Feb 24, 2009

Militants in Swat

The kidnapping of the Swat district coordination officer by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan is an indication of just how rocky the road to peace in the area is. Muslim Khan, the TTP’s spokesman in Swat, initially denied the DCO had been taken hostage but later admitted to having swapped the official and his bodyguards for militants in state custody.
This was not the only transgression by the TTP in recent days: several locals belonging to the ANP have also been kidnapped from Mingora. Given that Maulana Fazlullah’s militants have declared a 10-day ceasefire and are engaged in peace talks with Sufi Mohammad, the kidnappings suggest the militants remain conflicted about peace in the region.
At the very least, it can be surmised that Maulana Fazlullah has been wrong-footed by the government’s pledge to implement Sharia in the region more effectively. The TTP commander has acknowledged that the new regulation is in line with what the militants have been demanding, but what he can’t say is that their agenda goes beyond simply introducing a better legal system, and includes territorial control.
Having camouflaged their fight against the state as a quest for justice, now that the state has acted to strip away the militants’ fig leaf they are resorting to accusing the state of artifice and deceit. ‘The government violated the (ceasefire) agreement by arresting our men in Peshawar and killing one in Dir. Therefore, we had to do this,’ Muslim Khan has said, justifying the kidnapping of the DCO.
In the days ahead, the TTP may well keep upping its demands and imposing new conditions for peace that the state will find difficult to accept. Top of that list would be the withdrawal of all troops from Swat and the release of all militants in state custody.
From the TTP’s point of view there is an additional problem: ensuring their personal safety once normality returns to Swat. After beheading and killing and maiming with frightening savagery for the past two years, the militants have made many enemies among the locals; remaining there in peace time will almost certainly invite revenge attacks.
So if this is really the endgame of militancy in Swat, the TTP is looking to carve out a place for itself in the future set-up from which it can ensure its relevance and safety. Hence the mixed signals of talking peace while reminding everyone of their capacity for violence.
However, the state must remain firm: legitimate demands for a better justice system should be met but control of the area should be taken back and the terror infrastructure dismantled. Sufi Mohammad’s call yesterday for the militants to end their violence, not interfere in the administration of Swat and accept a phased introduction of legal changes is the way ahead. It remains to be seen if the TTP will acquiesce.

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