Over 30 Taliban men sneak into J&K: NDTV exclusive

7 04 2009

Has the worst nightmare for security forces come true? Is the Taliban now in Kashmir? There are reports that about 30 Taliban fighters have sneaked into Kashmir.

Intercepted conversations now available with NDTV between two Lashkar operatives says a large group of Taliban fighters may have sneaked into the Valley last fortnight.

Taliban in Kashmir?

  • 30 Taliban fighters in Kashmir?
  • Radio talk between Lashkar operatives intercepted

    Transcripts of the taped conversations available with NDTV show that the Lashkar is in fact worried about Taliban presence in Kashmir.

    Transcript of the intercepted conversation:
    LeT man 1: What were you saying?
    LeT man 2: I was saying that new people who have come are all Taliban. They are only talking about killing and getting killed. We are very disturbed because of them.
    LeT man 1: Throw them out from there.
    LeT man 2: For that I will have to speak to ‘Big Brother’.
    LeT man 1: Ok

    It’s worrying factor that Taliban is so close from India? Approximately 220 km is the distance between the Taliban dominated areas of NWFP in Pakistan and the Line of Control.

    Home Minister P Chidambaram has commented on the infiltration threat and said that different terrorist organisations are working in tandem.

    “There is a determined effort to infiltrate across the international border, the distinction between the different organisations has disappeared. But our security forces are alert and they’ve been able to neutralise these infiltrators in the last 3-4 weeks. And I am confident that with the heightened sense of vigilance and alertness they will be able to neutralise infiltrators across the border,” said P Chidambaram, Union Home Minister.

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    Swat girl denies she was flogged

    7 04 2009

    Two attacks a week to avenge U.S. drone strikes: Taliban

    — Photo: AFP

    Image taken from Pakistan’s Dawn News channel on Saturday shows the flogging of a woman by Taliban members in Swat valley.

    Islamabad: The girl who was reportedly whipped by the Taliban in Pakistan’s Swat Valley has denied the incident, even as a rally was taken out in Karachi to condemn the public lashing. The Supreme Court on Monday ordered a probe into the matter.

    The girl was reportedly flogged by a Taliban cleric for “coming out of her house with another man who was not her husband”.

    The girl’s statement before a magistrate was presented in the Supreme Court through Attorney-General Latif Khosa. “The girl has denied the alleged flogging incident,” Geo TV reported. The lashing footage was telecast on many news channels worldwide.

    The victim was not present during the hearing.

    Senior officials, including the Interior Secretary and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) Inspector-General of Police, appeared before the eight-member bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary which is hearing the case.

    Chief Justice Chaudhary said “investigations be conducted” into the incident.

    A two-minute video showed the 17-year-old, burqa-clad girl screaming while being whipped by the Taliban men.

    The grainy video, shot on a mobile phone, showed the girl face down on the ground. Two men held her arms and feet while a third, a black-turbaned man with a flowing beard, whipped her repeatedly, London’s Guardian newspaper reported.

    The newspaper said it received the video through Samar Minallah, a Pashtun documentary maker.

    After 34 lashes the punishment stopped and the wailing girl was led into a stone building.

    The Minhajul Quran Women League (MQWL) on Saturday staged a demonstration outside the Lahore Press Club to condemn the flogging and demanded strict action against those involved in the incident, the News International reported.

    Addressing the protesters, MQWL chief Fatima Mashadi said those who flogged the girl were not following Islam and they had brought a bad name to the religion and the country. — IANS

    PTI reports:

    The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing of a paramilitary camp in the federal capital that killed eight security personnel and warned it would carry out two attacks a week to avenge U.S. drone strikes in the tribal areas.

    Hakimullah Mehsud, one of the deputies of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan chief Baitullah Mehsud, said Sunday’s suicide attack on a Frontier Corps camp in the heart of Islamabad was carried out by his group.





