Insurgency in Swat - An analysis

For the last year and a half, the fast-escalating crisis in Swat has gripped the attention of the entire nation of Pakistan. We have all been reading, mostly in awe, about the on-going insurgency in Swat, bombings of girls’ schools, high-handedness of Pakistan Army and FC personnel, in dealing with such militant elements and about hints of Indian involvement in creating and sustaining this fiasco.

It is going to be a two-part post. In the first, I’ll make an attempt at describing the history of TNSM (Tehreek e Nifaz e Shareeat e Muhammadi) and their political and religious motives behind this war. In my second post, I’ll divulge in to details of Pakistan Army’s current operation(s) against this militant outfit, reasons why such operations have proved to be inadequate and what can still be done in order to bring this situation under control.

My motive behind this post is to try and present a rather detailed picture of the ongoing situation in Swat, in order to enable you ‘the reader’ to make up your own mind about this war. Once you have done that, I’d like to read about it in the comments section, so please, do comment.

Tehreek e Nifaz e Shareeat e Muhammadi (Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law – TNSM)

In order to understand how TNSM came in to being, we need to pay attention to the politics and economics of the Malakand region (which is TNSM’s primary base). In northwest Pakistan, three semi-autonomous states ‘Dir, Swat and Chitral’ were amalgamated to form the Malakand Division of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) in 1970. The laws of Pakistan were extended to the area, setting aside old legal systems such as Shari’ah law in Swat, under the Wali of Swat. Failures of government of Pakistan, in the aftermath of this change, in upholding law and order and provisioning of cheap justice in the area resulted in the alienation of local populace from the writ and laws of the State of Pakistan. Which is why, when a legal and armed battle ensued in 1975, in the aftermath of a dispute between the government and timber merchants about forest royalties in the area, it drew immense popularity from local populace. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, in order to control the situation implemented a new legal system of governance in the area, under the now-infamous FCR (Frontier Crimes Regulation). This order was then challenged first in Peshawar High Court and later in the Supreme Court of Pakistan, resulting in it being annulled. Thus creating a political vacuum, where an entire division was left without a proper justice and governance system. Do note that the precedent to get state’s attention through armed conflict and violence was set here. And the failure of government of Pakistan to address it in a prudent manner gave way to future repeats of such an occurrence.

Fast forward to the late 80s, when Sufi Mohammad, an activist of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and a cleric of Lal-Qila in Dir, had just returned to his native land from Afghanistan after his stint as one of the then celebrated ‘Mujahideens’. Being very convinced of his religious ideals, it was then that he decided to step in with the demand of enforcement of Shari’ah (Islamic Law) in the Malakand division, in order to fill in the gap left in the aftermath of Supreme Court’s decision to annul FCR in Malakand Division. And thus TNSM came in to being.

TNSM’s first major action was its clamant demand for the introduction of Shari’ah law in Malakand Division (which, before the implementation of the 2002 devolution plan, included the present day districts of Malakand, Swat and Chitral), expressed at a gathering in Dir on May 9, 1994. It was not a mere slogan, the demand, in fact, was an ultimatum. Within a couple of weeks, TNSM took control of the area, including government offices and Saidu Shareef airport, through sheer force and announced the imposition of Shari’ah law. The group’s call to arms drew large numbers of experienced Afghan fighters from nearby city of Peshawar and Bajaur Agency. The Pakistani government, as always, acted belatedly, taking almost 6 months to formulate a reply. It was in November 94′, that Pakistani paramilitary troops (FC) were then sent in, in order to take control of the situation. The resultant operation led to the deaths of more than 40 people, including a member of the provincial assembly and more than a dozen paramilitary troops, before some semblance of normality returned to the area. A peace deal was then brokered between government of Pakistan and Sufi Muhammad, in which government of Pakistan agreed to implement Shari’ah law in Malakand divison. But Sufi Muhammad declared, only after a month of the declared ceasefire, that the implementation of Shari’ah laws in Malakand was defective and that he’ll continue his struggle towards the goal of implementation of Shari’ah in Malakand.

