Friday, 4 September 2009

Pakistan’s War in Swat – A Progress Report

The Pakistan government speaks the truth when it calls the military action in the Swat Valley as Pakistan's own war.
A full scale military offensive in South Waziristan would be a different matter. Many questions must be answered if I am to be convinced that a Swat style 'invasion' of South Waziristan is in Pakistan's interests.

Pakistan's military is not merely a ceremonial force
Swat is part of 'settled' Pakistan. It is a district of the Northwest Frontier Province. It falls unambiguously within the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
South Waziristan is part of Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The federal or provincial authorities have limited say in the region, legally and practically.
Even in the best of times, FATA is something of a 'free-for-all' zone.
The government simultaneously threatens and bribes the tribes into supporting the Islamabad regime 'du jour.' In return, Islamabad has historically agreed to a policy of non-interference in FATA.
Many Pathans sport beards as a sign of religiosity
FATA was perhaps one of the world's first free trade zones – with no duties or taxes levied on any product. Anything from electronics and detergents to drugs and weapons are freely (and cheaply) available to anyone who is brave enough to smuggle them back into the 'mainland.'
Islamabad and Peshawar residents are frequent visitors to the Bara (tax-free!) market, the nearest market town in FATA.
On the contrary, Swat is not part of Pakistan's 'Wild West.' Swat was governed as a princely state until its amalgamation as a district within the Northwest Frontier Province in 1969.
Swat thrived as a tourist resort and housed Pakistan's only ski slope. It is well connected with the rest of Pakistan being a short drive away from Islamabad.
In the past, the national air carrier Pakistan International Airlines even operated a helicopter service to Mingora.
Pakistan military required to make Swat safe for barbers to conduct their trade!
With each passing day I become more optimistic about Swat's future. The extremists are in disarray and shock. Yes, they still have the ability to do damage and most importantly, their leader Mullah Fazlullah is still alive.
Insurgencies are won with popular support and with the passage of time. The current operation began less than four months ago.
Already, there is enough evidence to suggest that the military has won the trust of the local population.
Since July 13 about 230 bodies of militants have been found on the streets of Swat. The military's strategy of taking no prisoners is working. Locals are now actively guiding the military to insurgent hideouts and tunnel networks.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan accuses the military of extra-judicial killings. More likely, the dead militants are being given a taste of their own medicine by locally formed anti-Taliban militias.
Irrespective of who is responsible, the tables have turned and a tipping pointhas been reached. If the military follows through with its decision to build several small garrisons in the Swat Valley then the militants can be pushed back (and bottled up) in FATA.

Insurgencies do end. Who knows, I might even be able to go trout fishing in Swat in the summer of 2010.

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