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Patterns of social control

June 11, 2013

IN the wake of the announcements made by the two newly elected political parties in the centre and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the PML-N and PTI respectively, militant organisations have started pursuing serious strategic and tactical moves with zeal.

Recent days have seen an attack on a Frontier Corps vehicle in Quetta, the bombing of mosques in Malakand, and attacks on the police on Pajagi Road, Peshawar, on the cavalcade of the district police officer of Kohat, and in Shangla. Militant organisations appear to have prepared a tactical plan to bring parts of KP, especially Peshawar valley, under their control.

The following events, most of them reported in local dailies, clearly indicate a pattern of social control being imposed by militant organisations. Social control is achieved when an indigenous way of life is changed through coercion and other means. It is also achieved when the state’s writ is privatised and non-state actors impose their worldview on the majority of the people in a particular area.

Four developments indicate the socio-cultural onslaught of various militant organisations in Peshawar valley and the adjacent Khyber Agency.

First, according to a local daily on May 28, the situation has become critical in the Peshawar frontier regions. In the area of Hassan Khel, female teachers and girls have stopped going to school and many people have started migrating from their hometowns because of militants, who are regularly patrolling the area. The fear factor plays an important role in effecting such consequences. Ironically, the political administration is pressing the local elders of the area to form a lashkar to check the militants’ movement. (Earlier, the people of the adjacent settled area of Adezai and Badaber formed lashkars and successfully pushed back the militant network. These lashkars were later dissolved by their leaders who claimed that the government was not cooperating with them.)

Hassan Khel, some 15 kilometres to the south of Peshawar, neighbours the Levies checkpost which was attacked by militants last year, when over 20 Levies’ personnel were abducted and later killed. The area also lies in close proximity and has access to the settled towns of Mathani and Badaber.

Second, the same local daily reports on May 28 that in the Bara Tehsil of Khyber Agency (to the south-west of Peshawar), Mangal Bagh’s Lashkar-e-Islam (LI) has warned the local people of Garha Karim Khel tribe that women without burqas and men who fail to wear caps, do not have beards or offer their prayers will be punished and fined a minimum of Rs1,000.

Third, in Tirah valley, the houses of four activists of the amn (peace) lashkar were set on fire and destroyed. So far, more than 40 houses have been burned down by militants here. The Pakistan military is fighting an alliance of the LI and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) here after the military-backed Ansar-ul-Islam was defeated. (Recently an attack on an amn committee member in Swat’s Manglawar town was also reported.)

Fourth, eyewitnesses have reported that several commanders of various militant organisations have been observed in the suburbs of Peshawar, especially in the residential Army Welfare Trust scheme in Badaber, eight kilometres to the south of Peshawar. Though the Trust is said to have its own security system, locals claim that militants have sneaked in.

Keeping in view the partial social control they exercise in the Sheikh Mohammadi and Sarband areas in the south-west of Peshawar, militant organisations seem to have already drawn a half-circle around Peshawar. This hypothesis gains validity when seen in the context of the agreement between the LI and the TTP. The pattern of attacks and related events show that militant organisations are putting their plans into action in various parts of KP, especially the suburbs of Peshawar.

The recent commandments issued by militants in some areas urging people to adopt a certain way of life, the burning of houses of members of the amn lashkars and the attacks on the security agencies working under the civilian administration are all tactics towards that end.

Whenever steps towards negotiation and dialogue with militant organisations are initiated, the security agencies — especially those working under the elected civilian government — become lax and self-complacent. The militant network capitalises on this opportunity and starts talking from a position of strength. Meanwhile, it repairs its network, reinstates supply lines and consolidates strategic positions. In this manner, militants not only try to influence the dialogue process in their favour but also try to force the state institutions’ retreat. Thus, the militant network is able to dictate its own terms due to the immense psychological pressure exerted on state negotiators in the wake of the crippling of state institutions.

As a result, instead of a slowdown, the vicious circle of militants gaining social control and the re-taking of that writ by state institutions continues unabated.

To address this situation, the newly elected provincial and federal governments must immediately take the following measures. First, a coordination cell of all intelligence agencies must be formed in the provincial metropolis for credible information-gathering.

The coordination cell can report to the provincial chief executive directly or through their departmental heads. Second, the local people must be taken into confidence through their elected representatives for any untoward situation after or during the process of dialogue. Third, all political parties must be taken on board for forming a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy along with mechanisms for implementing it.

The writer is a political analyst based in Peshawar.