At this point in time, while TNSM went off the radar and public eye, due to ongoing proxy wars in Kashmir and Afghanistan, it sustained its primary base of followers and continued building upon it. The political leadership in the country, for whatever reasons, failed to see and acknowledge that as a problem and thus didn’t feel the need to address it. The lack of proper implementation of the writ of government of Pakistan in Malakand division, its failure in providing means to deliver fast and cheap justice to people and a deteriorating local law and order situation made sure that TNSM never faced a dearth of followers.

The Resurgence

It was only after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States and the subsequent American campaign in Afghanistan that the government of Pakistan began to focus on TNSM. Sufi Mohammad by then was openly recruiting people to go to Afghanistan to fight U.S.-led forces. Soon he managed to cross into Afghanistan with approximately 7,000-8,000 volunteers to support the Taliban. When a majority of his soldiers had been either killed or captured, he returned home only to be arrested by government forces. He was ultimately convicted on April 24, 2002, along with his 30 companions, to seven years of imprisonment for inciting people to go to Afghanistan and for violating state restrictions. The organization was no longer a legitimate entity and was banned by President General Pervez Musharraf in January 2002. Some of its members drifted toward another extremist outfit; Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (Movement of the Taliban of Pakistan – TTP) which was, at that point in time, operating from Orakzai agency.

While the arrest of Sufi Muhammad dealt a real blow to TNSM, his son-in-law Fazle Hayat took over TNSM under the nom de guerre of Maulana Fazlullah and helped restore the structure of the organization. He soon began making broadcasts from an illegal FM radio station installed in his mosque at Imam Dheri, in the Mutta Tehsil of Swat district. Delivering two sermons a day, he preached his version of militant Islam. At this point in time, ex President General Pervaiz Musharraf chose not to address the situation; even ignored the blatantly militant messages being broadcasted through Fazlullah sermons over the FM radio, in order to further fuel the conflict. This, in turn helped him portray his image to the world as that of a sole barrier against militants taking over Pakistan.

Then came the devastating earth quake of October 2005 in the north western areas of Pakistan. TNSM capitalised on this human catastrophe and re-energized itself. Volunteers from the TNSM led the vanguard of the relief work in the devastated areas of the NWFP. Not surprisingly, in the absence of timely official help, the locals came to admire these volunteers for their selfless devotion in helping the quake victims. TNSM at this point in time effectively started propagating that the natural calamity was visited upon the locals because they were becoming irreligious. The recommended remedy in their view was simple, living by a strict Shari’ah code i.e. defined by them. Striking when the iron was hot, they successfully campaigned for the destruction of television sets and video players. Due to the lack of education in the region, the message resonated with the locals and TNSM received a new lease of life.

Do mind, that a spineless effort on part of the MMA (Mutahidda Majlis e Amal – The combined platform of religio-political parties of Pakistan, which formed the government in NWFP from 2002 to 2007) to counter militant activities on part of TNSM was just as much responsible for furthering this crisis as ex President General Pervaiz Musharraf. MMA’s stance on militancy in Swat was in fact that of practical encouragement. First serious signs of trouble came when polio vaccination teams were attacked in Swat and MMA government surrendered its own writ by asking ‘permission’ from TNSM that kids be given polio drops. TNSM, given the situation, further upped the ante by announcing their private security force to take care of matters of ‘law and order’ in the valley of Swat; Shaheen Commando Force. Police were being attacked left, right and centre. There were large scale desertions. Frontier Constabulary (FC) also surrendered in very large numbers. MMA government was still extremely hesitant to call in help from federal government. In fact they never did so. Eventually, TNSM took physical control of police stations, government offices and even Saidu Sharif airport. It was then that Federal government decided to take matters in to its own hands and called a meeting of the Security Council. Chief minister Akram Durrani tried to avoid pressure from federal government to deploy troops but things weren’t really in his control. Suicide bombing had started and a large number of FC troops were killed in ambushes that involved massive amounts of explosives. Federal government then deployed troops of Pakistan army, in order to wrestle the control of Swat valley back from TNSM.

