The ANP led coalition government in NWFP has successfully concluded two peace deals with the Malakand militants recently. The first peace deal was struck with the followers of the TNSM led by Sufi Mohammad, on April 20th.
After almost a month on May 21st, the NWFP government signed another peace deal this time with the Swat militants. The militants belong to Maulvi Fazlullah’s faction. Thus the NWFP government has succeeded in ending hostilities in Swat and its efforts have been appreciated by the public.
However major questions remain to be answered. The important ones are whether these agreements are genuine and secondly will the militants abide by the terms? Or are these agreements a tactical maneuver designed to derive benefits from a soft state before hostilities are resumed?
Only hours before the signing of the Swat peace deal, two girl schools were torched and a policeman was shot dead. Were these incidents a provocation aimed at sabotaging the peace process? Or is there a foreign hand behind these acts since the militants normally accused for such acts were sitting at the negotiating table; they cannot be expected to de-rail the peace talks? So who are these shadowy others?
Finding answers to these questions will help in reducing the chances of recrudesce of violence and also assist in identification of those who are fanning militancy in Swat secretly. An examination of the agreement provides some insight into the Swat situation and indicates how events may unfold in the near term.
I feel the chances for long term peace would have been much higher if the NWFP government had proper institutions for leveraging between the militants and the state; like the presence of an executive magistracy. The existence of such a capacity could have utilized the space created by the peace agreements for re-establishing the writ of the government. For example the Swat militants have agreed to hand over non local militants but can they do so themselves? I don’t think they could. However, with help from the state it would have been possible to rid Malakand from the menace of foreign militants.
Alas, the provincial government’s capacity to do so was destroyed when the whole structure of law and order management in the districts was swept aside by the shenanigans of the national re-construction bureau. The Gen Naqvi design thrust on NWFP removed the executive magistrates who would have handled such matters like in the past. This capacity is now missing and the provincial governments throughout Pakistan have been irreparably handicapped as long the Local Government Ordinance 2002 holds the ground!
The inability of the government to dominate the space provided by agreements will be eroded soon and matters unfortunately are likely to return to the pre peace deal situation. It is a negative projection but indicates clearly what needs to be in place, if we are not to lose our way altogether. However, there are other mysterious happenings also taking place which need consideration.
Reports from South Waziristan indicate an uncharacteristic reticence on the part of the militants. Kohat too reports calm. In Swat also there was something of urgency on parts of the militants to get a peace agreement signed quickly rather than break the talks. The government negotiators were surprised at the relative ease with which they were able to persuade the militants to accept the conversion of Fazlullah’s Imam Dehri citadel for the construction an Islamic University. What is happening?
It seems that there is a strategic shift in the deployment of the insurgents. They had concentrated in the present locations for depleting official security assets arrayed against them as in a guerilla war. Why is this strategic shift occurring? The answer lies in our strategic thinking.
The three core Pakistani defense concerns are, firstly to contain Indian hegemony in and around Pakistan. Secondly, not to permit development of pressures which would threaten retention of nuclear weapons by Pakistan; it is thought that if Pakistan stabilizes then there will be new pressure on Pakistan to de-nuclearize. The third Pakistani strategic compulsion is to retain leverage over political developments in Afghanistan through proxies till a pro-Pakistan government is installed.
There are already early signs of an intensification of the Pakistan-India rivalry in Kashmir. It is unfortunate but nevertheless a fact. This conclusion is derived from an analysis of increased military activity on the Kashmir LOC, which has escalated considerably from May 8th to May 19th. There are also reports of the presence of Kashmiri militants in the previously cleared areas.
Both in the case of Swat and in South Waziristan, there is haste on the part of the militants to achieve an early end to hostilities. Such a situation has arisen because I believe that Pakistan has come under intense U.S pressure to contain the militancy and prevent it from re-entering Afghanistan. It is feared that the peace process may have brought internal peace to parts of Pakistan, yet it has increased militant activity in Afghanistan.
Secondly, during the last six months the militants included within their ranks a considerable number of Kashmiri Mujahideen. Recent reports indicate reduced numbers in Waziristan, Kohat and Swat. It is very likely that they are shifting towards the Kashmir LOC while the Taliban of Waziristan and other parts of tribal areas like Bajaur are reportedly making preparations for moving into southern and eastern Afghanistan.
The U.S is extremely worried about these developments; U.S analysts describe the peace deals as tactical moves by militants to gain advantage from the government without change in their violent attitudes. They feel that such deals weaken Pakistani state institutions and prolong the insurgency rather than curtailing it. At the same time the peace deals strengthens al-Qaeda. Only recently, the Germans were stopped from supplying APCs to Pakistan due to US objections. Apparently there are strains in the Pak-U.S relations, which did not augur well for both the countries.
Immediately, after the signing of the Swat peace deal the police chief of Swat was transferred. It may have happened to prevent involving the officer in controversy with the militants; his presence in Swat after the peace deal, could have reignited passions. However, what is more distressing is the reported resignation of four hundred Swat policemen after the peace deal. Perhaps they fear reprisals at the hands of the militants. Also worrying is a report that the Swat militants have said that they will not abide by the peace agreement if a similar agreement was not reached with the Tehrik-e-Taleban in Waziristan. Such a stipulation is not included in the Swat peace deal!
On the other hand, reports from Peshawar indicate the presence of tribal criminal bands readying to strike the NWFP metropolis. A couple of nights ago, two ground to ground rockets landed in peoples, backyards.
In Khyber agency the pattern of Waziristan is being repeated. Prominent tribal elders like Ahmed Khan and the family of Qadri, a member of the national assembly from Khyber agency have been killed. Mohmand Taliban groups are also approaching Peshawar from the north. Apparently something sinister is being fomented.
Two conclusions can be drawn from this analysis. Firstly, that some hard core militants have become engaged in activities on the LOC in Kashmir and in Afghanistan. Secondly, the local militants are taking advantage of the peace deals to re-group. The likely target of such threats will be Peshawar.
It is therefore apparent that unless the Swat militants are kept engaged as a result of the space provided by the peace deal, they may lapse into violence again. To prevent such an eventuality the provincial government must improvise quickly and develop plans to defend the province against a new wave of terror.