The Taliban get their first wish
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - Many Muslims believe that ancient Khorasan - which covers parts of
modern-day Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Iran, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan
- is the promised land from where they will secure the first victory in the
end-of-time battle in which the final round, according to their beliefs, will
be fought in Bilad-i-Sham (Palestine-Lebanon-Syria).
The geographical borders of Bilad-i-Sham-Khorasan extend from Samarkand in
Uzbekistan to the small Malakand division in the northern fringe of Pakistan's
North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) that includes the militant-dominated Swat
On Monday, at a time when United States Central Command chief General David
Petraeus was trying to set up a supply route
for troops in Afghanistan through Uzbekistan, in this extreme corner of the
promised land of Khorasan - Malakand division - militants had every reason to
Asif Ali Zardari, the strongly American-backed Pakistani president, and the
provincial government of NWFP gave in to the demands of militants and announced
a ceasefire, lifted a two-year-old curfew and announced the implementation of
Islamic sharia law.
"All un-Islamic laws in the Malakand division of Swat, which is geographically
one third of the whole [NWFP] province, have been abolished," the chief
minister of NWFP, Amir Haider Khan Hoti, told the media after reaching an
agreement with the Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Mohammadi, which is headed by
Sufi Mohammad, the symbol of the sharia movement in Malakand division. The
Islamic judicial system will be enforced by Islamic judges - qazi.
The accord is a significant victory for the Pakistan Taliban and could end two
years of strife in the region which has seen militants pitted against Pakistani
The peace agreement will be complemented by a compensation package for the
families of those killed and injured in the military operations. "[Families] of
those who were killed will get 300,000 rupees [US$3,760] and those who were
wounded will get 100,000 rupees," Hoti said. "The entire deal, Islamic laws and
other packages related to the deal were completely approved by the president of
Pakistan," he said.
"We have established a task force which will monitor the implementation of
Islamic law, but enforcement will be bound by peace and the writ of the state,"
said Hoti. "The security forces now [after the signing of the agreement] will
be in reactive rather than proactive mode. They will only retaliate if somebody
tries to challenge the writ of the state," Hoti said.
The army's Inter-Services Public Relations confirmed that the curfew has been
lifted, after two years, in Swat Valley. Militants have also announced a
ceasefire for 10 days which is likely to extend for an indefinite period.
The developments in Malakand division coincide with the arrival in Afghanistan
of close to 3,000 American soldiers as part of an extra 30,000 to boost the
already 30,000 US troops in the country. The new contingent will be deployed in
Logar province to secure violent provinces near the capital Kabul. Petraeus
must now be thinking of how many more troops he will need to confront the
additional Taliban fighters that will come from Malakand.
Taliban's victory: A curtain raiser to the spring battle
A key factor in the Taliban's revival after being driven from power by US-led
forces in 2001 was that from 2004 they established a strong network in Pakistan
that was coordinated by al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman
A focal point of this was the radical Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad,
which was stormed in July 2007 by Pakistani security forces to clear it of
militants. The network extended into the Swat Valley, streamed into Bajaur
Agency and Mohmand Agency from where militants fed the Afghan insurgency in
Kunar and Nooristan provinces.
Other flows of militants into South Waziristan and North Waziristan, Kurram
Agency and Khyber Agency respectively fed the Afghan insurgency in the
provinces of Paktia, Paktika, Khost and Nangarhar provinces.
By this time, Western intelligence had realized that these developments in
Pakistan were a major factor behind the "fireworks" in Afghanistan, and
Islamabad was told as much. The Pakistanis were also warned that the militants
could also launch a revolution in Pakistan. This was a major turning point in
the "war on terror" in the South Asian theater.
For the first time, Islamabad felt a chill up its spine and viewed the
situation from a different perspective - not as an American war in which its
participation was drawn out of compulsion, but as a war necessary to maintain
the status quo of its own system. This system was a blend of the country's deep
relationship with the US and the perpetuation of the military oligarchy,
combined with a particular brand of Islam that could co-exist with this setup.
The attack on the Lal Masjid was the first shot fired in this battle, and its
reverberations soon spread to the Swat Valley, South Waziristan and then Bajaur
Agency, in effect turning the whole of NWFP into a war theater. A series of
military operations in the tribal areas drove the militants from stand-alone
sanctuaries into population centers.
In Malakand, which includes the Swat area, the militants are a part of the
Pakistan Tehrik-i-Taliban and the vanguard of the Taliban's cause in the region
against Western occupation forces in Afghanistan and their ally - Pakistan.
They have established their own writ with a parallel system that includes
courts, police and even a electric power-distribution network and road
construction, and all this is now official in the eyes of Islamabad.
All intelligence indicated that further concentration on military operations in
Swat could lead to an expansion of the war theater into Pakistan's non-Pashtun
cities, such as Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi. The security forces were already
stretched and even faced rebellions.
These combined factors culminated in Monday's peace agreement, which is a major
defeat for Washington as well as Pakistan, and it could also lead to a major
setback for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Afghanistan come spring
when hordes of better-trained fighters from Swat pour into Afghanistan.
