Engulphed in the hills

June 13, 2009

To understand the current conflict in Swat, one has to look back to 1897.

“A year hath passed since Aurangzeb is encamped against us,

Disordered and perplexed in appearance, and wounded in the heart.
It is now year after year, that his nobles fall in battle;
But his armies swept away, who shall number them!
The treasures of India have been spread before us:
The red gold muhurs have been engulphed in the hills.”

– Khushal Khan Khattak, from “An Ode to Spring”

When the Pashtun warrior poet Khushal Khan Khattak composed these lines in the 1670s, there was much turmoil in his part of the Subcontinent. The Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb had personally led an army to quell an uprising west of the Indus River, and was camped at the town of Attock, in the northern part of modern-day Punjab province. Meanwhile, the uprising was led by Khushal, the chief of the Khattak tribe, centred on what is today the Northwest Frontier Province. Some three centuries later, this same region is today in the midst of another brutal conflict. Just over the Hindukush mountains, Americans are encamped in Afghanistan. Indeed, Khushal’s vivid depiction of Aurangzeb’s situation is just as apt in describing the US predicament in Afghanistan and across the Durand Line, in NWFP and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

To fully understand the complexity of the situation, one must go back to the Great Game days of the British Raj. NWFP itself was, of course, a British invention marking the end to a half-century of colonial experimentation in Southasia. Beginning with their arrival in the area and up until the end of that century, the British left the administration of the ‘Frontier’ to Punjab. The 1901 creation of the new province by Viceroy George Curzon was, in words of the US diplomat James W Spain, a “struggle for control” and “a control which was never completely established and a struggle which ended only when the British departed in 1947.” When Curzon took over as viceroy in 1899, about 100,000 British forces were deployed across the area; this was only two years after the Pashtun uprising of 1897, after all, for which the British had been notably unprepared.

It was 10 June 1897 when British force arrived in Tochi, in Waziristan, to select a place where they could build their forces. The tribesmen were alarmed with this arrival, as they were under official disapprobation for killing a Hindu a year earlier. Despite the fact that the local communities had earlier had welcomed them, tribal fighters attacked the British. The news of this quickly spread to other parts of the Frontier. The following month in Malakand, one Saidullah, whom the British dubbed the ‘Mad Mullah’, took a few followers to declare jihad on the British. Within a few days, he had gathered some 20,000 people, and thereafter attacked British positions in Chakdarra and the Malakand pass. After a week of fighting, the tribesmen dispersed, having lost around 3000 men. The unrest continued for the next several months, however, as tribes in neighbouring areas rose up against the British. The eventual ‘pacification’ took three years and around 75,000 troops.

During the Raj, FATA was known as Yaghistan, or the Land of the Unruly. Although several tribal ‘agencies’ were set up in the late 19th century, and NWFP was formally created in 1901, it was only in 1926 that the British began to refer specifically to ‘tribal areas’, which were placed directly under the control of the government of India. The 1897 uprising was a huge blow to the British. After studying the matter for a year, Curzon proposed making the Frontier district into a separate unit, thus bringing the tribal territory directly under colonial rule. In Curzon’s words, the rationale behind this direct rule was to “entrust tribal management exclusively to those who know the tribes”, a policy that eventually came to be known as the Modified Close Border Policy. This stood in contrast to the two previous British policies in the area, the Close Border System and the Forward School of Thought. The former was based on the assumption that “the government should not assume responsibility for any area it was unable or unwilling to establish as an integral part of its domain,” while the latter advocated the extension of British frontiers as far north and west as possible. Also in stark contrast to these earlier approaches, the new strategy was able to bring peace to the Frontier for decades.

By 1919, however, the area was again drifting into conflict, with local tribesmen taking up arms following the third Anglo-Afghan war. At this point, the British reverted to following a slightly modified Forward Policy; military cantonments were setup in the Wana and Razmak areas of Waziristan, and a road linking Wana, Razmak and Miranshah was constructed. The aim of all this activity was to control the lawless tribal belt from within. And indeed, no major uprisings took place during the following decade, which was known as the Quiet Twenties. Again, however, things did not remain peaceful for long. In 1930, the communities around Peshawar rose up against the British, while tribesmen in Waziristan rebelled in 1936, 1937 and 1938.

In the end, it seemed quite clear that shifting between two different sets of policies, advocating different goals and modes of operations, was unable to bring peace to the area. At the time of their departure in 1947, the British knew that they had failed to resolve issues in the Frontier. As one colonial official, W K Fraser-Tytler, observed, the British left Pakistan in “a fluid, difficult situation fraught with much danger for the future”.

With Independence, the tribal areas merged into the new state of Pakistan without any significant trouble. The federal government at the time, as well as subsequent ones, made no changes to the manner in which these areas were administered. Furthermore, in more than six decades, few modifications have been made to absorb changes arising out of progress in education or technology. Literacy rates in FATA, for instance, remain significantly segregated by gender (with the female rate at just 0.8 percent), while health facilities and communications infrastructure are either abysmal or non-existent. This lack of interest in developing the area inevitably pushed the state and tribesmen in opposite directions; the government’s grip continued to decline, while the tribal communities remained mired in poverty, illiteracy and primitive living conditions. Nevertheless, the area remained relatively peaceful. All that changed, however, with the ouster of the Taliban from Kabul following the attacks in the US of 11 September 2001.

