Swat: Will Troop Withdrawal Bring Security?

What is the guarantee that the Swat Taliban leadership hiding in FATA and Afghanistan won’t reorganize their forces in Swat?

swat-withdrawalThe military from Swat will soon be called back. It is a refrain the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf’s government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), the northwest frontier province in Pakistan, time and again repeats before the media. The idyllic Valley had once been the flash point in national and international media.

Slaughtered bodies were seen strung over the electric poles and trees in the busiest squares in the district. The main trade hub Grain Square became Khooni Chowk (Bloody Square) because of the beheaded bodies dumped there each morning.

Thanks to the first ever greatly successful military operations against terrorists – the 2009 Operation Rah-e-Rast (Operation righteous path) – that Swat has so far come to remarkable normality!

The military’s success over militants in Swat has been conveyed to the world as evidence of Pakistan’s resolve against terrorists.

Whether the Swat operation against the militants proves lasting is very much dependent on a number of factors. The situation in Swat, as elsewhere, is very much linked with the law and order situation in the bordering Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) whereas a complete peace in FATA is linked with the country’s larger security narrative regarding India and Afghanistan.

In the presence of a volatile FATA and the state’s covert security narrative, is it plausible to call the army back from Swat? A few days ago, Pakistan’s oldest and most read English newspaper Dawn carried a report: KP government eyes troop withdrawal from Swat.

The report based its arguments on the comments by a few social activists in Swat. Understandably, in Swat many people would have grown tired of the permanent military presence among them because of a continued checking and staring of the soldiers on duty. There are other reasons that rightly prompt the people to demand a complete evacuation of the military. As the saying goes, “an idle brain is the devil’s workshop.”

Many army personnel may get involved in atrocities like the civil administration is used to. But these factors do not justify a military withdrawal from the Swat Valley. Before demanding a complete exit of military from Swat, a number of issues need to be objectively scrutinized.

First, the Swat crisis should be revisited with the following questions: Is Swat a separate planet or a geographically and ethnically integrated part of KP and especially of FATA?

The Swat crisis began soon after the peace deal between the Pakistan military and Nek Muhammad back in 2004. In the aftermath of the deal between Gen Safdar and Nek Muhammad, the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) became emboldened and spread its tentacles to rest of the adjacent areas. This was the time when Maulana Fazalullah, leader of the outlawed Pakistani Islamist group Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi, appeared on the scene and organized armed militia in Swat.

Secondly, the peace in Swat and elsewhere in KP is dependent on the situation in FATA as most of the militants operate from FATA.

What is the guarantee that the Swat Taliban leadership hiding in FATA and Afghanistan won’t reorganize their forces in Swat? The Swat insurgency was mostly led by militants from FATA under the guidance of Al-Qaeda.

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Thirdly, is the civil administration capable to tackle the law and order situation in Swat?

Unfortunately we have not witnessed any visible behavioral change in the local police and district administration. The civil administration in Swat as in Pakistan has become a housemaid of the civilian government representatives and ministers. It has been serving none but the interests of Members of Provincial Assembly (MPAs) and Members of National Assembly (MNAs).

People expected a drastic change in the procedures and behavior of the administration as a lesson of the worst crisis in Swat. This did not happen. Instead the administration became accomplice in the inefficiency and corruption by the political forces in the government.

The army has started a gradual withdrawal of military from Swat but the people went to the military to vent their grievances. This is not desirable but it does exist. I have personally witnessed a number of events where the local administration itself referred certain public interest disputes and cases to the military.

Fourthly, the incumbent KP government is basically not felt, let alone seen.

It seems scattered and stands confused. It has yet to set a course of action for it. Being an amalgam of three political parties with Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) as the most experienced, KP has always denied the existence of Taliban and termed the entire bloodshed and strife as some foreign conspiracy.

Given JI’s stance and affiliation with international jihad, it can easily manipulate the maiden PTI majority government. Both PTI and JI have demanded an “exit of Pakistan from war on terror-American war” without showing a pragmatic alternate route.

Lastly, have Pakistan’s strategists changed security paradigms?

Currently, we see no signs despite the Army Chief’s hyperbolic statements. Pakistan has always wanted strategic depth in neighboring Afghanistan but according to a recent report by the Brooking Institution: A Deadly Triangle: Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, it is India that has a strategic depth in Afghanistan by securing support of Afghans. (According to the report, 78 percent of Afghans prefer India while only 8 percent like Pakistan).

The Pakistan backed Taliban-USA talks in Doha, Qatar, have not gained  support either from the Presidential Palace in Kabul or the Afghan people – the latter of whom being the real victims of the war on terror. This turn of events will surely entice the Pakistan’s military establishment to stick to its strategic depth more fervently.

Given these factors, one shirks to demand a military withdrawal from Swat. In Swat the military has so far successfully kept the Taliban at bay and have managed the elusive peace.

Instead of demanding military withdrawal from Swat, one should ask for a complete retreat from the deadly strategic depth policies that encourages Islamic militants and extremists. Only then will a lasting peace in Swat and elsewhere in the country be possible.

Zubair Torwali is a researcher, linguist and human rights activist. Born and raised in Bahrain Swat, Pakistan, he heads the Institute for Education and Development, a civil society organization working for the conservation of cultural, lingual and natural heritage among the linguistic communities in north Pakistan. Zubair was recently awarded the Prof. Anita Ghulam Ali Award of Teachers and Education in Emergencies. Read other articles by Zubair.