Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Swat & Bajaur: Experiments in Pakistani Political Compromise

Now that the landmark agreement in Swat has momentarily stilled the guns, the world begins to evaluate the Swat model for compromise between moderate Muslim societies and Muslim radicals, which brings to mind both American Indian reservations and the short-lived FARC zone during the Colombian peace process a few years ago.

This video frames the debate.

For a pessimistic evaluation, see the following Indian warning of Pakistani collapse.

Irretrievable Failure?
Kanchan Lakshman
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management

While the guns have fallen relatively silent in the Swat Valley,there violence continues elsewhere in the NWFP and across Pakistan. Violence and subversion are now crystallizing as a natural consequence of the state of play in FATA and Swat. While the progressive collapse in NWFP and FATA is well documented, it is Punjab that is, in many ways, emerging as a jihadi hub. 304 persons, including 257 Security Force (SF) personnel and 34 civilians, were killed in 78 terrorism-related incidents in Punjab in 2008. The fact that more civilians and SF personnel were killed in Punjab than militants, gives a clear indication that the Islamist terrorist networks are securing an upper hand. Out of the approximately 78 incidents in 2008, 21 were reported from Islamabad and 22 from Lahore. 49 persons, including 34 civilians and 14 SF personnel, have died so far in Punjab in 22 incidents in 2009 (including six in Lahore and one in Islamabad. Data till March 8). Southern Punjab has always been a base for a mélange of jihadi groups. For long, it has hosted groups such as the LeT, JeM, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, LeJ, Harkat-ul-Ansar, Hizbul Tahrir, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Tehreek-e-Jaferia Pakistan and Sipah-e-Mohammed Pakistan. Furthermore, militants from across Pakistan and outside easily find safe haven in places like Lahore and Islamabad. Peshawar, the NWFP capital which is just 150 kilometers away from Islamabad, is already under militant siege and Lahore, Islamabad and Rawalpindi are increasingly being targeted. While one suicide attack has occurred in the current year in Punjab, there were 12 during 2008. In addition, security agencies successfully neutralized many suicide modules. At least 53 ‘potential suicide bombers’ and 16 linkmen were arrested in 2008 from places including Lahore, Sargodha, Rawalpindi, Jhang, Islamabad, and Sialkot, an indication of the substantial pool of fidayeen (suicide cadres) who could inflict mayhem not only in Punjab, but across Pakistan.

Even as the Islamist extremists hold territory and control in the NWFP and FATA, through violence or otherwise, the Taliban – al Qaeda combine is expected to activate sleeper cells in the madrassa network of south Punjab in order to increase violence in Punjab. Pakistan’s urban heartland, including the national capital Islamabad, Punjab capital Lahore, and the garrison town of Rawalpindi, the Sindh capital, Karachi, and other towns, can be expected to come under increasing and continuous attack. An indication of the gravity of the situation was visible in the report of the Karachi Police’s Crime Investigation Department(CID)Special Branch, which stated that the Taliban "could take the city hostage at any point". The report warned that the Taliban network was spreading across Pakistan so briskly that it may be on course to strike the financial and shipping hub of Karachi. The Taliban has established hideouts in Karachi, the report said, adding that militants have "huge caches" of arms and ammunition and could strike, possibly in a manner similar to the Mumbai attacks of November 26. The report mentions Taliban hideouts and their presence in areas like Sohrab Goth and Quaidabad. Besides living in small motels in these areas, the Taliban are hiding in the hills of Manghopir and Orangi town, and in other low-income areas and slums, Daily Times quoted the Police report as stating. The Taliban’s systematic infiltration of Karachi has led to the hills on the outskirts of the city, slums and small motels, becoming militant hubs. Sources disclosed that the ‘deputy chief’ of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Hasan Mahmood, was reportedly hiding in Karachi.

Checklist for Evaluating Swat Compromise
Educating girls: schools reopening>
Threats of violence: radicals making threats

Sharia courts: Government to open; radicals demanding quick action

Refugee return: minimal

Daily life: in terms of people on the streets, returning to normal but stores closing during prayer times

Rebel arms: neither displayed nor given up

Democracy: government has agreed to crack down on corruption & crime; Sufi Mohammad (related to Taliban leader) brokering peace deal talks

Violence: two attacks on security convoys as of March 5


Meanwhile, in Bajaur, tribesmen and the government reached a deal providing for the disbanding of militant groups and the restoration in the region shattered by an August government offensive of government rule. Taking a self-destructive page from the Israeli warfighters’ manual, the Pakistani government utterly destroyed much of Bajaur; so far, there is little evidence of any plans to rebuild and refugees still fill camps near Peshawar five months after the fighting, which will no doubt provoke a renewal of militancy in Bajaur. The Pakistani government spokesman is quoted in the above-referenced video as coldly dismissing the death of innocent villagers by the Pakistani military as “the price you have to pay.” The price is clearly going to be much greater.

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