Pak Govt-Militants deal a high risk affair


LAHORE: The Pakistan government’s decision to sign a peace deal with the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) by enforcing the ‘Sharai Nizam-e-Adal Regulation’ (Regulation for Islamic System of Justice) in Malakand Division of the North Western Frontier Province (NWFP), primarily to bring back peace to the restive Swat valley, is a high risk affair for both the TNSM chief Maulana Sufi Mohammad and the government since both have put their credibility at stake and will have to prove in the coming days that they are capable of honouring their part of the treaty – unlike the past.

It is not for the first time that the TNSM and the NWFP government have inked a peace deal to end the fighting in exchange for the implementation of Shariah or Islamic law in a large region of the Northwest Frontier Province. It was on April 20, 2008 that the NWFP coalition government signed a six-point accord with the TNSM led by Maulana Sufi Mohammad whose son-in-law Maulana Fazalullah alias Maulana Radio calls the shots in Swat. The then imprisoned TNSM ameer had promised to renounce militancy and suicide attacks, refrain from targeting army and government installations and not to oppose female education and the immunisation programme for children. In return, the government withdrew all pending cases against Sufi, commuted his remaining prison term of four years and set him free unconditionally.

Sufi’s release meant that the coalition government in the NWFP, comprising the Awami National Party, which champions Pashtun nationalism and secularism, and the Pakistan Peoples Party, a left-of-centre secular party, wanted to use him as a partner in tackling militancy and extremism and bringing peace to Swat. However, in a strange move, almost a week after his release, Sufi disowned his son-in-law, Maulana Fazalullah, saying he would not talk to him again for the sake of peace in Swat as he has shown disobedience to him. While there are those who believe it was a shrewd move on part of Sufi who had already been freed and who wanted to carry on his old agenda of enforcing Shariah in the Malakand Division, the NWFP government circles believed that it was hard for Sufi to take back the initiative from his son-in-law who had already established himself as an unchallenged commander of the TNSM in Swat and strengthened his position by joining forces with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, led by the South Waziristan-based fugitive Commander Baitullah Mehsud.

Therefore, Sufi Mohammad deemed it fit to simply disown Maulana Fazalullah, thus failing to fulfill his part of the peace deal under which he was released. The Sufi’s inability to pursue his son-in-law prompted the NWFP government to pursue Fazalullah independently, only to strike yet another peace deal in Swat with him almost a month later – on May 21, 2008. It took the NWFP coalition government hardly three rounds of talks spread over 13 days to reach their peace accord for Swat. The 16-point handwritten accord in Urdu was described by analysts as a comprehensive document of give-and-take by the two sides. The TNSM leadership had renounced militancy in return for acceptance of their long-standing demand that Shariah be enforced in Swat and the rest of Malakand region. Fazalullah had promised not to challenge the writ of the state, refrain from attacking security forces and government installations and stop opposing girls’ education and immunisation of children. He denounced suicide bombings and agreed to disband his private militia – Shaheen Commando Force. Though it was not yet announced, a general amnesty for the Swati militants was to cover Fazalullah and his top lieutenants.

The NWFP government also gave in to the militants’ demand to retain control of the TNSM’s sprawling madrassah complex in Fazalullah’s village, Mamdheray, and establish an Islamic university there besides allowing them continued use of their FM radio. An 11-member joint committee of the provincial government officials, NWFP assembly members and militants’ representatives was formed to monitor and implement the accord, because of the worries that problems could arise with regard to the still undecided timeframe for eventual withdrawal of over 20,000 Army troops from Swat. However, the peace deal was unilaterally revoked by Maulana Fazalullah hardly a few weeks later under instructions from the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan ameer Baitullah Mehsud who was furious over the ongoing military operation in the Waziristan region. Mehsud further asked the ruling coalition to step down immediately or else face an armed movement from the militants, as it had failed to honour its promises made with the Swat chapter of the TTP in the peace agreement.

Almost nine months later, the NWFP government has inked yet another peace agreement with Sufi who has once again promised to extend his support to bring back peace to Swat by prevailing upon his son-in-law to lay down arms before the military operation in the valley could come to an end. As per the peace deal, Sufi will be at the forefront of establishing a new political administration in Swat. He will pave public opinion for a new local administration, to be established in Swat, by holding public gatherings throughout the district. Nevertheless, there are those in the political circles who are skeptical about Sufi’s ability to neutralize Fazalullah and his lethal militant network despite reports that Baitullah Mehsud has already severed all contacts with Maulana Fazlullah for not toeing his line recently. At the same time, it remains to be seen how much political support and clout Sufi and his TNSM still retain in Swat and in the rest of Malakand region following his 2001 misadventure when he had taken thousands of his young followers to fight out the US-led coalition forces Afghanistan which had invaded Kabul in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks.

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