Swat: The way forward

Batkhela Bazaar (Off Day)

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Swat: what’s the way forward?

The area needs a lot more attention now than what it needed before

By Tahir Ali

http://www.jang.com.pk/thenews/jul2011-weekly/nos-24-07-2011/pol1.htm#3

During my visit to Swat last month, I talked to many people in Batkhela, Chakdara, Mingora, Madyan, Bahrain and Miandam. Not only in Swat but elsewhere too, lack of scientific approach, jumping to conclusions created by widely-held conspiracy theories and an acute absence of dialogue between the public and the establishment are not only hampering development of mutual trust but harming efforts to develop national consensus on anti-terrorism strategy.

There is military presence but other than several check-posts where military or police personnel register and identity destination of tourists, there is nothing uncommon. Hoteliers are required to register particulars of the guests and military vehicles patrol the roads casually. I think that presence of security is natural as Swat has been under tumultuous conditions for years. There is simply no room for complacency and negligence here.

Many people in Swat acknowledge that extremists’ ability to occupy an area has been crushed but say they could stage a comeback anytime as their leadership has not been arrested or killed and those arrested have not been accounted so far. The fear is so pervasive that no one is ready to come on record against either of the parties.

Conflict of opinion is bound to occur in a problem where human beings with different backgrounds and analytical capability are involved. Conformity by all to official or militant account is impossible and the objective should be unity in diversity in an environment that allows freedom of thought and dissent encourages dialogue and avoids equating those with genuine reservations on the role and strategy of establishment with the anti-state elements.

If there are loopholes in the official account, the account of war on terror of the men in the street in Swat is no different from the rest of Pakistan where conflicting, often ridiculous, conspiracy theories are embraced as facts and opinions are formed on their basis.

As elsewhere, there is considerable confusion on the causes of the problem. To some Swatis, Taliban and terrorism are the products of Pakistan’s pro-American foreign policy but they also blame Mossad, RAW, CIA or Black Water for these acts. Again, many believe Taliban wanted to create state within the state, had the blessings of foreign agencies and the state did the right thing to crush them.

But some also accuse the civil and military establishment of being too lenient initially and narrate how the army and police stood silent when the Taliban killed the people. Yet, others exonerate them and think it was the negligence, inaction or purposeful silence of the MMA-led provincial government that provided the space and opportunity to the militants to expand their area of influence.

Many others admit they had committed the mistake of siding with the insurgents — near revolt-like situation in 1994 led by Sufi Muhammad, and the 2007-9 uprising led by Fazlullah.

Some Swat people are unhappy over the establishment’s double standards on counter-terrorism strategy. “In Pakhtun areas challengers of state’s writ are crushed while those in Punjab, which is more significant for Pakistan’s stability than the former, are tolerated and their extremist ideology is allowed to flourish,” says a man in his 40s, not wanting to be identified.

A few point out how the militants managed to collect huge quantities of sophisticated weapons and established training centres. Many think it strange that with so much patrolling and many security checkposts around, militants are still able to attack. “Where did the terrorists come from and go? There were hundreds of militants according to official estimates, tell us how many have been killed or captured,” says a resident from Chakdara.

Many others are thankful to the army and say army presence has saved many lives and properties from falling prey to mutual enmities created by suspicions of spying in the area. First, the Taliban killed many for being pro-establishment and then security agencies hunted the ‘anti-state’ actors and their abettors. The victims and their families in both cases thought someone in the neighbourhood to have spied on them. This created many local enmities.

Some people in the area think terrorists are being used as puppets by ‘agencies’ to take dollars and justify the huge/permanent military presence in the area. What struck me the most was that this mindset was even held by apparently educated people.

The state and its security apparatus needs to open up and allow dissent in its interactions with the people. Special teams of teachers and psychologists accompanied by men from civil and military agencies should visit seminaries and schools in the area and allow open questioning of their narrative. This way they would be able to apprise themselves of the real mindset of the people.

