Pro- Taliban militants at the gates of Islamabad

November 21st, 2007 - 4:42 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, Nov 21 (ANI): Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf may have justified declaring emergency on the pretext of growing insurgency in the Swat Valley, but so far, the only threats he has been able to curb are those of an independent judiciary and a free press.
The Swat Valley is Pakistan’s premier tourist destination, home to its only ski slope and a haven for trout fishing. But it has become increasingly embattled in the face of an anti-government campaign, over the past five months, by pro-Taliban radio preacher Maulana Fazlullah, known as the FM mullah.
The local police post in the Matta village has a new sign: Taliban Station. The same thing can be seen in the Kaabak village in fact, nine of the 12 districts in the picturesque Swat Valley have been taken over by pro-Taliban militants, The Time magazine reports.
The militants have torched music shops, barred girls from going to school, forced women to wear burqas and decreed that men must grow beards in the Swat Valley, which is 100 miles from Pakistan’s capital Islamabad.
As if to complete the flashback to Taliban-era Afghanistan, the new overlords of the area have even attempted to blow up centuries-old Buddhist monuments. “It’s not that the military is unwilling,” says a Western military official based in Islamabad, “but is it capable?” he asks.
Security analysts fear that Pakistan’s security forces lack the training, equipment and expertise to tackle the burgeoning domestic extremist insurgency.
The West’s most important ally in the war on terror is faltering, distracted by the political crisis in the country and taking heavy losses that sap the morale in its ranks.
This week the military launched an operation to reclaim control of Swat, sending in 15,000 troops, helicopters, tanks and armoured vehicles to battle a ragtag army of some 500 militants. The goal is to push them back into their mountain redoubts, far from the civilian population.
“We will bottle up as many of them as possible, and then eliminate them,” says General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, Director General of Military operations.
The army says that hundreds of militants have already been killed. That’s a number militant spokesman Sirajuddin, dismisses as “totally rubbish. Only ten of our jihadis have been killed.”
If past performance in Waziristan, where last month 250 soldiers surrendered to a few dozen militants, is any precedent, numbers alone are not going to win Pakistan’s war.
In Swat, according to the military, entire villages have been taken over by bands of militants made up, in some cases, of only nine fighters.
The problem says the Western military official is that the Pakistani soldiers are under trained and outgunned. He puts himself in the soldiers’ boots: “I’m making 20 dollars a month, I’ve got five bullets in my gun, and a couple of guys with AKs come up. I mean the question is, do I want to die? Oh, and by the way they know all my family.”
The Pakistani military, which came of age fighting arch-rival India on more conventional battlegrounds, is little prepared to face a classic guerrilla insurgency. While some of Swat’s militants are foreign origin, the majority is home-grown, nourished on local antipathy to a government that doesn’t represent their wishes.
“The militants have stopped tourism and disrupted their lives, but the government doesn’t have the people’s sympathy either.” A military crackdown, and the inevitable civilian casualties, will only estrange the people further.
“This is the kind of counterinsurgency training that the military lacks,” says the military official. “There has got to be a strong information campaign to go along with the kinetics (military force). Fazlullah has a FM station? Jam the damn thing. They sure as hell can jam stations here (in Islamabad), so why can’t they do that up there?”Fazlullah, a local student who once earned a living ferrying passengers and goods across the Swat river, started his career studying under Maulana Sufi Muhammad, a religious teacher who founded the Tehrik Nifaz Shariat-e-Muhammaidi (Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law) in the 1990s.
In 2002, TNSM was banned, and Muhammad thrown in jail for mobilizing thousands of his followers to fight American forces in Afghanistan. Fazlullah, by then his son-in-law, continued the campaign for Sharia using the platform of his popular radio show, The Time Magazine reported.
Now the government has released Muhammad, in hopes that he can help calm the situation.
“Brute use of force alone would only take us backwards.” That may be so, but releasing a known anti-government campaigner seems like a desperate gamble one that the government may already be losing.
“He is our leader and very dear to all of us, but our struggle for the implementation of a true Islamic system will not be affected,” says Sirajuddin, spokesman of Fazlullah.
“Maulana Sufi is demanding the same. It is good that the government has released him; now it should start work on the implementation of Sharia,” he adds.
While it is unlikely that the government will ever go that far, the newly appointed Vice Chief of Army Staff, Ashfaq Kyani, is already taking steps to remedy some of the military’s worst problems.
On Monday, he visited troops in Swat to raise morale and is taking concrete steps to get them more training and equipment.
The Time says that even as US military commanders return again and again to well-thumbed counter-insurgency textbooks dating to Vietnam to help with current engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistan too has to learn the art of counter-insurgency.
“It’s going to be a long haul, and we don’t have time for a long haul,” says the Western military official. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s militants aren’t waiting. (ANI)

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