Tehreek e Nifaz e Shareeat e Muhammadi and Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (Movement of Taliban of Pakistan – TTP)

TNSM, right after the Red-Mosque debacle, sought to forge ties with Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (Movement of Taliban of Pakistan – TTP) led by Baitullah Mehsud, in a bid to provide an umbrella to all insurgent movements operating in several tribal agencies and settled areas of the NWFP. Since then, Fazlullah and his followers are toeing Baitullah’s line, whether they are issuing a decree, signing a peace deal with the government or scrapping the same. Therefore, it appears by all accounts that the Fazlullah-led militants are working in the same mould as the TTP.

To read the second part, click here.

  • MB

    Excellent!!
    Very well done and written properly

  • MB

    Excellent!!
    Very well done and written properly

  • Great analysis

  • Great analysis

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  • farrah k raja

    Hi Saad
    Good investigation.But very gripping picture.I wonder where you get this picture from.I am sure in Pakistan particularly in NWFP we carry guns and not Tulwarain?

    • Saad

      That’s what they use to decapitate people, for a variety of reasons. As for the picture itself, I got it from an old news story (circa 2004) of Dawn.

  • farrah k raja

    Hi Saad
    Good investigation.But very gripping picture.I wonder where you get this picture from.I am sure in Pakistan particularly in NWFP we carry guns and not Tulwarain?

    • That’s what they use to decapitate people, for a variety of reasons. As for the picture itself, I got it from an old news story (circa 2004) of Dawn.

  • Thank you, for using constructive writing on your personal blog, friend. We do need fresh analysis coming in from all angles, and you have surely done a fine piece here, mashAllah.

    The role of MMA is quite underrated in the fiasco that daily unfolds over our western and north-western areas. You did throw some light on it, and a bit more detailed analysis on good governance that should have been practiced – and never was – by the then-in-power MMA.

    Religion, unfortunately, has been used time and time again for personal gains, and personal gains alone.

    Also, as you have pointed out, precedence is a bitch. :)
    Far sightedness on part of our leaders is a virtue that was never in fashion, and now it seems that the most celebrated political figure for his far-sightedness, Z Bhutto, was not as statesmenlike as one would be lead to believe.

    A concise round up, waiting for the second part…
    Good luck and God bless

    • Saad

      Thank you so much for taking time out to go through the article, I’m already working on the second part. I’ll hopefully post it later tonight or by early morning, tomorrow.

  • Thank you, for using constructive writing on your personal blog, friend. We do need fresh analysis coming in from all angles, and you have surely done a fine piece here, mashAllah.

    The role of MMA is quite underrated in the fiasco that daily unfolds over our western and north-western areas. You did throw some light on it, and a bit more detailed analysis on good governance that should have been practiced – and never was – by the then-in-power MMA.

    Religion, unfortunately, has been used time and time again for personal gains, and personal gains alone.

    Also, as you have pointed out, precedence is a bitch. :)
    Far sightedness on part of our leaders is a virtue that was never in fashion, and now it seems that the most celebrated political figure for his far-sightedness, Z Bhutto, was not as statesmenlike as one would be lead to believe.

    A concise round up, waiting for the second part…
    Good luck and God bless

    • Thank you so much for taking time out to go through the article, I’m already working on the second part. I’ll hopefully post it later tonight or by early morning, tomorrow.

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  • Ahmer Naqvi

    Superb article!

    I am a reporter for dawn news, and our show is planning a concerted effort on the militancy in swat. i’d love for us to work on any ideas you might have. please e-mail to let me know

  • Ahmer Naqvi

    Superb article!

    I am a reporter for dawn news, and our show is planning a concerted effort on the militancy in swat. i’d love for us to work on any ideas you might have. please e-mail to let me know

  • Great begining, looking forward to the conclusion. We need your father to be writing as well.

