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July '07: From Lal Masjid to Swat?

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From Lal Masjid to Swat?
July saw Pakistanis glued to their TV sets as Lal Masjid issue unfolded as an unfortunate reality show. On the sidelines of Lal Masjid violent threats were heard from the scenic valley of Swat in North West Frontier Province by a cleric on his illegal FM station. After causalities, the Army was moved to Swat. Amidst all this, academic Khadim Hussain seeks to analyze this particular crisis and offers solutions in our July 2007 individu-spotlight. As always, feedback will be most welcome.

One of the few reactions to Lal Masjid came from Maulana Fazlullah from Swat who has been reported to have announced on his illegal FM radio to wage Jihad against the government of Pakistan since the operation on Jamia Hafsa in Islamabad was launched on 3rd of July 2007.

Maulana Fazlullah graduated from the seminary run by Maualana Sufi Mohammad in Balambat district Dir, N.W.F.P. The New York Times in its July 5, 2007 issues reports, “In one attack, a suicide car bomber hit a Pakistani military convoy in the border region of Bannu, in the North-West Frontier Province, killing six soldiers and four children playing cricket nearby. That attack was probably retaliation for a missile strike on militants in the area that killed thirty –four people on June 19.The second attack was aimed at a local police official. It killed three civilians in the district of Swat, said the provincial police chief, Muhammad Sharif Virk. He blamed Maulana Fazlullah for the attack.

Maulana Fazlullah, known as Dherai Maulvi Sahib, is the son-in-law of Sufi Mohammad, the erstwhile leader of the defunct Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-i-Mohammadi (TNSM).As mentioned earlier, he is a graduate of a seminary run by Maulana Sufi Mohammad founder of TNSM.

Background of Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-i-Mohammadi (TNSM)

The present apparent wave of militancy reported from valley Swat might be traced to the early nineties. It was a time when the Soviet Union had just disintegrated. Some other immediate issues like Eastern Europe and Middle East had to absorb the attention of the US policy makers after the Soviet disintegration. The hard core militarily trained “Mujahideen” from Pakistan and other countries were desperately looking for new assignments. Probably the same confusion had engulfed the power echelons of the secret agencies of both Pakistan and the US who had been quite close with these “Mujahideen” during the cold war.

Several authors have observed that the portion of “Mujahideen” who had been the students of Pakistani madrassas returned to Pakistan and started teaching in the madrassas of Pakistan and began exhorting the sermons they had been psychologically tuned in during the cold war. Some of them developed their own regimented forces in the shape of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Sipah-e-Suhaba and Lashkar-e-Jahnagvi and TNSM. The head quarters and central leadership of all these militant organizations were situated in the Punjab province of Pakistan but these organizations remained in touch with their counterpoints and former Jihadi colleagues in the North West Frontier Province.

The early nineties was also the time when the TNSM started gathering strength in the suburbs of Mingora town and Tehsil Matta Swat. Some observers point at three contributing factors which gave impetus to the insurgency across the valley Swat led by the TNSM in the early nineties.

Firstly, the movement was seen to be stronger in the area where the landed aristocracy has its firm hold since long. The workers who joined TNSM were mostly those who belonged to the landless families. The movement gave them an opportunity to participate in the power game of the area. Moreover, the religious groups had always been considered inferior and would not be allowed to have any say in socio-political affairs of the area. During the militant movement of the defunct TNSM, the religious groups started asserting themselves in the socio-cultural hierarchy. The landless masses and religious groups of the influenced part of the valley joined hands under the leadership of Maulana Sufi Mohammad which became a strong force in a short span of time.

Secondly, the legal code, Provincial Tribal Areas Regulations (PATA), was brought in force in Malakand Division. Malakand Division was formed to be an administrative structure in which the Swat State was placed after its merger with Pakistan in 1969 along with District Dir, District Buner, and District Chitral. The PATA Regulations had allowed all executive, judicial and revenue powers to be exercised by the local administration alone and especially a deputy commissioner. After a verdict of the Supreme Court of Pakistan which sought to abolish the PATA Regulations in the early nineties, the local administration lost most of its cherished powers. A deputy commissioner of district Dir in the early nineties is said to have been a frequent visitor of Maulana Sufi Mohammad, the leader of the TNSM.

Thirdly and most importantly, the people of Swat during the state rule were accustomed to a judicial system that would give immediate relief to the aggrieved party. The people of Swat got tired of their experience with the Regulations and wished for a judicial system that would give them instant relief. The TNSM leadership tapped this desire of the common people for instant legal relief by promising promulgation of the Shariah code. This earned the TNSM sympathies of the silent majority of the valley.

