What to Make of Swat Operation

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Context
250_SwatChanging Winds – a Rare Alignment

Surprised observers have called attention to the operations conducted by the Pakistani Army in Buner, Dir and the Swat Valley. The Army appears to be acting decisively under civilian command, launching an attack against Taliban militants; it is enjoying widespread public support. One might jump to the conclusion that the operation was launched in response to American pressure, but there are in fact other reasons.

The fatal blunders, both tactical and strategic, of TNSM and Mowlana Fazlullah played a significant role. There are a number of important events, occurring in quick succession, that served as nails in the coffin of the Swat Treaty of 2009.

Analysis

The first nail was the release of a video showing a group of armed Pushtun men flogging a helpless young woman. No explanation of why the girl was being punished in this way, no interpretation of applicable Sharia laws justifying such a punishment, could excuse it in the court of local and international public opinion and scholarly religious circles.

The second nail was the speech of Mowlana Sufi Mohammad himself, characterizing the Pakistan system of governance as un-Islamic. This speech was a cruel blow to groups such as the ANP, PPP and Muslim League-N, which had succeeded in getting the Nizam-e-Adal approved despite heavy resistance from domestic progressive forces and Western criticism. Equally insulted were the heavy-duty Islamic actors in Pakistan such as JUI-F and JI. These religious parties work within the political system of Pakistan and they retaliated with harsh criticisms of the Islamic interpretation provided by TNSM, the Swat Taliban and Sufi Mohammad.

The third nail was the Swat Taliban’s refusal to lay down arms once Nizam-e-Adal was signed by the President of Pakistan. In addition, the Taliban appeared in Buner, which convinced the military that the organization has more than local ambitions and is targeting the state of Pakistan. These actions exposed the religious and political naivete of the TNSM and the Swat Taliban.

Once the real nature of the Swat Taliban and TNSM was out in the open, the civilian government of Pakistan had little left to convince the West and its own progressive forces regarding the Swat Treaty. So General Patraeus gave the civilian Pakistani government two weeks to prove its credibility on this issue and once Pakistani public opinion turned against the militants, the army responded by launching its operation.

Another factor underlying the military operation in Swat was irresistible pressure from India. Just a few hours before Zaradri’s visit to the United States, India concluded its ‘Hindi Shakti’ anti-terror exercise with assistance from Israeli elite and commando forces. According to an Israeli website, the drill took place on the plains of Indian Punjab, near the Pakistani border. Israeli military instructors in India and Israel are training the Indian Kharga Corps to operate in areas targeted by the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. India is sending the message that it is willing and able to deal with these terrorists in Pakistan, if that country itself is reluctant to do so. In the post-Mumbai environment, India’s case is convincing, as long as the West can ensure that Pakistan’s nuclear assets will not be used.

So it was response to strain both within and without Pakistan that the Swat operation was launched. The chance for its success lie in how effectively the Pakistani government handles the internally displaced persons (IDP’s), which some claim to be as high as one million in number. The longer the operation lasts, the greater the risk that these IDP’s will be forgotten and their lives permanently ruined, thus becoming prime recruits for the Taliban and other terrorist groups.

Another factor in the long-term success of the operation is its effectiveness in dealing with extremists in other tribal areas as well, which the government and the military have not attempted to do in the past. The recent military operation in Pakistan begs the question: it is just an isolated one, designed to deal with the Swat Taliban? Pakistan believes that each tribal agency is different, with unique political and social circumstances. In the opposing view, embodied in America’s new Af-Pak policy, without a coordinated and overarching counter-insurgency strategy for the country, these isolated and disjointed operations will have little impact on the overall security picture of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan warns against the implementation of this overarching strategy, arguing that it risks uniting these apparently scattered militants, as well as provoking Pushtun resentment, in the tribal areas of Pakistan. The larger the size of the IDP’s and the longer they remain displaced, the harder it will be avoid the perception that it is the Pushtun suffering on both sides of the Durand line.

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