Today, the pattern of militancy plaguing the province and the tribal areas is remarkably similar to that of the 1897 uprising. The difference, however, is that this time the violence is on a much larger scale. The conflict has also spread to other areas, including the current struggle in the Swat. Yet here, too, the militancy is a direct result of the failure of the state to fully address the needs of the region, which has been a constant complaint for centuries now. The reigning peace in FATA had been a superficial one, and it began to unravel quickly with the arrival of fighters from Afghanistan. (As one William Barton noted some 10 years before the British departure, “Complete pacification of the tribal hinterland, though it may seem the only logical course for a great empire to follow, must be ruled out as beyond the sphere of practical politics.”) The locals were no strangers to militancy, as parts of the area were turned into base camps for jihadis fighting USSR during the Afghan war, with active US backing and Saudi petrodollars financed militarisation of tribesmen and Pashtun society. As a consequence, the fleeing fighters easily found succour among the locals – and when the Pakistan Army arrived in the area, the disgruntled tribesmen rose up against the state.

Yet much of what constitutes the current Taliban demand, such as the imposition of Sharia law, was adopted only much later. Today, the new military offensive in Swat, Dir and Buner is one of the largest since the beginning of this conflict (the current Swat operation began in October 2007), with the army hinting that it wants to ensure a complete victory over the militants. This is hardly a realistic goal, however. In recent weeks, two military operations have failed to dislodge the Taliban from the Swat Valley. Rather, the militants have emerged stronger, occupying more territory after each attempt. Beyond the battleground, Islamabad’s carrot-and stick-policy, unveiled last year, has likewise failed to restrain militants from making further territorial gains.

In a sense, the foremost obstacle today to weeding out the Taliban in Swat and the surrounding territory is the public’s reluctance to oppose them in the open. There is much confusion on the issue, contributed to by the many conspiracy theories in circulation about the insurgency: the Taliban is being used by Pakistani intelligence; the US and India are using Afghanistan as a base to destabilise Pakistan; the US wants to use the threat of militant takeover to take away Pakistan’s nuclear weaponry. To a great extent, these contradictory rumours have blurred the line between what is good for the country and what is not – most notably, whether or not the Taliban is harming Pakistan. There is a general feeling at the national level that the Taliban are responsible for the current mess, a feeling that has developed after the Swat exodus. However, the displaced families themselves blame the army and Taliban equally for their plight, and most with whom this writer spoke in the camps are outspoken in their pessimism about the potential for peace following the military operation. Previous failures in such attempts, they say, are hard to ignore.

The militants, meanwhile, have been able to take full advantage of this divided opinion, creating discontent against state action by attacking public targets when pressed against the wall by the military. In all of this, the minority who seeks the outright elimination of the Taliban has become effectively sidelined, largely because there exists today a general perception in Pakistan that the government is doing too much in response to American demands. Apart from a section of liberals, most segments of society today believe that the war is not in the interest of Pakistan. While such liberal voices are somewhat louder in the current context than they have been in the past, if the military operation continues for a long period, they will undoubtedly again be muted by hardliners and the rightwing media. Any way one looks at it, Islamabad is today facing the symptoms of the same problem faced by Lord Curzon’s colonial officers: a justifiable lack of trust in a state that has long failed to do its duty by the people.

A version of this article appeared in Himal Southasian June 2009.


Karachi’s drift into violence

May 3, 2009

“Traditionless, dysfunctional, and unstable, Karachi is an unfortunately apt metaphor for Pakistan’s general condition,” wrote Robert D. Kaplan in Atlantic Monthly. True to his description Karachi with its 15 million populations of divisive ethnicities, slums, political violence and chronic power outages is a fault line on which Pakistan is sitting. The recent spate of ethnic violence that killed at least 34 people is an indicator of dangerous path which this city is heading towards anarchy and chaos.

Unlike, tribal areas and NWFP, Karachi, with its huge industrial base is the economic lifeline of the country and any prolonged conflict on ethnic grounds is a sure recipe for disaster. Unfortunately, this city periodically witnesses’ crises and people are killed, properties burned and ransacked, but administration due to one or the other reasons did not take any action or probes these incidents. The polarization, which Karachi had undergone in 1980s under military government, is now bearing fruit in the form of political and ethnic violence.

The drift of the city into political and ethnic violence over the past few decades has been steady. Target killings are followed by a period of public outburst, incidents of killing, arson and then denials, condemnations and enquiries follow and everything comes back to square one. Tensions which had gripped city in the past either they be language riots, Bushra Zaidi case, Operation Clean Up or May 12 have always pitched different ethnicities against each other and these unsavory incidents fuel further tensions as city’s doyens try to get political mileage out of these.

This city has grown as home to the heterogeneous communities from all over the country due to the economic opportunities it offers and people from other parts of the country head for Karachi in search of greener pastures. Earlier, this wave of arrival pitched Sindhis against Mohajirs as former felt marginalized on their own land as Mohajirs outnumbered them in cities. Now the same feeling is behind the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) tirades against Pakhtuns in the city.

