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The militants` strategy

March 21, 2009


IT may be premature to comment on the power shift in the tribal belt, but the impact of it has been strongly felt by political and social elements in the seven tribal agencies and other areas in northwest Pakistan. New power centres have replaced the old, making it difficult for the government and liberal circles to reconcile themselves to a readjusted order that is drawing strength from the insurgency made worse by the failure of governing institutions.

Starting from North and South Waziristan, tribal warlords have full authority, running a parallel administration in areas under their control. They recruit trained armies, execute orders through the shura and rule over the tribesmen. Criminals with a sectarian outlook from southern Punjab are in demand, while an estimated 5,000 foreigners, mostly Uzbek jihadists, are available to undertake subversive assignments.

Funds are generated through means such as plundering and kidnapping. While the erstwhile power elite is confined to their garrisoned houses in the troubled heartland, and the pro-government tribal maliks — more than 600 of whom have been killed in North and South Waziristan alone — and other social elite are moving to the settled areas, militant commanders are ruling the roost. The new infrastructure is the nucleus of a militancy which is exporting a subversive agenda to other parts of the country.

This infrastructure had been developed to wage jihad against America and its allies, including Pakistan. However, inherently it is a vengeful tribalism that is in place. The militant commanders draw strength from the perception in conservative circles that global forces led by America have invaded their homeland and the inevitable defence lies in being on the offensive. Nationalist zeal and jihadi sentiments are fuelling the insurgency. Deprived and reactionary circles are joining hands with militant forces which thrive on a one-point agenda — to create anarchy and rule Fata.

One wonders how effectively the militant leaders will fill the power vacuum in their respective tribal areas. However, it is clear that the power shift in Fata has not proved so devastating for over eight million tribesmen who were already languishing under an exploitative system. Understandably, this power shift has greater implications for the settled areas of the NWFP, which are being pushed towards re-tribalism — and not necessarily Talibanisation.

The jihadi germs have already contaminated settled districts and frontier regions where thousands of security forces are fighting infiltration from the tribal belt. Militant leaders from Waziristan extend help to groups ready to exact 'revenge' on state and society by becoming part of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. Not to forget mainland Swat and Dera Adam Khel, where militants from Waziristan train thousands among the local youth in the terrains of Gut Peuchar and the Koh-i-Sufaid to carry out activities ranging from sniper attacks to suicide bombings.

Knowing that their strength lies in guerilla warfare, the militants, in line with time-tested strategies in the area, select hilly terrains easily accessible to the tribal region for setting up camps to train the local workforce and move around freely in the bordering mountains. Creating a power vacuum is the first aim of the strategy. For this a start is made by blowing up music and video centres in pre-dawn explosions, punishing drug barons and criminals and dispensing quick 'justice'. This is followed by attacks on the local police or the Khasdar force, thus crippling the state's writ.

Military operations follow, sending a clear message to ordinary civilians to quit or prepare to be caught in the conflict. These operations cause collateral damage, leading to a rise in militancy. All this has had an overwhelming effect on the local populations. Children often ask their parents for explanations. One example is that of 11-year-old Gul Makai who pointed out to her father, “The Talibs are where the army is but the army doesn't go where the Talibs are.” Was this Gul Makai's way of asking why the Taliban are after the army and the army not after the Taliban?

The power shift does not end here. Negotiations and deals are central to the last leg of the strategy where the emerging power centres — militant leaders — win credibility and legitimacy. This encourages reactionary youth to adopt militancy as a profession. The principle is simple untrimmed beards, long hair, Cheetah sneakers and listening to jihadi anthems while heavy ammunition is provided for free. This enables them to support their families financially

It is intriguing, though distressing, that a few thousand militants prevail over millions of their opponents. The fate of democracy was sealed in the seven districts of the Malakand Division when the government agreed to implement the Sharia in the militancy-infested areas. It is still not known as to who will undertake the huge task of reconstruction in Swat. Obviously, the militants will have a say.

They have already carried out self-styled land reforms in Matta Tehsil, set up a body to monitor army rations and movement and devised a social system based on rigid Sharia codes. Due to massive Saudi investment in the vast madressah network in the NWFP, one can expect wide-ranging repercussions. After all, the Taliban are an extension of the religio-political parties that ruled the province for five long years.

Muslim Khan, the spokesman for the Swat Taliban, has already said that the militants' struggle for the Sharia is not limited to the seven districts of Malakand Division but will extend to the entire country. However, when asked by journalists in Swat, ANP senior minister Bashir Bilour's response seemed to gloss over the gravity of the situation. He said that the Taliban's demand for the Sharia in Swat was simply a demand for speedy courts, and the ANP, in fact, wished there were such courts not only in the rest of the NWFP but also the entire country. Mr Bilour's remarks smacked of naivety — or perhaps he is aware that if the storm continues, it will change the entire dynamics of society including his position in it.