    28 02 2009

    Source: MEMRI

    THE MIDDLE EAST MEDIA RESEARCH INSTITUTE

    Special Dispatch – No. 2265 February 27, 2009

    Leading Pakistani Columnist: ‘All Pakistan’s Cities Are Within the Taliban’s Reach – Lahore, Faisalabad, Karachi, Hyderabad, Rawalpindi, and Islamabad’

    On February 16, 2009, the Taliban militants and the government of Pakistan‘s North WestFrontierProvince (NWFP) signed a Shari’a-for-peace deal. Under the deal, the Taliban militants led by Maulana Fazlullah have been allowed by Pakistan to establish Islamic Shari’a in the province’s Swat district and broader Malakand region. [1]

    A few days before the deal was signed, noted Pakistani columnist, senior journalist, and commentator Nazeer Naji wrote an article in the mass-circulation, Urdu-language newspaper Roznama Jang, titled “Toward Bloodshed.” In it, Nazeer Naji, who lives in Pakistan‘s cultural city of Lahore, warned that the Taliban militants are gradually taking over parts of Pakistan, and that even Islamabad is under threat.

    Following are excerpts from the article: [2]

    “It is Useless to Discuss Whether Pakistan Came into Being in the Name of Islam or as a Separate Homeland for Muslims; However the Process to Break Up Pakistan [Once Again] Has Started in the Name of Islam

    “[In my previous columns I have hinted] at those armed groups who claim to be Islam’s Mujahideen and who have established their own states in different regions of Pakistan. In FATAs [Federally Administered Tribal Areas along the Afghan border] several administrative units have come into being which are under the control of different warlords [Taliban commanders].

    “A separate administration has been established in the Swat [district by the Taliban in the North West Frontier Province, or NWFP]. All big cities of NWFP are under the influence of terrorists to some extent. Hyatabad, a posh area of Peshawar, is being vacated rapidly, as the rich are moving toward Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi – whereas those who cannot afford living costs in these cities are shifting to Peshawar Cantonment or streets in the interior of the city that appear safer than Hyatabad.”

    “The Distance Between Swat and Islamabad is Not Much… All Pakistan‘s Cities are Within the Taliban’s Reach – Lahore, Faisalabad, Karachi, Hyderabad, Rawalpindi, and Islamabad

    “In a column about Swat written a few days back, I warned that the distance between Swat and Islamabad is not much. Militants operating in the Swat district are active up to the Afghan borders on one hand, while on the other hand, their influence is also spreading in the opposite direction [toward Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi]. The Taliban militants are able to freely enter and leave Mansehra, a district of NWFP on the Punjab border and separated from Islamabad by the Margalla Hills, the mountains surrounding the capital city.

    “In a report today, well-informed journalist Hamid Mir discloses that the Taliban leadership has decided to send fighters to Islamabad and has warned Islamic scholars in the federal capital to support the Taliban or leave the city. The Taliban have listed the names of the Islamic scholars who are refusing to support them on their hit list.

    “For a long time, I have been expressing the view that all Pakistan’s cities are within the Taliban’s reach. Lahore, Faisalabad, Karachi, Hyderabad, Rawalpindi and Islamabad – indeed, there is no big city that has no madrassa in its populace. These madrassas have hundreds to thousands of students; a large number of them come from backward areas and impoverished families. Even in madrassas, they lead a life of deprivation; these students consider even the ordinary homes of the lower middle classes as wealthy. They think a television and a refrigerator are a luxury.

    “This sense of deprivation can create a spirit of hate among them. Someone only needs to light the fire; the Taliban movements can easily use them. They have been inciting the madrassa students to work to establish their dominance in the name of Islam; then these people take the law into their own hands and march on the path to taste the conquering of people.

    “Most of the poor youth active in the Taliban movements have indeed been using religion to show their class hatred. When Islam’s name crops up in an issue, every cruelty is seen as legitimate; and from ransacking to slitting throats, they present a reason for every action aimed at spreading terror.

    “Manpower is Already Present in Every Madrassa – And Has The Capability, With a Slight Hint, To Turn into a Fighting Taliban Force”

    “To my mind, such manpower is already present in every madrassa, and has the capability, with a slight hint, to turn into a fighting Taliban force. Hate for people living a prosperous life already exists in these youth. To them, all those who have been living on more than two loaves of bread have accumulated their wealth illegally. And when they find a pretext to give their wishes free rein in the name of Islam, when they get the power to use arms and rule over people, then it is not easy to stop them. We have already been experiencing this in the FATAs and Swat.