Discordant ethnocentrism

Ethnic lines dividing the Karachi run deep and ethno-linguistic polarization of city could be traced back to the same feelings. The rise of Mohajir nationalism coincided with the language riots and introduction of quota policy in 1970s under Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government. The language riots crystallized the Sindhi-Mohajir divide while the introduction of quota system in 1973 compelled Mohajirs to think that this move was aimed at their marginalization.

In 1978, Altaf Hussain founded All Pakistan Mohajir Student Organization (APSMO), which became foundation stone of a political party by the name of Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) in 1984. The driving force behind the MQM creation was the growing discontent and sense of being discriminated against amongst Mohajirs by majority groups. It wanted recognition of Mohajirs as the fifth nationality of the country. Bushra Zaidi’s death in a road accident in 1985 added another dimension to ethnic conflict and Pakhtuns completed the troubling trio. In 1987, MQM swept local body polls and it was in provincial and national assemblies in 1988 general elections. In 1992 government launched ‘Operation Clean Up’ against MQM and score of its activists killed in encounters.

The rise of MQM or Mohajir nationalism is marked with ethnic violence. Prior to MQM formation and after Sindhi-Mohajir clashes continued throughout 1970-1990, while Pakhtun-Mohajir violence came to surface in 1985. Its clash with the state dominated 1990s. The party’s internal feuding with its breakaway faction-calling itself  MQM-Haqiqi marked late nineties. Following Musharraf’s coup MQM sided with the dictator and the bloody massacre on May 12, 2007 took the city back to violent nineties. Pakhtun issue again resurfaced during Musharraf’s rule as feeling intimidated and discriminated against Pakhtuns formed Loya Jirga or Pakhtun Action Committee (PAC) in 2006. Loya Jirga has been vocal to for the rights of slum dwellers and transporters.

As the militancy wrecked havoc in the north of the country, Internally Displaced People (IDPs) turned to Karachi and MQM started making hue and cry of Talibanistaion of the city. Its coalition partner PPP denies the Talibanistaion of city; however, regarding land mafia, drug cartels and other criminal elements it agrees with MQM. Awami National Party (ANP), which represents Pakhtun in Karachi and has also won two seats in provincial assembly in 2008 general elections, is of the opinion that Pakhtuns are being targeted on the pretext of Talibanistaion.

Tension in Karachi is fraught with serious implications for the rest of the country and state has miserably failed to come to the rescue of common people in the face of criminal gangs taking over the city. MQM also needs to part ways with its militant past and have to realize that its own survival is tied to peace. The city where haves and have-nots are living within no distance of each other is prone to many dangers and ethnic and religious violence increases the risk of Bosnia like bloodshed.

Mullah Radio

May 1, 2009

By using illegal FM radio broadcasts, militants in Pakistan are gaining the stature of a parallel government. But one government response shows that the militants have power but not credibility.

Here is a brief sample of a typical radio broadcast given recently by Maulana Shah Doran, a cleric who has risen to fame for his fiery transmissions in the Swat Valley: “I was coming to meet you people, but the infidels” – the army, police, politicians – “were there, so I cancelled my plans to visit the village of Shamozai Zarkhela. These infidels are opposing Sharia, and I say that if they do not implement it, we will enforce it on our own … they should be torn to pieces instead of being beheaded.”

Residents estimate that the militancy that is currently plaguing the valley owes some 90 percent of its strength to a single illegal FM radio station – the same that now broadcasts Maulana Shah Doran – set up by a local cleric in 2006. The story starts back in 1994, when Maulana Sufi Mohammad, the head of the Tehrek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (the Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law, or TNSM), began to wage a struggle against the state, demanding the implementation of Sharia in the Malakand division of Swat (see accompanying story, “The establishment a Taliban emirate”). In 2001, Maulana Sufi took 10,000 men to fight the Americans in Afghanistan, and suffered heavy casualties. After fleeing back to Pakistan, the Maulana was imprisoned for seven years. But his son-in-law, Maulana Fazlullah, was released on bail.

Back in Swat, Fazlullah set up an illegal FM radio station, known as Fazlullah FM, broadcasting on 92 megahertz. The technology to do so was not only quite affordable, costing as little as PKR 15,000 (less than USD 200); it was also completely portable, thus allowing its owners to easily outpace the authorities’ attempts to shut them down. Despite the broadcast’s relatively small coverage area (it was at first unable even to reach the rim of the Swat Valley), Fazlullah’s nightly tirades against the Americans and then-President Pervez Musharraf quickly earned him a degree of fame among the locals, who dubbed him the ‘Radio Mullah’. Initially, Fazlullah confined his rhetoric to reformation, which included the recitation and translation of the Quran and Hadith (traditions), as well as the observance of purdah for women. Using the electronic medium, he also advised the destruction of television sets, CDs and VCRs, which he said were sources of loose morality. One particularly insidious element of Fazlullah’s doctrine was vehement opposition to the government’s anti-polio campaign, which he claimed was a Western scheme to render Muslims infertile.