    • Saad

      Sir, thanks for bucking me up, it means a lot. Do let me know, as to what do you think of the conclusion, as well.

  • Great begining, looking forward to the conclusion. We need your father to be writing as well.

    • Sir, thanks for bucking me up, it means a lot. Do let me know, as to what do you think of the conclusion, as well.

  • mnkhan

    the real reason of the emergence of Fazlullah is his
    FM radio broadcasts, moreover, prior to the start of
    present army opration, if Fazlullah is the beloved
    of Baitullah, by now he should have shown his side, by
    throwing some warning (al least) verbal to the army,
    provincial setup, or some message to the newspapers
    about his support to Fazalullal.

    • Saad

      Take a look at the map posted in the second part of this post, to see how Baitullah has kicked up militancy in several agencies surrounding the valley of Swat, in order to protect TNSM.

      And while you’re at it, take a look at this video from BBC.

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00g44l7/
      Panorama_Britains_Terror_Heartland/

      Notice that there is a double cabin pick up vehicle of militants and it has written at the back : Mujahid Caravan, Ameer Mangal Bagh, Lashkar e Islam

      Do mind that this is Bajaur, the implication is that LI militants of Bara/Khyber are assisting TTP in Bajaur.

      Hence giving credibility to what I’ve written that there exists an entire cobweb of such militant organizations which are helping each other out.

  • mnkhan

    the real reason of the emergence of Fazlullah is his
    FM radio broadcasts, moreover, prior to the start of
    present army opration, if Fazlullah is the beloved
    of Baitullah, by now he should have shown his side, by
    throwing some warning (al least) verbal to the army,
    provincial setup, or some message to the newspapers
    about his support to Fazalullal.

    • Take a look at the map posted in the second part of this post, to see how Baitullah has kicked up militancy in several agencies surrounding the valley of Swat, in order to protect TNSM.

      And while you’re at it, take a look at this video from BBC.

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00g44l7/
      Panorama_Britains_Terror_Heartland/

      Notice that there is a double cabin pick up vehicle of militants and it has written at the back : Mujahid Caravan, Ameer Mangal Bagh, Lashkar e Islam

      Do mind that this is Bajaur, the implication is that LI militants of Bara/Khyber are assisting TTP in Bajaur.

      Hence giving credibility to what I’ve written that there exists an entire cobweb of such militant organizations which are helping each other out.

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  • Mohummud Idrees Husain

    Comprehensive and critical analysis which merits attention of all citizens esp those who can make their voice heard to tackle this neglected menace of ‘FAILED GOVERNANCE.’ Where the governments fail, the people must step in to work in consonance with the authorities to help assuage the hurt suffered by the people at large and to apply balm over their distresses. Physical help, infrastructural help, consistent empathy with their situation, and a clear discrimination between the lawful and lawless acts/demands/pronounced assertions by the rebellious should make for a determined and visibly fair action which will allow progress towards healing and peace.
    What’s certain is that status quo ante is NO LONGER POSSIBLE and should not be if we are to self-correct and not self-destruct.

  • Mohummud Idrees Husain

    Comprehensive and critical analysis which merits attention of all citizens esp those who can make their voice heard to tackle this neglected menace of ‘FAILED GOVERNANCE.’ Where the governments fail, the people must step in to work in consonance with the authorities to help assuage the hurt suffered by the people at large and to apply balm over their distresses. Physical help, infrastructural help, consistent empathy with their situation, and a clear discrimination between the lawful and lawless acts/demands/pronounced assertions by the rebellious should make for a determined and visibly fair action which will allow progress towards healing and peace.
    What’s certain is that status quo ante is NO LONGER POSSIBLE and should not be if we are to self-correct and not self-destruct.