    “The Qaed-e-Azam [i.e. the Great Leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan] must have foreseen the present situation when he said that there will be no theocracy in Pakistan. Whenever religion is used to gain control of power and wealth, the champions of religion begin finding ways to justify their power and control by interpreting religion. If politics and state are subservient to the constitution, one can hope to get arguments accepted through logic and reason. But when religion is involved, reason, infidelity and logic are seen as means to discredit religion.

    “The issue does not end here; every group starts depicting such thoughts as religion on the basis of which it can lay the foundation of its own interests. What follows is what has been happening in every theocracy: Muslims do not consider it bad to kill another Muslim in the name of Islam.”

    “Such a Large Number of Muslims Would Not Have Been Killed Even by Hindus in India, As Have Been Killed by [Their Fellow] Muslims in Pakistan

    “If we see the examples of East Pakistan [before its creation as Bangladesh in 1971] and Pakistan’s northwestern [tribal] areas today, we realize that such a large number of Muslims would not have been killed even by Hindus in India, as have been killed by [their fellow] Muslims in Pakistan. This is the necessary result of theocracy.

    “We have been trapped in this game. Poverty and ignorance happen to be the biggest sources of power for a theocracy. We have provided this power; and the U.S. and [Pakistani] military dictators, in their attempt to further their own interests and needs, have armed and trained those [the Taliban] who use this power in the name of religion. They have now found a way to establish their own governments too. Al-Qaeda has further expanded their aspirations. They have been using modern technology.

    “They have also established infidel [objectives] [to fight against], in the shape of the U.S. Helped by the U.S., they can now declare any one or any party as infidel who wants to stop them in order to establish law and order. They [Taliban militants] have also been exploiting the spirit of [Pakistani] nationalism to further their movements.

    “Further Down the Road, [The Taliban] Will Also Try to Establish a Nuclear Islamic Power”

    “It is useless to discuss whether Pakistan came into being in the name of Islam or as a separate homeland for Muslims; however, the process to break up Pakistan [once again] has started in the name of Islam.

    “Yahya Khan [the former Army chief and president of Pakistan] had together with religious parties led a military raid on East Pakistan in the name of Islam. As a result, East Pakistan became Bangladesh. [Pakistan’s former military dictator] Zia-ul-Haq fought the U.S.’s war in the name of Islam [during the 1980s in Afghanistan] and the same Mujahideen of Islam are now trying to break up Pakistan.

    “An Islamic Emirate of Waziristan [in Pakistan’s tribal district] has been established [by Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud], while another is in the offing in the Swat district under a new Emir [Maulana Fazlullah]. Further down the road, they will also try to establish a nuclear Islamic power.

    “An international battle front had to be established [by the U.S.] against the war on terror. [We] did not anticipate that this battlefield will be in Pakistan. The bloodiest war in the history is going to begin in our homeland and some say that the fate of Afghanistan too will be decided in Pakistan. It is, however, not clear when this decision will be made. But [when we think of] how and what decision will be made about the fate of Pakistan, different maps emerge in mind…”


    [1] Roznama Express (Pakistan), February 17, 2009.

    [2] Roznama Jang (Pakistan), February 12, 2009.





    Single-faith nation is an open invitation to Taliban

    24 02 2009

    Source: TOI

    22 Feb 2009, 0000 hrs IST, M J Akbar

    Breast-beating has its dangers. You could lacerate yourself while the assassin laughs all the way to the graveyard. The international lamentation
    over the negotiated surrender of Swat in Pakistan to what might broadly be called the Taliban is high on moaning and low on illumination.

    There is a symmetrical irony. Benazir Bhutto handed over Afghanistan to the Taliban. Her husband Asif Zardari might have laid the foundation stone of Talibanistan inside Pakistan by accepting Sufi Mohammad’s Tehrik-e-Nifz-e-Shariat Mohammadi as the law for the former princely state of Swat. This demand was first heard in November 1994, the month in which Kandahar fell to the Taliban.

    Many questions demand answers. The Pakistani army has an estimated strength of 12,000 in the region of Swat. Why was it unable, or unwilling, to subdue an insurgent force of some 3,000? The Pakistani army is not a pushover. Why was it pushed over in Swat? Is the Pakistani soldier increasingly unwilling to confront an ideology it implicitly sympathises with? How much of such sympathy is shared by the middle-ranking officer, who entered the force during the seminal leadership of General Zia ul Haq? To what extent has Ziaism become the secret doctrine of sections of the Pakistani forces?