Eventually, Fazlullah decided to establish a seminary in his native village of Imam Dheri. When he appealed for donations on his broadcast, he received an incredible response. At that time, in the early days, Fazlullah was listened to mostly by women at home (and children); indeed, this was the first time that women of the area had ever been able to listen directly to a preaching mullah, as they are traditionally absent from the actual sermons. At his beckoning, these women donated their jewellery en masse, and he amassed a fortune amounting to millions of rupees. But Fazlullah’s popularity among women began to change in late October 2007, when militants loyal to Fazlullah beheaded four policemen, parading their severed heads through Swat. The women started to be less excited about Fazlullah. This incident also marked the start of a reign of fear, as local zealots increasingly looked to the Radio Mullah to fuel a war for the enforcement of Sharia as well as against opponents including politicians, the army, the police and those supporting them. As fighting intensified, the station became increasingly powerful – and ever more threatening to the army, police, politicians and civilians.

The broader reaction mirrored that of the women, though with an ironic twist. In the beginning, the local menfolk and powerbrokers had not taken Fazlullah’s broadcasts particularly seriously. But after a ban was enacted on women visiting markets and on education for girls – both of which were spearheaded by the radio station – the number of listeners increased substantially. This was as much out of fear as enthusiasm, however, with the population now desperate to stay informed on exactly what the militants were planning – what they would say about the fighting, at whom they would aim their threats on any given day. While the Pakistan Army did briefly attempt to jam the broadcasts, by playing music at the same frequency, the militants were quickly able to adapt, by simply changing their broadcast frequency or moving their equipment around.

Today, the station’s transmissions run two hours, from eight to ten every evening, with a rebroadcast in the morning from seven to nine. It is not clear from which city they are operating. Programmes include sermons based on Quranic verses, threats to ‘opponents’ and a slot titled “Good News”. This last generally includes news of various types of violence – including Islamist actions, but also deaths from natural calamities, epidemics, etc – at the national and international level. The broadcasts have three principal speakers: Fazlullah, Maulana Shah Doran and a third named Maulana Mohammad Alam. With Fazlullah, for unknown reasons, having taken a back seat during the recent fighting, Maulana Shah has emerged as the key presenter. He tends to use derisive language against those in power in Islamabad, calling President Asif Ali Zardari gaddari, Urdu for traitor, and calling Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani the ‘prime donkey’. He tends to end his broadcasts by hurling abuses at security officials, and issuing threats to policemen by name.

Whether or not the Swat Taliban is currently winning or losing in its fight against the state, it is certainly winning the propaganda war – with no more than a modest radio transmitter. The state, meanwhile, with all of its resources, has been unable to either shut the broadcast down or contain its impact. Despite the full understanding of the government and army of the threat this represents for rule of law and civil discourse, the broadcasts in Swat have only gone from strength to strength. Indeed, the range is steadily increasing, and today can be heard in Chakdara and parts of Mardan, up to 60 km away. Considering the direct impact that the station has had over the past three years, it seems fairly clear what to expect from this increased radio footprint. Today, Fazlullah is requesting that the government legalise his radio station. Given the significant increase in power wielded by the militants following the recent signing of a ‘peace agreement’ between the Swat Taliban and the provincial government, it should not be surprising if that happens. This would inevitably have broad ramifications for the rest of the country.

Air wars
Illegal FM is also flourishing in Khyber Agency, just to the west of Peshawar. Here, a station is run by a militant commander, Mangal Bagh, of the Lashkar-e-Islam (LI, the Army of Islam), a hardline organisation opposed to shrines, Sufi influence and faith healers. Now 35, Bagh was a bus cleaner in 2001 when he joined the secular Awami National Party, and quickly rose to be secretary of the transport association of the city of Bara, near Peshawar. He underwent something of religious conversion and, in 2002, undertook a four-month tablighi (proselytising) trip, after which he joined LI.

Not long after his return, by July 2004 Mufti Munir Shakir, then the head of LI, and Pir Saifur Rehman, of a second militant group called Ansar-ul-Islam, had both set up illegal FM broadcasts in order to propagate their views. Indeed, a half-decade ago, up to nine illegal FM stations were operating in the Khyber Agency. Today, however, nearly all of these have closed, having fallen to the influence of Lashkar-e-Islam and Ansar-ul-Islam. The broadcasts run by these two groups, meanwhile, compete directly with each other. Locals listen raptly to both, in order to be up on the claims and counterclaims of both organisations – spats that could quickly have direct impacts on their lives. These two groups have clashed physically on several occasions, ending in the death of many. After one such clash, which left 21 people dead, a tribal jirga asked both groups to leave the agency. Subsequently, Mufti and Pir who were not locals, coming from Hangu District in the NWFP and Afghanistan, respectively, were forced to leave. At that point, Mangal Bagh, by then an important commander, assumed charge of LI. Today he virtually controls Khyber Agency.