The Taliban defeat American interests
To tame the militancy, Washington and London devised a plan in 2007, one aspect
of which was for the military to take on the militants. At the same time,
Pakistan was to move from a military dictatorship under president general
Pervez Musharraf to a political government.
This happened in the beginning of last year with the formation of a
democratically elected coalition government of secular and liberal parties
involving among others the Pakistan People's Party, the Muttehida Quami
Movement, the Pashtun sub-nationalist Awami National Party (ANP), the
Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam and the Pakistan Muslim League-Qaid-i-Azam. It was
envisaged that these parties would fully back the US's "war on terror".
Earlier, Washington had brokered a deal between former premier Benazir Bhutto
and Musharraf, who was also chief of army staff, under which a National
Reconciliation Ordinance was enacted to have all corruption cases against
Bhutto and her spouse Asif Ali Zardari dropped. Under this arrangement, later,
NWFP was handed over to the ANP, recognized as the most genuine secular
The militants were onto the game. The first shot was the assassination of
Bhutto by al-Qaeda in December 2007, which practically turned the whole
American plan on its head and created a situation in which Nawaz Sharif’s
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, an anti-Musharraf party, secured an unprecedented
number of seats in parliament, leaving no option but for Musharraf, the most
important American ally, to resign. But in time, the secular and liberal
political parties in the capital became hostage to the militants.
Another setback for the pro-American forces was the brazen militant attack late
last year on Asfandyar Wali, the leader of the ANP, at his home about 20
kilometers from the NWFP capital, Peshawar. He then fled first to Islamabad and
later to Europe. Asfandyar had been groomed by the US through many visits to
Asfandyar's departure resulted in half the leadership of the ANP, including the
head of their foreign relations committee, Dr Himayun Khan, resigning. Their
departure was hastened by dire threats from the Taliban. It was only a matter
of time before the ANP's influence in NWFP was severely eroded.
Ironically, the ANP, which sided with the Soviets against the Islamic Afghan
resistance in the 1980s and put up fierce resistance to the enactment of
Islamic laws in the country, has now become the main engine for the enforcement
of sharia in NWFP where it technically rules.
On Tuesday, while Asfandyar has chosen to remain silent, his nephew and the
chief minister of the province, Hoti, warned the federal government that any
obstruction of the deal with the militants would be unacceptable.
Meanwhile, all schools in Swat, including girls' schools, were opened on
Tuesday and thousands of people flocked to a cricket stadium to greet Sufi
Mohammad, who will soon travel to Matta, a sub-district of Swat, to visit his
son-in-law Mullah Fazlullah to try to persuade him to end the insurgency. For
the first time in many months, all members of the provincial and federal
parliament will visit the Swat Valley.
Pakistan's failure: How it tackled the militancy
During Musharraf's eight years in power, Pakistan was on board with both the US
and Saudi Arabia over the "war on terror". This ensured that Pakistan received
a steady supply of all sorts of resources, including deferment on oil payments
from Saudi Arabia and special aid packages when Pakistan was badly hit by an
earthquake in 2005. Washington mostly looked after Pakistan’s military aid
packages and reimbursement of expenses incurred in the "war on terror".
A few steps taken by Zardari, however, crumbled the setup like a house of
cards. Immediately after taking over as president last September, in a very
high-handed manner, Pakistan withdrew the hunting privileges of two Saudi
princes located in the district of Dera Ghazi Khan in southern Punjab. To add
salt to the wound, the facility was given to a rival sheikh from the United
Arab Emirates (UAE).
The action was taken at a time when Pakistan badly needed Saudi oil on deferred
terms due to soaring prices, and the UAE was in no position to fill the gap.
Islamabad now enjoys very good relations with the UAE - which is unable to help
Pakistan - due to the family friendship between the Bhutto family and the UAE's
rulers. But Pakistan's relations with Saudi Arabia and its two major allies -
Qatar and Bahrain - are at an all-time low because of the insult to the Saudi
royal family. (The issue of Zardari's Shi'ite background is a secondary
Asia Times Online has learned that the newly installed US envoy for Pakistan
and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, was impressed in recent talks with the
government to learn that chief of army staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani works
fully in coordination with the political government and does not intervene in
its affairs. The Swat operation is an example: the military immediately stopped
action when the government announced the peace deal with the militants. All the
same, the Pentagon will be waiting to receive Kiani in Washington soon to
discuss why the Pakistan army failed in Swat.
However, Holbrooke was apparently concerned when he interacted with Prime
Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gillani and members of the cabinet. Gillani expressed
his fears that the poor economic situation in Pakistan could hamper its efforts
in the "war on terror".
Holbrooke is said to have asked the premier how much money he would need to
revive the economy. "As much as we can get," the premier replied, without
The dynamics of the region have changed once again. Nizam-i-Adal Regulation
2009, which proclaims the enforcement of sharia law in Malakand division, is
indeed a written document of Pakistan's defeat in the American-inspired war in
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can
be reached at[email protected]