The defunct TNSM clashed with the local administration in the early nineties and had effectively brought the whole administrative structure of district Swat, North West Frontier Province (N.W.F.P), to a standstill. Later, when the American forces invaded Afghanistan, Sufi Mohammad had exhorted his followers to join the Taliban in Afghanistan in their armed struggle against the American forces. Hundreds of jehadis under his command crossed the border and entered Afghanistan. The rest of the story is shrouded in mystery but what is known is that Maulana Sufi Mohammad returned from Afghanistan but most of his Mujahideen followers did not return.Maulana Sufi Mohammad is now languishing in a Pakistani jail.

Current situation

It is important to point out , however that a private Pakistani channel reported on the 7th of July 2007 a press conference by the leaders of the TNSM in which they disowned Maulana Fazlullah claiming that the Maulana was wrong to talk against the state law on his FM radio. The leadership of the TNSM was further reported to have said that if the military wanted peace in the area, the TNSM would support it.

Maulana Fazalullah has been reported to have issued contradictory statements as soon as the action against the Jamia Hafsa in Islamabad started. A local daily, Shamal Swat, reported a statement by the Maulana on the 7th of July 2007 that he was against violence and terrorism and that the recent deaths of the security forces in different attacks and ambushes was unfortunate. The Maulana has been reported to have said further that he never exhorted the people to be prepared for an armed conflict with the security forces. The same version of the story was reported in a national Urdu Daily Express on the 8th of July 2007.

The socio-political activists of the valley have recently been making quite consistent efforts to counter the presently reported wave of militancy in the area. A Jirga (which has been quite an effective traditional and historical mechanism of conflict resolution in the Pushtoon society) has already been constituted that has members from elected representatives, political parties, district administration, development organizations and from the traditional elders of Swat valley.

A mammoth conference was organized by the local chapter of Awami National Party (a secular and progressive nationalist party having its support base mostly in the North West Frontier Province) end of June 2007 in Mingora (the major town of Swat valley), which was attended by the representatives of Pakistan Peoples’ Party Parliamentarians , Pakistan Muslim League, Tehsil and District government, the defunct Tahrik-e-Nihazi-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), local media, academia, traditional elders, labor unions, cultural organizations and development organizations. The conference was organized under the theme of ‘Aulasi Aman Jirga Swat (Swat peoples’ consultations for peace)’.

The well-attended conference reinforced the image of the people in the valley to be a peace-loving population having least proclivity for any kind of militancy. In other words, they communicated their wish to be thought and seen as the people they think they are—peaceful, tolerant, civilized, mature and accommodative. The people of Swat valley also showed their desire for a consistent dialogue among the different stakeholders.

Since the 5th of July, there has been a continuous build up of the security forces around the area of the valley Swat, North West Frontier Province Pakistan, which has remained under the influence of Maulana Fazlullah, locally called as Nekpi Khel, a vast area in the north of the River Swat. It seems as if the decision to take action against Maulana Fazlullah has already been taken.

One would just like to suggest more restraint, probably even more than was observed in the case of the Jamia Hafsa Islamabad (which has been rightly admired by almost all analysts), by the security forces of Pakistan in the case of Swat for several reasons.

Firstly, the civil society of the valley will get more time to rally public support for a more moderate view of socio-cultural issues. Even now when most of the Pakistani and international analysts assume that valley Swat is besieged by militancy, one is astonished to see that both boys and girls study together for their post graduate courses at the Post Graduate Jahanzeb College Swat. The traditional trade exhibition usually held in the central trade centre, Mingora, just close to the area reportedly influenced by Maulana Fazlullah, continues to be visited both by men and women together. This open attitude of the people in Swat is in tandem with the policies of late Wali of Swat, Miangul Jahanzeb, the father of ex-governor Baluchistan, Miangul Aurangzeb, during the state rule before 1969. There used to be cultural celebrations (Mela) in which a number of activities used to be carried out which would definitely be thought obscene by the present day criteria of the hard core clerics.

Secondly, the common masses will be saved from an eventuality which is surely not of their making. Thirdly, the idea of tolerance and plurality will emerge as the winner which is the very purpose of a probable operation against Maulana Fazlullah. Fourthly, the area-wise compass of an operation will surely be far larger and there is a strong probability that the innocent people will be effected in a very large number. There is no infrastructure placed even to provide basic emergency facilities of health and transportation in case of casualties. Moreover, the local administration does not seem to be prepared to perform in an emergency-like situation. Lastly and most importantly, this is the season of tourist activities in the area. Thousands of people across the valley depend on the earnings of tourist related economic activities. A probable clash might disrupt the whole system and thousands of innocent people might be deprived of their only source of income.

Isn’t interesting to note that the idea of blocking Maulana Fazlullah’s illegal FM radio has not yet crossed the mind of anybody in the administration? Surely before moving a whole division of the Army to Swat, no one thought of taking the Maulana to task for setting up an illegal FM station that propagates hate speech?

The writer, Mr.Khadim Hussain is an Islamabad based academic. The views expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect Individualland’s views. For questions/comments with reference to this article please contact us at contact@individualland.com.



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