Broadcasting at 94.2 megahertz, Bagh spends most his 45-minute shows either spouting propaganda against LI opponents, or preaching his own version of Islam. Pirs (spiritual figures), faith healers and shrines are his direct targets, and are lambasted for purportedly being un-Islamic. Like Fazlullah’s set-up in Swat, Bagh’s equipment is mobile, and much of the time he is able to cover even parts of Peshawar. A second transmitter has recently been set up, allowing him to operate in Bara and broadcast his edicts and teachings to the people of Tirah, about 60 km away from Peshawar.
Also similar to what took place in Swat, at first Bagh’s broadcasts were limited to recitations of the Quran, Hadith and the preaching of virtue. With the passage of time, however, its tone has become increasingly aggressive against his opponents. In March 2008, Bagh’s followers attacked a 400-year-old shrine in the Shaikhan area of Peshawar, killing 12 people and destroying the tomb. On 5 March this year, militants bombed the shrine of Sufi poet Rehman Baba, regarded as the national poet of the Pashtun; security officials blamed Bagh. Community leaders, backed by some key political figures, have now requested the government to take action against Bagh, threatening that otherwise they will ‘take care’ of him themselves.

Recapturing ears
There have been a few notable attempts to counter militant radio. One is a private venture, the Pak-Afghan Cross-border Radio Training and Production (PACT), started in 2004 by John Butt, a Muslim chaplain at Cambridge University and broadcasting in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. PACT’s flagship program, “Da Pulay Poray” or Across the Borderline, is a two-hour show in which journalists from both sides of the Durand Line report on a range of social, cultural and other relevant issues.

While there has been significant criticism regarding the government’s seeming inability to do much to counter the growing influence of these militant-operated radio broadcasts, it is not true that nothing is being done on the official front, either. In May 2006, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) Secretariat, which governs these areas, launched its own radio channel, by the name of Radio Khyber. Today, this station airs six hours of programmes daily in three-hour stints, during the day and night. It offers programming focused particularly on the youth, the elderly and women, including news and reports on health, sanitation, education and militancy. The broadcast area is quite large, able to be heard in Peshawar, Mardan, Malakand, Mohmand Agency, parts of Bajaur and even in Swat.

Radio Khyber, broadcasting at 91 megahertz, is thus able to reach many more people than are the individual militant broadcasts, and the local people are making it clear which they prefer and why. The station currently employs around 15 reporters, with the explicit aim of attempting to offer objective, independent reporting and analysis of the often complicated situation on the ground in Khyber Agency and the surrounding area. Somewhat surprisingly, the station has thus far remained free of intimidation by militants. The reason for this is undoubtedly the strong backing that the channel has received from the local community; workers at the station claim to receive some 300 telephone calls and 200 letters every week, from listeners requesting particular songs or specially focused news analysis. This is due to a very basic broadcast formula in comparison to the harangues on 94.2 and elsewhere: honest focus on real issues affecting ordinary citizens. Clearly this is a significant change from the militant broadcasts, which preach fear, broadcast threats and fervently focus on issues of importance to the mullahs – and not to the local communities themselves. How ironic that a government station is seen to be more popular and credible than private stations. But that is what happens when the airwaves are hijacked by militancy.

A version of this article appeared in Himal Southasian April 2009 issue.

Swat: Pakistan’s lost paradise

April 20, 2009

At Landikai check-post at the start of Swat a board installed by army reads, “Long live people of Swat.” The message is self-explnatory as the people of this idyllic valley definately deserve praies for facing the anarchic force of terror and prescution for around two years.

Mingora, the capital of Swat lies in ruins. Buildings pockmarked and blemished with bullets and blasts narrate their own woes. The narrow lanes of Bunrh quarter on the eastern tip of the city are deserted while its occupants- fair skinned dancing girls of the valley left for safer places to eke out a living amid persecution and killing. They left behind empty streets where unusual silence pervades in a sharp contrast to past when harmonium and Rubab melodies reverberated till late night.

Close to Bunrh is situated Green Chowk, which earned notoriety after militants started to throw beheaded bodies of their opponents in this square. Towards the northern end of city, at Fizaghat picnic point one walks by a deserted park on the banks of river Swat. Across the river Fazlullah’s sprawling Mamdheri complex overshadows the houses of in the village of same name.

This is the way story of Swat is being re-written in blood and it is not yet over while provincial government has enforced the Niazm-e-Adal Regulations in the district in a desperate bid to restore peace to the valley. Now Taliban are making emboldened strides towards Buner and other parts of the Malakand division.

Savastu to Swat

Swat valley is situated some 135 kilometers north of Peshawar and the river of same name runs through it. The valley is famous for its orchards, fascinating landscape, gushing and crystal clear streams, historical sites, alpine lakes and modern tourist resorts. In ancient texts Swat appears as ‘Savastu’ meaning ‘good dwelling place’ and Sanskrit texts describe it as ‘Uddiyana’ or ‘garden’.

In 327 BC, Alexander the Great army conquered Swat and it remained under Greek administration till 307 BC. The Greeks were followed by Murayans and Chandra Gupta annexed this area into his kingdom and Swat prospered under his grandson Asoka. Following the collapse of Muryan dynasty, Bactrian Greek, Scythian, Parthian, and Kushan ruled over the valley. Kushans were overthrown by the White Huns that were followed by Turk Shahi and Hindu Shahi rule.