There should be no doubt that most of the insurgents have used lack of speedy justice to attract people to their agenda. Most of the Taliban cadres comprised young minds who are susceptible to violent agenda. They should be taught that reformation of societies through violent and militant ways results in more loss and acute anarchy in their midst. De-radicalisation programme for militant youngsters and their families is good but it needs to be replicated in Punjab.

The solution to the problems lies in our patient and judicious approach to problems, an equitable distribution of wealth in society, poverty alleviation and job opportunities.

The state should try to build a consensus against militancy in the country. The concept of ‘bad’ or ‘good’ militants needs to be given up. The political class should offer dialogue and amnesty to militants if they are ready to lay down arms and submit to the writ of the state.

The writer is a freelance journalist who blogs at:

https://tahirkatlang.wordpress.com

Following is the text of the article in original ( as I had sent it to the paper)

Analysis of the situation in Swat

Time for public-military open dialogue

By Tahir Ali

Asim Sajjad Akhtar in these pages last week analysed the situation in Swat. During my visit to Swat last month, I talked to numerous persons in Batkhela, Chakdara, Mingora, Madyan, Bahrain and Miandam. In the light of what I saw and ascertained, some of his observations on the effects of the catastrophe, the profound suspicions, unanswered questions and fear amongst the people, on the lack of any meaningful critique in Pakistan on the war on terror and that before taking any position on ‘war on terror’ one should visit Swat and see the long-term consequences of war on ordinary Swatis could be endorsed, but one cannot completely agree with his assertions that army loathes everyone else there, including the police, and that there are irreconcilable holes in the official account of the war on terror.

Not only in Swat but at the national scene too, lack of scientific attitude, our national malady of jumping to conclusions, suspicions created by widely-held conspiracy theories, and an acute absence of open dialogue and of liaison between the public and establishment are not only hampering development of much needed mutual trust but harming efforts to develop national consensus on anti-terrorism strategy.

There is military presence but not that much as is suggested. Other than the several check-posts where military or police personnel register the identity and destination of tourists, there is nothing uncommon. Hoteliers are required to register the particulars of the guests and military vehicles patrol the roads casually. I think that much care and security is natural as Swat has been under tumultuous conditions for years. There is simply no room for complacency and negligence here.

Their attitude with the public at large is not that bad either, provided you obey the rules or cooperate.

Many Swatis acknowledge that extremists’ ability to occupy an area has been crushed, but say they could stage a comeback anytime as their leadership has not been arrested nor killed and those arrested have not been accounted so far. The fear is so pervasive that no one is ready to come on record against neither of the parties.

Conflict of opinion is bound to occur in a problem where human beings with different backgrounds and analytical capability are involved. Conformity by all to official or militant account is impossible and the objective should be unity in diversity in an environment that allows freedom of thought and dissent, encourages dialogue and avoids equating those with genuine reservations on the role and strategy of establishment with the anti-state elements.

To me, just as patriotism is not confined to conforming to official version alone, liberalism and objectivity also cannot be equalised with attacking the state policies at any cost. Unfortunately it has been.

If there are loopholes in official account, the account of war on terror of the men in the street in Swat is no different from the rest of Pakistan where conflicting, often ridiculous, conspiracy theories are embraced as facts and opinions are formed on their basis.

As elsewhere, there is considerable confusion on the causes of the problem. To some Swatis, Taliban and terrorism are the products of Pakistan’s pro-American foreign policy but they also blame Mossad, RAW, CIA or Black Water for these acts. Again many believe Taliban wanted to create state within the state, had the blessings of foreign agencies and the state did the right thing to crush them. But some also accuse the civil and military establishment of being too lenient initially and narrate how the army and police stood silent when in their eyesight, the Taliban butchered the people. Yet others exonerate them and think it were the negligence, inaction or purposeful silence of the MMA-led provincial government that provided the space and opportunity to the militants to expand their area of influence and increase their power and resources. Yet many others admit they had committed the mistakes of siding with the insurgents quite a few times- 1890s insurgency of Mad-mulla against the British, near revolt-like situation in 1989 and 94 led by Sufi Muhammad and the 2007-9 uprising led by Fazlullah, for example.

