Is it a deal?
The most important amongst them undoubtedly is the man who has brokered the peace deal, Maulana Sufi Mohammed, who founded the TNSM in the late ’80s. Promoting Sharia law was the prime objective of the TNSM. He did succeed in forcing the Benazir Bhutto government to announce the imposition of the Sharia law in Swat in 1994. Sufi Mohammed and the TNSM also had close linkages with Maulana Masood Azhar. After his release in Kandahar, Azhar is reported to have gone straight to Swat, joined the TNSM and spent some time training its cadres before founding his own Jaish-e-Mohammed.
The Maulana went with 10,000 volunteers to help the Afghan Taliban in the aftermath of 9/11, but his fighters got mauled in their encounters with the Northern Alliance. On his return, his party was proscribed by President Musharraf and he was put behind bars. Thereafter, his party went into decline, until, under the leadership of Mullah Fazlullah, his son-in-law, it regained popularity. Faquir Mohammed, the Taliban leader in the neighbouring Bajaur Agency, is also Sufi Mohammed’s protégé. Sufi Mohammed was released in April 2008 by the new PPP government. A peace deal was signed by the government with his party, which promised to bring back peace to Swat, which of course did not materialise.
The second important character is Mullah Fazlullah, also known as Mullah Radio or Mullah FM. Fazlullah took over the leadership of the TNSM from his jailed father-in-law and won tremendous goodwill amongst the local people with the good work put in by his organisation in the wake of the devastating earthquake in 2005. He capitalised on this goodwill by making effective use of FM radio to propagate his views. Fazlullah successfully organised anti-polio and anti-girls schools campaigns throughout the region and quickly extended his influence over most of Swat. Recognising his growing clout, the government signed a peace agreement with Fazlullah in May 2007. Fazlullah was to support the polio vaccination campaign and education for girls, shut down training facilities for terrorists, stop manufacturing weapons, and support the district administration in any operation against anti-state elements. His followers were also to stop carrying weapons in the open. In return, he was permitted to continue broadcasting his illegal FM radio programmes and the government dropped criminal cases lodged against him. But that deal did not last.
The government of NWFP, now led by the Awami National Party, struck yet another deal with Fazlullah in May 2008, shortly after a similar deal with Maulana Sufi Mohammed and the TNSM, referred to above, was finalised. This deal provided for the imposition of Sharia in Swat and Malakand districts in return for Fazlullah’s cooperation.
However, in June 2008, when the government reversed its decision to amend the Shari Nizam-e-Adl Act 1999, which was meant to introduce the Sharia law, Fazlullah violated the ceasefire and renewed his attacks on schools, ANP leaders and security forces. The army launched an operation, in July 2008, but without much success. Meanwhile, the army decided that its greater priority was to take on the militants in Bajaur which is closer to the Afghan border. Fazlullah made full use of this opportunity to step up the violence in Swat and by October 80 per cent of the district was under his sway. 15,000 troops supported by air and artillery elements launched another operation in January this year and managed to recapture Mingora, the district capital. However, the campaign affected the local population severely, while Fazlullah continued his school destruction and decapitation drive regardless. More than a third of the population has fled this district once known as the Paradise of Pakistan.
This is the background against which the agreement with TNSM has now been signed. It makes one thing clear — nothing that has happened now is new. In fact, the Sharia law was first introduced in Swat way back in 1994. The peace deal with Fazlullah or the TNSM is nothing new either. What has been agreed to now is only the continuation of the deals that were struck in 2008 and were not implemented.
Why has the Pakistan government gone in for such a deal after the unsatisfactory experience with similar deals in the past? It is not clear yet what the terms of the agreement are. The government says that Sharia would be introduced only after the militants lay down arms. It is also not clear whether Sufi Mohammed would be able to persuade his son-in-law, who has declared an initial 10-day ceasefire, to sign the agreement. It is likely, however, that the hope of the government and the ISI is to bring about a rift within the ranks of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan by working out a deal with Fazlullah. If Fazlullah and Faquir Mohammed (who is giving a bloody nose to the Pakistan army in Bajaur) break ranks, the army would be in a far stronger position to take on Baitullah Mehsood, the most powerful militant commander in Pakistan today.
If the NWFP government is able to enforce the terms of the agreement, by which the TTP will lay down arms and the government will regain its administrative control of Swat even if the Sharia law is to prevail, it may not be a totally negative development. However, what is likely, going by previous experience, is that Fazlullah will get a free hand, militants will try to develop Swat into a safe haven and the demand for imposition of the Sharia in other parts of Pakistan will gather momentum. Whether the army — which has not been particularly successful so far in taming Fazlullah, whose armed followers are not large in number — would then be able to take him on is the crucial question.
The greatest lesson for India from these developments is that the disintegration of Pakistan can have disastrous consequences for our country. This is an invaluable lesson in the context of the post-26/11 scenario in which hawkish voices are becoming shriller. If the disintegration of Pakistan continues apace, the Taliban would not only be in Swat, 500 km from Amritsar as they are today, but in Lahore, a mere 50 km away.
The writer, who retired as chief of the Research and Analysis Wing in January 2007, is a visiting professor in the Department of Geopolitics at Manipal University