In 11th century armies of Mahmud of Ghazni overrun Swat and later Ghurides and Mughals also ventured into Swat. Babar, the founder of Mughal dynasty tried to conquer Swat, but the war ended on peace deal. It was Akbar who attacked Swat and two of his famous aides Birbal and Abul Fazal were killed in the war and Mughals never become masters of Swat. In 1917, Miangul Shahzada Abdul Wadud, grandson of Saidu Baba, founded the state of Swat and it was also recognized by the British. In 1947, Wali of Swat decided to join Pakistan and it was finally merged into Pakistan on July 29, 1969.

Mad Mullah to Radio Mullah

Throughout history Mullahs have been dominant factor in Malakand. During the Frontier uprising of 1897, Mullah Mastan, whom British dubbed as ‘Mad Mullah’ rose up in arms against British.

During the crisis of Chitral in 1895, British occupied Malakand and Chakdara, which generated much resentment in Swat and in the mean time Mad Mullah declared war on British in July 1897 and tried to capture Malakand Fort. He claimed to have the help of invisible army from heaven, making himself invisible and feeding multitudes with a few grains of rice. Though his rebellion failed to achieve its objective of overthrowing British from Chakdara and Malakand; however, for a long time he continued to harass British in the area.

In 1994, around a century or so after Malakand uprising another Mullah, Maulana Sufi Mohammad chief of Tehrik Nifaz-e-Shariat Muhammadi (TNSM) took Malakand by the strom. Sufi, a Jamaat Islami (JI) activist in his early days, fought against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in early 1980s. In 1992 he founded his own organization TNSM which come to be known as ‘Black-Turbaned Brigade’ after its black flag and black turban of its activists. The aim of the organization was the implementation of the Shria in Malakand agency.

Sufi led an armed revolt against the government for the implementation of Islamic laws in Malakand agency in 1994 and the provincial government of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) accepted their demands and promulgated laws providing Qazi courts in the agency. In 2001, he led around 10,000 people into Afghanistan to fight against US forces along Taliban and most of his followers were either killed or captured and he was arrested upon his return in 2002 and was sent to prison for seven years and his outfit was also banned.

Sufi’s detention paved way for the emergence of his son-in-law Fazlullah, and in 2006 he setup an illegal FM radio station and earned fame for his fiery anti-western and Mushrraf speeches. His fiery broadcasts earned him the title of ‘Radio Mullah.’ Fazlullah’s growing power and increasing militant activities of his followers compelled government to take military action against him on October 27, 2007.

Niazm-e-Adl Regulations and beyond

In May 2007, the Mutthida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) government of NWFP and Fazlullah entered into an agreement. The agreement allowed Fazlullah to operate his radio channel in return for stopping opposition to polio vaccination and ban on display of arms in public. However, the agreement collapsed after army stormed the Red Mosque in Islamabad and it led to Swat Operation on October 27, 2007, after the district drifted into lawlessness.

The Awami National Party (ANP) government which took over after February 2008 election signed a peace deal with militants on May 21, 2008, after a series of negotiations, but it collapsed on July 29. On February 16, 2009, the government agreed to enforce Sharia in the area and Taliban agreed to ceasefire.

On April 13, 2009, Presdient Asif Ali Zardari signed the Nizam-e-Adl Regulations in Malakand agency after parliament rectified it. This regulation is continuation of Qazi courts established in the agency by Aftab Ahmed Sherpao in1994 and has generated much debate in the country. Many observers termed surrender to militants, while the ANP and PPP governments are defending it on the grounds that it would restore peace in the area.

Apart from the heat it has generated, this move has emboldened the militants and they advanced on Buner, Lower and Upper Dir and will also try further territorial gains. Government for the time being playing down the threat despite international pressure; however, it would be impossible for her to ignore external pressure and Taliban encroachments and this may put the precarious peace deal into jeopardy.

Zulifkar Ali Bhutto’s rise and fall

April 9, 2009

T.S Eliot’s line, “April is the cruelest month” has strong relevance in Pakistani politics, as the most charismatic Pakistani politician and founder of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Zulifkar Ali Bhutto was hanged in Rawalpindi Jail in April 1979. Bhutto’s dramatic rise to the echelons of power and PPP’s popularity with masses had proved time and again that he is the phoenix of Pakistani politics, and always rises from ashes.

Zulifkar Ali Bhutto (ZAB), a scion of Sindhi feudal origins, entered the Pakistani politics after joining Skindar Mirza’s cabinet as commerce minister in October 1958 after a military coup. Bhutto entry into politics entwined his fate with military and this love-hate relationship with army dominated rest of his life. His days as cabinet minister brought him into close circle of Ayub Khan and he become the Foreign Minister in 1962 and his stint is remarkable for Sino-Pakistan Boundary Agreement and 1965 war with India.

However, his parting of ways with Ayub Khan unpopular Tashkent agreement signed by Shastri and Ayub; Bhutto’s criticism of the agreement resulted into his resignation and formation of his own political party on November 30, 1967.

Pakistan Peoples Party

Following his resignation from Auyb Khan’s cabinet Bhutto started whirlwind tours of the country and in November 1967 formed Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) at Lahore and party’s slogan of rhetoric of ‘bread, clothing and shelter’ for the masse was something unheard then which brought the party to centre stage of Pakistani politics. This party set another benchmark in the elite dominated politics of the country and brought it to the doorstep of a common man and liberated it from the clutches of landlords and rich. Later, Ayub had to resign due to the growing opposition and Yahya Khan became president and held 1970s elections.

