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Individualland spotlight is a monthly monitor on political affairs printed on the 17th of every month by individualland.com. Individualland would welcome reproduction & dissemination of the contents of this report after proper acknowledgment.

While the IDP’s return …….
The internally displaced people (IDPs) are now returning home in four phases. The first phase being the return of those who are living in camps, the second of those living in schools, the third of those hosted by families and the four are those who are supported by non-governmental organizations. As this phased return of the IDPs is underway, the July 09 individu-spotlight focuses on the reasons that resulted in them being displaced but more importantly on the challenge of peace that confronts the IDPs as well as the state of Pakistan. How effective has been the military operation? As a selective media blackout was imposed, how credible has been the information that was given out by the military spokesperson? Most importantly, what challenges lie ahead. This issue of individu-spotlight attempts to focus on these questions. As always, feedback will be most welcome.

Hardly a quarter of a year into a contentious and frail peace deal with battle-hardened Al-Qaeda-linked militants, had Pakistan’s political leadership and security establishment had to re-adjust their plans.

This outright shift was in response to the emerging threat of Taliban expansion from rugged mountainous terrain of Swat and Waziristan to semi-urban mainland Pukhtoon regions.

An iron military muscle was immediately in action the moment the accord between the provincial authorities of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and head of defunct Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shriat-e-Muhammi (TNSM) Maulana Sufi Muhammad to rein in Taliban led by Maulvi Fazlullah collapsed.

The pact was religiously supported by both of its signatories—the provincial government of Awami National Party (ANP) and Maulana Sufi. It was wholeheartedly opposed by a concerned international community and a frightened civil society inside Pakistan.

It apparently fell down without accomplishing what it was designed for. However it did achieve, in reality, which was impossible by any other means be it military or political maneuvering.

The deal outrightly exposed the Taliban. It effectively removed doubts about their commitment of implementing Islamic laws or Sharia rule in the valley and adjoining districts, thus diminishing whatever moral backing they previously had from the local communities.

Local backing they had. People from Mingora, Matta and Charbagh sub-districts of Swat initially supported Fazlullah’s campaign with donations and helped them establish hideouts in the mountains. Sufi’s backers were mostly from the poor clans suppressed by influential landlords under a beleaguered socio-economic system that prevailed in the region for centuries now.

Irrespective of the fact whether it was on the minds of its architects in Peshawar and Islamabad ,the premature breakup of the pact resulted in turning local public opinion against the alleged Al-Qaeda global political agenda and it’s local partners the Taliban and other radical bands including sectarian groups in Pakistan.

There is enough evidence of a collaboration among Al-Qaeda, Taliban, Lashkar-e-Jahangvi (LeJ) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (Jamat-ud-Dawa), a group allegedly involved in late last year’s deadly attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai.

For instant, Qari Zafar, a former LeJ activist in south Punjab, is now thought to be the head of Al-Qaeda’s car bombing squad in Pakistan. The man is hiding in South Waziristan, the stronghold of Pakistani Taliban top leader Baitullah Mehsud. Qari Zafar was alleged to be the mastermind of the bombing of Islamabad’s Marriot Hotel last September.

Similarly Qari Hussain Mehsud, once a LeJ activist, is the master trainer of suicide bombers. Hailing from Spinkay Ragzai area of South Waziristan, he is believe to be once associated with slain Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Dadullah Akhund (he got killed in March 2007 by Afghan national army) and Al-Qaeda number 2 Ayman Muhammad Rabaie al-Zawahiri

A joint campaign of media and civil society helped build a momentum against Taliban’s ambition to establish their rule in and around Swat valley .This campaign was given impetus by the surfacing of a video of a teenager girl being whipped by the Taliban for allegedly committing adultery.

Though these militants still had some sympathies from the political religious right it was truly the right time and atmosphere for Pakistani decision makers to go hard on those threatening the existence of the state.

So early summer saw hundreds of thousands of helpless individuals running down the hills of valleys to the plains of lowlands in search for safety in the face of bloody encounters between the military and Al-Qaeda foot soldiers, turning their territory into a virtual battle ground—third time in less than two years.
 

BLACKOUT

As a valiant military campaign began and swiftly achieved initial objectives of driving trouble-makers out, the same media that played a lead role in creating a national consensus against Taliban’s interpretation of Islam was completely kept away from the scene, causing a blackout of independent and credible information from the war zone.

One obvious reason for this is, of course, the safety of television and newspapers’ crews, who had suffered a huge loss of life in war on terror, latest being the brutal killing a Geo television correspondent, Musa Khankhel, in the same Swat valley.

Secondly, as an Islamabad based media analyst pointed out, things would have gone wrong, had television channels been allowed to operate inside the war zone because of their very nature of sensationalizing even the smallest of events.

Whatever the reasons were, the absence of spot reporting has made some skeptical. All along doubts were cast from within and outside the country of whether Pakistan’s military is serious in eliminating the terrorists. Had there been media present there, it would have been equivalent to carrying out the military operation in a fish bowl. Apparently this level of transparency was not something that the military was comfortable with.

More importantly, this censorship leaves just one source through which the information is emanating out of the boundaries of troubled land and that is the military itself.

As there is no way of independently verifying the military’s claims of clearing certain areas of insurgents and killing scores of them, people at large, especially those who are now planning a return to the same valleys, are finding it difficult to convince themselves that all hostilities are already over back home.

Another strange feature of media handling was that while military totally kept local crews away from the battle zone, some top international broadcasts like BBC were given ample opportunities to scan the troubled areas.

This would definitely boggle some worried minds to ask whether this exercise is, at least partially, aimed at cooling down concerns in Washington, London and Brussels or to rid Pakistan of the spread of an ideology that potentially can ruin both state and society.
 

FEELING SECURE

So the job that could have otherwise been done by media ventures inside the war zone is still pending and authorities—civilian and military—would have to move swiftly in a post-fighting arena to help people revive their confidence in state machinery meant to protect them.

Those who have returned or planning it now after the government said the areas they were moved out have been cleared of militants are the ones who have seen their regions go through the worse kind of violence over the past two years.

They have helplessly watched bands of Islamists ripping through their livelihood, destroying schools their children went to , controlling mines of precious stones to get their gangs financed by them, and more painfully, walking in the streets, waving arms like conquerors, especially after the February peace deal.

And then there are horrible tales of blood-shedding and throat-slitting.

Memories of places like Green Chowk in the middle of main commercial town of Mingora, where they have seen several times headless bodies hanging with electricity poles, would still be haunting their minds.

Fears would not go easily. It will take them months, if not years, to get over the post traumatic stress and immerse themselves into a new beginning.

Somebody or all of us in a comparative comfort zones would have to stand behind them, giving them a sense of security.

If we narrow down the concept of safety to the extent that it is defined as the absence of real threat, then the military will have to, and it is, making arrangements for a permanent stay in the hilly region.

But it’s not all that Swatis would like to content with or, for that matter, the Pakistani nation would want to give them.

With the initial objective of flushing out militants seems to have been achieved, a lot lies ahead for political leadership to take on. Most important among the tasks for the political leadership is the revival of public faith in democracy, the parliament, judiciary and the law enforcing mechanism.

Above all, they would have to take lead to correct deadly “mistakes” military junta continued to make for decades in the past. The most lethal of them being radicalizing the society through a pan-Islamic ideology for gains outside the geographical boundaries of Pakistan in the name of strategic depth.

This is the most important task at hand. If this is not accomplished , the military battle might have been won but the battle for peace will be lost all over again.
 

 

 

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individualland.com (Last Updated Wednesday, 26 October 2016)

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