  • Sardar Ahmed Shah Jan

    A very well thought out analysis of the TNSM movement in Dir, Chitral, Malakand and Swat, but what seems to baffle me even now is what exactly is meant by the term ‘introduction of Sharia.’ Does it mean that girls must not be educated, men must compulsorily wear beards, that Babar & CD shops must be blown up and that women must be veiled up from top to toe. Is this the Islam they wish to introduce in the name of Sharia? Have they read the Quran with meaning and Tafseel (commentry)? I would recommend to these people that you cannot introduce Islam by force (see Sura Baqara verse 256) wherein it’s said, “there is no compulsion in religion.’ In the Quran God has said that if he so wished he could have forced all men into Islam (and God could have done it without needing the help of these taliban) but why he did not do so was because He had a greater Plan for man.He sent them down to this earth to seek God’s ways through his prophets. Those who followed would go to heaven and those who failed to do so would be sent to hell. Every man is answerable for himself – yes preach God’s ways in mosques and at the pulpit, beyond that God tells His own Prophet not to grieve if they do not follow your preaching because God says, I’ve sent you only to convey My message. So Saad, I would be most indebted to you if you could devote one part of your write-up on “Nifaz-e-Sharia. Thank you.

  • A very well thought out analysis of the TNSM movement in Dir, Chitral, Malakand and Swat, but what seems to baffle me even now is what exactly is meant by the term ‘introduction of Sharia.’ Does it mean that girls must not be educated, men must compulsorily wear beards, that Babar & CD shops must be blown up and that women must be veiled up from top to toe. Is this the Islam they wish to introduce in the name of Sharia? Have they read the Quran with meaning and Tafseel (commentry)? I would recommend to these people that you cannot introduce Islam by force (see Sura Baqara verse 256) wherein it’s said, “there is no compulsion in religion.’ In the Quran God has said that if he so wished he could have forced all men into Islam (and God could have done it without needing the help of these taliban) but why he did not do so was because He had a greater Plan for man.He sent them down to this earth to seek God’s ways through his prophets. Those who followed would go to heaven and those who failed to do so would be sent to hell. Every man is answerable for himself – yes preach God’s ways in mosques and at the pulpit, beyond that God tells His own Prophet not to grieve if they do not follow your preaching because God says, I’ve sent you only to convey My message. So Saad, I would be most indebted to you if you could devote one part of your write-up on “Nifaz-e-Sharia. Thank you.

  • ali

    assalamualikum!
    dear brother plz stop killing, bombing innocent people cos it is completly against islam.if taliban are true muslims they should not do so but indeed they are agent for israel and india ,america .there salaries are ten fold then pakistani soldiers.

  • ali

    assalamualikum!
    dear brother plz stop killing, bombing innocent people cos it is completly against islam.if taliban are true muslims they should not do so but indeed they are agent for israel and india ,america .there salaries are ten fold then pakistani soldiers.

  • Swat its called Switzerland of Pakistan, what happened in swat no one can believe, everything come to an end, a ordinary life of one local individual is lifeless, what our leaders are doing? There are making fun on it??? It’s not time to compose political principles
    I want to appeal to all pray for our Pakistan and Pakistani people and also pray that our leaders get some sense to effort for Pakistan, they are member of staff of Pakistan they should work for Pakistan not for their own profit

  • Swat its called Switzerland of Pakistan, what happened in swat no one can believe, everything come to an end, a ordinary life of one local individual is lifeless, what our leaders are doing? There are making fun on it??? It’s not time to compose political principles
    I want to appeal to all pray for our Pakistan and Pakistani people and also pray that our leaders get some sense to effort for Pakistan, they are member of staff of Pakistan they should work for Pakistan not for their own profit

  • This comment comes post-military operation, so things are slightly different now. But I just came across your 2-part post and must say it is a fantastic analysis of the history of the problem. You have done a wonderful job!

    Sohaib

  • This comment comes post-military operation, so things are slightly different now. But I just came across your 2-part post and must say it is a fantastic analysis of the history of the problem. You have done a wonderful job!

    Sohaib