The exponential popularity and growth of this party was visible in 1970 elections when it emerged as dominant political force from West Pakistan while Awami League clean swept from East Pakistan. Unfortunately, these two political parties could not agree on power sharing and resultant discord and 1971 war with India resulted into dismemberment of Pakistan. Following the break up of the country Yahya resigned as president and handed over powers to the Bhutto.

Bhutto steered the country during tumultuous times following the Pakistan disintegration and also sowed the seeds of country’s nuclear program. In 1977, ZAB was overthrown and put behind the bars and later hanged on April 04, 1979 after a sham trial. His murder is remembered as ‘Judicial Murder’ in the annals of Pakistan judicial history.

Cursed family?

Bhutto family’s misfortunes did not end with ZAB’s hanging, rather have pursued the family in a succession and a Bhutto has been killed in every decade, all in mysterious circumstances, since his hanging on April 04, 1979. The family has a tinge of tragedy, curse and trouble like Kennedys family in America and Nehru-Gandhi in India.

In 1985 ZAB’s younger son Shahnawaz Bhutto, 27, was found dead in a Southern France apartment and his murder still remains a mystery. Benazir became heir to ZAB political legacy upon her return from an exile in 1984, while her brothers took up arms following the execution of their father. Benazir became first female premier of a Muslim country in 1988, following Zia and his coterie perished in an air crash. In her second stint as a prime minister in 1996, her only brother Murtaza Bhutto was shot dead in mysterious circumstances by police.

Benazir Bhutto went on a self-imposed exile in 1999 and remained abroad for around eight years and came back to the country in 2007. Her homecoming rally turned into a mourning procession on October 18, 2007, when a suicide bomber targeted her rally and killed around 180 people. She barely escaped the attack. She was again attacked on December 27 while coming out of a public meeting at Liaquat Bagh in Rawalpindi. She died when an unknown assassin fired shots on her and later a suicide bomber blew him up near her vehicle, while mystery is still shrouding her death.

New US strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan

March 31, 2009

The new US strategy on Afghanistan and Pakistan has inextricably linked future of both the countries and yoked them together in its official jargon as AfPak. The policy which came during “increasingly perilous” situation in Afghanistan has dragged Pakistan under the close watch of US government. Obama in his speech spilled out the outline of US policy in the region and his fears about the deteriorating situation in the lawless country, and admitted that “2008 was the deadliest year of the war for the American forces.”

The policy is three pronged to avert a defeat in Afghanistan, which Imperial Britain and Soviet Union had to face at the hands of Afghans and it entails military, political and economic approaches to tackle crisis.

Militarily, US is increasing its presence in Afghanistan by 17,000 more troops that would take the war to the Taliban in south and east of the country. The aim is to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in AfPak. The militants have safe havens in the border areas of Pakistan, so this area has become the most dangerous for Americans in the world. At the same time any major terrorist attack anywhere in the world, is, too likely to have its ties with the Al-Qaeda leadership in Pakistan and it also hints at the pursuing terrorist targets “one way or another,” a reference towards the drone attacks, which have generated quite heat over the months. The policy maintains that Pakistan will no more have the blank cheque. The US would also send 4000 personnel to train the Afghan army, police and to provide support to civilian development. A day ahead of policy announcement State department announced US$ 5 million head money on Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsood, which was followed by two US generals who accused Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) of supporting Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants.

Politically, the strategy envisions dialogue with the moderate Taliban to isolate the hardliners. Similarly, US has also hinted at recasting war as regional conflict and said that he wanted to form a new contact group of Pakistan, Russia, Iran, India, China and Central Asian Republics (CARs).

Economically, the strategy offers US $ 1.5 billion aid to Pakistani people over the next five years and setting up Reconstruction Opportunity Zone (ROZs) in the insurgency hit areas.

Echoes from the past

Though, the policy is a carrot and stick at better, the question is that could it solve the American problems in Afghanistan. The British experience in Afghanistan in nineteenth century offers useful insights into the American predicament.

In 1838, British deposed Afghan king Dost Mohammad in a ‘regime change’ fearing a possible Russian advance on British India and crowned Shah Shuja as new king of the country.

In 1841 Robert Peel’s Tory government took over from Whigs, and England was facing economic recession following a global trade slump at that time. Peel administration tried to adopt stringent economic policy, which was based on the assumption that the military presence in Afghanistan was costing British exchequer too heavily and it postulated an exit strategy for the military through building Afghan forces. In Afghanistan a Kabul mob had murdered the British diplomat Sir Alexander Burnes and British forces were heading towards a disaster. Unaware of real situation London dispatched Sir Ellenborough to India to implement strict economic policy, before his arrival two more forces had moved for Afghanistan to the rescue of those trapped in Kabul. The Afghan problem was out of hand amid the quarrelling of British envoy Sir William Macnaghten and Genera Elphinstone and it resulted into annihilation of 16,000 strong British force.

