musharraf on the eve of the US invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001. In a bid to win public support for his unpopular decision to ally Pakistan with the US at the time, he had argued that the American military action in the neighbouring, Taliban-ruled country would be quick, focused and targeted. Obviously, the General was trying to reassure Pakistanis that this was going to be over soon as he calculated the Taliban regime would collapse and the US troops would go home after installing a pro-West government in Kabul. Though President George W Bush contradicted his Pakistani counterpart, Gen Musharraf didn’t correct his flawed assessment. Supremely confident of his military knowledge and intellectual prowess, he even claimed at the time that the Taliban could not fight a guerrilla war and, therefore, would soon become irrelevant.

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And the drone policy continues…

There is no single journalist who is more knowledgeable and incisive when it comes to the consequences of the so-called ‘war on terror’ on Pakistan than Rahimullah Yusufzai. Since so much nonsense has been proliferating about Pakistan courtesy of both ill-informed Western journalists, and the native informers (*), PULSE will strive to provide fuller coverage of developments in the region.  Here is Rahimullah Yusufzai on the continuing US bombing of the Pakistani tribal belt.

The issue of missile strikes by US drones in Pakistan’s territory has dominated politics and the media in recent days and weeks. The new Obama administration has made it clear the attacks will continue despite statements of disapproval on an almost daily basis by Pakistani leaders, who argue that this policy was undermining Islamabad’s efforts to counter the militancy.

Robert Gates, who has been retained as defence secretary by President Barack Obama to ensure continuity to Washington’s policy in its ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, became the first American official last week to publicly comment on the issue of drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Normally, US officials avoid commenting on the topic in public and instead unnamed sources in the Pentagon or the intelligence agencies leak information to the American media about such attacks, along with the claim that someone important in Al Qaeda had been killed. At a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mr Gates said the US would continue to carry out missile attacks against Al Qaeda militants in Pakistan. The US, he warned, will “go after Al Qaeda wherever Al Qaeda is.” He also said the decision had been conveyed to the government of Pakistan.

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