Some Swatis are unhappy over the establishment’s double standards on the counter-terrorism strategy. “In Pakhtun areas –like Swat and tribal areas– challengers of state’s writ are crushed while those in Punjab, which is more significant for Pakistan’s stability than the former, are tolerated and their extremist ideology is allowed to flourish,” a man in his 40s said.

A few point out how the militants managed to collect huge quantities of sophisticated weapons and established training centres and think it strange that with so much patrolling and many security checkposts around the militants are still able to come and attack. “Where did the terrorists come from and go? There were hundreds of militants according to official estimates but please tell us how many have been killed or captured,” said a chakdara resident.

They need to be reminded that army and police need authorisation for attack which was not there until the incumbent ANP-led government gave it a go-ahead. They need to be reminded that despite success of the operation, militants would continue their intermittent strikes for years to come. After all, you cannot man all entrances and stop those all the time who want to attack.

Many are thankful to the army and say the army presence has saved many lives and properties from falling prey to mutual enmities created by suspicions of spying in the area. “First the Taliban killed many for being pro-establishment and then the security agencies hunted the ‘anti-state’ actors and their abettors. The victims and their families in both cases thought someone in the neighbourhood to have spied on them. This created many local enmities. Enmities in Pakhtoon societies go on for generations. Time is the best healer but I think it may take around 25-30 years to heal the wounds created by mutual suspicions or actual wrongs,” according to a teacher.

There were some hardliners who at first said there were no militants and when confronted, opined they were the agents of the establishment and those killed are no more than official sacrifices for a ‘greater national cause’ They thought terrorists are being used as puppets by ‘agencies’ to take dollars and justify the huge/permanent military presence in the area.  What struck me the most was that this profound suspicious mindset was even held by apparently educated fellows. They also need to be addressed. But the mainstream reconcilable population badly needs special sessions with open questioning to erase their suspicions before it is taken in by the propaganda in the streets and family functions.

The state and its security operatus needs to open up and encourage dissent with its stance in its interactions with the people. Special teams of teachers and psychologists accompanied by men from civil and military agencies should visit seminaries and schools in the area and allow open questioning of their narrative. This way they would be able to apprise themselves of the real mindset of the people rather than the taken-for-granted-consensus against militants.

There should be no doubt that most of the insurgents have used the lack of speedy, easily and locally available justice to attract people to their agenda.

 

Most of the Taliban cadres comprised young minds who are susceptible to any violent agenda for their nascent minds and needs to be separated and saved from the groups that arouse their emotions and keep them from pursuing education. They should be taught that reformation of societies through violent and militant ways results in more loss, less advantage and acute anarchy in their midst.

 

The de-radicalisation programme for militant youngsters and their families is good but it needs to be replicated in Punjab.

 

In Swat recently, Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani rightly insisted on the need to fight the “political, psychological or religious” trends which lead to radicalism. Solution to the problems lies in our non-reactionary, patient and judicious approach to world problems, an equitable distribution of wealth in society, poverty alleviation and job opportunities, a robust and big middle class, rule of law, interfaith harmony and saying goodbye to emotionalism and puritanical approach and non-interference in the affairs of other states.

The state should try to build an anti-private jihad consensus in the country. The concept of ‘bad’ or ‘good’ militants needs to be given up. The political class should offer dialogue and amnesty to militants if they are ready to lay down arms and submit to the writ of the state. Religious-political parties and scholars must discourage militancy.

The writer is a freelance columnist who blogs at:

https://tahirkatlang.wordpress.com

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About Tahir Ali Khan
I am an academic, freelance columnist, writer and a social worker.

One Response to Swat: The way forward

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