    What price will Pakistan’s polity pay as the last civilian hope degenerates into a national heartbreak? The legacy of Benazir, the charismatic romantic, has been usurped by a semi-literate authoritarian who has seized executive power through a virtual coup against his own government. Zardari was elected to a ceremonial office, not an executive one. His principal achievement so far has been to make the era of Pervez Musharraf seem like a golden age. If she had been in charge, Benazir may have been able to mobilise her country’s youth by lifting the economy and offering a liberal horizon. Zardari’s ineffectual rule, wafting along compromise and mismanagement, can only create the space for a theocratic impulse that has been waiting to find its moment ever since Pakistan was born. Musharraf doubled the GDP of an insecure economy. Under Zardari, Pakistan is dwindling into a “basket case”, a term Henry Kissinger coined for the eastern half of united Pakistan. While Bangladesh is leaving that stigma behind, Pakistan is entering the vortex of the begging bowl.

    Military chaos opened the door for the Taliban in Kabul. Could economic chaos open the door in Islamabad? Has Pakistan begun to realise that faith-based nationalism is not synonymous with peace?

    The Frontier and North Punjab, the principal catchment areas of the Taliban, have had a Muslim majority for perhaps a thousand years. It is not widely known that Mahmud of Ghazni’s territories extended to what is roughly the line of the Indo-Pak border today. (This fact is not lost on terrorists who want to use Pakistan as a base from which to launch assaults on the heart of India.) But this area was never a single-faith entity. Hindus and later Sikhs created, along with Muslims, a dynamic shared culture that blossomed through partnership. The presence of the other also became an antidote to puritanism of any hue. The region was ruled successively by Muslims, Sikhs and Christians. No ruler, not even Ghazni, drove Hindus and Sikhs out. It was only after 1947 that the region became a single-faith hegemony, and from that point a breeding ground for theocratic militancy.

    The power of a minority is rarely acknowledged by those who seek to turn it into an enemy. A minority is the yeast that enables the national flour to rise. Hindus and Sikhs were the yeast of the North West Frontier and Pakistani Punjab just as much as Indian Muslims are the yeast of Hindu-majority India. Their existence was a daily lesson in co-existence. Their absence has shifted the gears of social evolution and driven the people into rancid and arid territory.

    Will the answers be more optimistic than the questions? That too remains a question.





    Window on Pak Press: ‘Swat deal not sign of weakness’

    18 02 2009

    Source: Indiatoday

    As the liberals inside Pakistan and the Western governments felt that the Zardari-Gilani government has fallen into the deadly Taliban trap by signing the deal with the militants to allow Sharia law to be imposed in the Swat Valley, the two leaders clarified that it (the deal) should not be seen as a ‘sign of weakness’. The newspapers on Wednesday splashed the meeting between President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani to review the Swat peace deal and hoped it would pave the way for permanent peace in the whole country.

    The Dawn, Daily Times among others said that the two leaders were of the view that the deal signed with Tehrik Nifaz Shriat-i-Muhammadi (TNSM) should not be construed as a ‘weakness’ as it was inked to restore peace for benefit of local people.

    Daily Times quoting President Asif Ali Zardari said the implementation of the Nizam-e-Adl Regulations 2009 in Malakand division will not affect the government’s policy on the war against terror, President Asif Ali Zardari said on Tuesday. During a meeting with visiting Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, he said the agreement between the Taliban and the NWFP government was one part of an overall strategy for peace, a private TV channel reported.

    Dawn explained that there have been mixed reactions from different quarters within the country and the international community over the deal. Some have termed it a ray of hope in restive Malakand Division and eventually in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) but some consider it a defeat for the government and security forces who. They say, are bowing their heads before militants and allowing them to implement their self-styled Shariat (Islamic laws) in the area.

    According to Dawn, the President told Chinese newsmen that the government was pursuing a multi-dimensional policy in the war against terrorism and using economic, political and military options to eliminate the menace of extremism and terrorism. However, he added that, limited resources were compounding problems for the government.