The British in the first place misunderstood the public opinion and its top envoy to the court of Kabul Macnaghten even described the situation as “all quite from Dan to Beersheba,” while the conflict was conflagrating.

Secondly, during the crucial days instead of proper planning to avert the disaster Macnaghten tried to buy the loyalties of Afghan notables, which historian John Kaye mocked by saying, “The jingling of the coins could not drown the voice of an outraged and incensed nation.” The British envoy in utter confusion announced blood money of 10000 rupees for the ringleaders of mutiny, which neither weakened the Afghans nor allured people to kill them.

Thirdly, Macnaghten started plotting and win over some notables and when Afghans became aware of the plot, it resulted into his death. The British destroyed Kabul old bazaar and Shah Shauja’s son was crowned as new king as his father was killed by Afghans. Barely three months after British forces departure Shauja’s son was murdered and fearing anarchy British released Dost Mohammad unconditionally, whom they had deposed on such a heavy cost.

Back to the American strategy, Thomas L. Friedman wrote in New York Times on November 9, 2001, “Is America the Titanic and Pakistan the iceberg we’re about to hit while searching for Osama Bin Laden in the fog of Afghanistan? Or is Pakistan the Titanic; its President Pervez Musharraf [Zardari] the captain; America the only passenger; and Afghanistan the iceberg we are about to hit? Every spring brings new miseries to Afghans as fighting renews in the country and given the realignment and positioning of militants one could say this year is going to one of the worst.

Press in Chains: History of media gagging in Pakistan

March 14, 2009

The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government on Thursday reverted back to Musharraf’s antics after it suspended the Geo Televisions transmissions across the country. This was the first attempt on the freedom of the press since February 18, 2007 general elections paved way for a democratically elected government in the country. This attempt on the part of our crafty custodians of thinking, morality and virtue belies their tall claims of democracy, independent judiciary and free media.

Censorship in Pakistan has a long history and its first victim being the founder of the nation Mohammad Ali Jinnah. On 11 August 1947 when he delivered his first speech “You are free, you are free to go to your temples…..” before the Constituent Assembly; within hours some shadowy figures became active and “tried to have some secularist passages of the speech blacked out in the press” (Press In Chains P. 35-39) But luckily the then editor Dawn Altaf Hussain came in their way and threatened to go to Quaid. So the attempt to muzzle Qauid’s voice failed.

The second major attack was the closure of illustrious Civil & Military Gazette(C&MG) in 1949 after it carried a story by its Delhi correspondent that Pakistan and India are devising a formula to partition Kashmir. Pakistan denied the report so the paper published the denial, regretted the report and fired the correspondent. But on 6th May 1949, 16 West Pakistan newspapers carried a joint editorial by the title of “TREASON” and asked government to suspend the (C&MG) publication “for a suitable period.” The East Pakistani editors “refused to join the chorus” and the government closed the paper for a period of six month and the paper where once writers like Rudyard Kipling (1882-1887) had worked never recovered from the closure.

Ayub Khan within the first week of his coup detained Syed Sibt Hassan, Ahmed Nadim Qasimi and Faiz Ahmed Faiz, who worked for Progressive Papers Limited (PPL) and went a step further and took over the PPL papers on April 1959 and this move was aimed at reining the PPL from roaming in the “DISTANT ORBITS AND ALIEN HORIZONS” as the PPL backed leftist ideology. In 1964 National Press Trust was established and all the PPL papers handed over to this monster and NPT role in the blackening the image of journalism is by no means hidden on any one.

During the Bhutto era the intimidation and muzzling continued with the same zeal and the most shameful event was the arrest of the Altaf Gauhar editor Dawn on the ridiculous charges of “forging a passport, possessing obscene literature and contraband liquor.”

The Zia era was a darkest period for the journalists and in 1978 four journalists were flogged within 90 minutes after a phony court ordered it. The later democratic governments of Benazir and Nawaz were no better than their military comrade-in-arms. Daily Khabrain, Daily Jang, Friday Times and many others papers and journalists faced their wrath. The violence from the ethno-religious outfits is in addition to this.

Though, the media space had grown considerably under Musharraf, but media also has to suffer the worst under his government. Following the sacking of Chief Justice of Pakistan on March 09, 2007, media coverage of the issue forced government to ban the live coverage and its desperate moves led the government to impose emergency on November 03,2007, and private TV channels were taken off the air in one go. This ban continued for months; however, the complete blackout also failed to solve the miseries of the general and he had to pack up in August 2008.

The period was one of the darkest for the media freedom; however, following the elections new government assured full freedom to the media; however, its hollow rhetoric was exposed in its first trial as shadowy figures became active overnight and forced the cable operators to suspend the channel transmissions. Media has been the custodian of a great tradition of resistance and its history is a fairy tale of courage, hope and idealism against the dictates of the mighty in Pakistan. However, it is the voice of the dissent rather than conformism, which offers a ray of hope in the history of nations.

“A lifetime’s devotion,
And yearning have I given,
Not in vain,
That the nightingales play
To roses in full bloom.
It must come, it’ll come.
My reason, my dream.
Does it matter,
If I am gone?
Others will share the ecstasy-
All my roses,
All my nightingales.”

(Tr. M.A. Akhyar Press in Chains)