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Flawed policy: Rise of Mangal Bagh

April 11, 2013

USING militants as proxies is a flawed policy. Although this assertion has proved correct time and again, the Pakistani establishment has failed to abandon the policy. The latest evidence that this strategy has backfired comes in the form of the rise of the curiously named Mangal Bagh, a militant leader from the Khyber tribal region who reportedly enjoyed tacit state support to keep the TTP at bay. However, while Mangal Bagh had already turned his guns on the state, it has now emerged that he has joined forces with the Taliban after previously distancing himself from them. While he heads the Laskhar-i-Islam, his own militant group, he has also been chosen as the TTP’s ‘supreme commander’ for Khyber. The alliance will likely strengthen the TTP as it battles the army for control of the Tirah valley and its surrounding areas. Reports indicate that the militants are putting up stiff resistance. The militants also pose a danger to Peshawar, which is not too far from the areas currently under the extremists’ grip.

Mangal Bagh is a protégé of Mufti Munir Shakir, who previously led the LI. The mufti, belonging to the Deobandi school of thought, railed against Pir Saifur Rahman and his Barelvi-leaning Ansarul Islam, which was believed to enjoy government support. Both groups also fought a vigorous war over FM radio, in which they preached their respective versions of Islam in attempts to convert the local flock to their creed. From initially being involved in a sectarian conflict, Mangal Bagh went on to become Khyber’s most powerful militant. His rise is similar to that of Fazlullah in Malakand; Mangal Bagh established a parallel administration, including ‘courts’ and lock-ups, in Bara while the state looked the other way. But also like Fazlullah, he turned out to be too slippery to handle; now, along with his newfound allies in the TTP, he is occupying territory and giving the state a tough fight.

It is evident that in the short term, the state needs to clear and hold the territory occupied by the militants and pursue the current operation to its logical end — which means destroying the militant infrastructure and bringing the leaders to justice. In the long term, it should be conclusively settled that doing business with violent extremists is a dangerous and unwise proposition. Any militant group that challenges the state’s writ or threatens to do so must be dealt with before it turns into a monster.