    He was of the view that force alone could not win the war against terrorism. “Maintenance of peace in Fata and the NWFP is the foremost responsibility of the government and providing protection to people is a challenge,” Zardari said.

    But the Daily Times said Pakistan has gambled that an offer to implement Sharia in parts of the northwest will bring peace to the troubled Swat Valley, but analysts fear any lull won’t last long and appeasement is likely to embolden the Taliban.

    Western officials fear Pakistan is taking a slippery road that would only benefit Al Qaeda and the Taliban, but Pakistani authorities believe the alternative of using overwhelming force on people who are, after all, Pakistanis poses a greater danger. The central government has said the Sharai Nizam-e-Adl – or the judicial system governed by Sharia – would be implemented in the Malakand division of NWFP, which includes Swat, unless the guns fall silent.

    Islamic Law – Part of Constitution: Dawn also reported that the US State Department said on Tuesday that there’s provision for the Islamic law in the Pakistani constitution and the government’s decision to introduce religious laws in the Swat Valley was not an issue for anyone outside Pakistan. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was equally careful when asked to comment on an agreement between Pakistani authorities and the Swat militants that allows for the implementation of sharia in the valley.

    She told reporters in Tokyo that the United States was studying the agreement and was trying to understand the Pakistani government’s ‘intention and the actual agreed-upon language. But the secretary warned that ‘activity by the extremist elements in Pakistan poses a direct threat to the government of Pakistan as well as to the security of the United States, Afghanistan and a number of other nations not only in the immediate region.’

    The News on the other hand said the US State Department spokesman said, “We are in touch with the government in Pakistan, we are discussing the issue, but that is all I have for you at the moment.”

    The News also reported that NATO too has expressed concern on Tuesday after Pakistan signed a pact with TNSM to introduce Islamic law in the Swat valley. “We would all be concerned by a situation in which extremists would have safe haven,” Nato spokesman James Appathurai told a news briefing. Nato heads an international force battling Taliban militants in Pakistan’s neighbour Afghanistan and Appathurai said he did not know if the pact would make its task more difficult. However, he added: “It is certainly reason for concern.”

    But peace was still elusive in the militancy-ravaged valley. The Nation reported as many as eight people including two assailants were killed and 17 others got injured, many of them critically, when a bomb planted in a car blew up outside the house of Union Nazim Bazid Khel, Faheemur Rehman, in Badabair area here Tuesday, police said. As many as eight people including two assailants were killed and 17 others got injured, many of them critically, when a bomb planted in a car blew up outside the house of Union Nazim Bazid Khel, Faheemur Rehman, in Badabair area on Tuesday, police said.

    The blast occurred a day after the NWFP government signed a peace deal with pro-Taliban militants in Swat. The blast damaged outer walls of the Nazim’s house and two neighbouring homes, besides two other cars, however, the nazim remain unhurt.

    The deceased included Zar Muhammad, Ali and Qari Khalid, while the names of the killed attackers could not be confirmed till the filing of the report. The attackers were killed when people sitting in the residence of Faheemur Rehman opened fire at them.

    The police the local people had apprehended three suspected persons who were being interrogated. The police also said that no one had claimed the responsibility for the attack so far. Around 15 to 20 kg explosive had been used in the blast, he added.

    The other side of the story: Meanwhile, Dawn headlined an Associated Press story as “Pakistani Taliban militants publicly flog an alleged narcotic smuggler in Charbagh in Pakistan’s troubled Swat valley”

    The story said: Pakistan has gambled that an offer to introduce Islamic law to parts of the northwest will bring peace to the troubled Swat valley, but analysts fear any lull won’t last long and appeasement will embolden the Taliban. Western officials fear Pakistan is taking a slippery road that will only benefit al-Qaeda and the Taliban, but Pakistani authorities believe the alternative of using overwhelming force on people who are, after all, Pakistani posed a greater danger.

    The central government has said the Sharia Nizam-i-Adl, or the judicial system governed by Islamic sharia law, won’t be implemented in the Malakand division of North West Frontier Province, which includes Swat, unless the guns fall silent.

    The Taliban announced a 10-day ceasefire on Sunday, while the NWFP government has said that while the military will remain deployed in Swat, there won’t be any offensives, only reactive actions.

    Amnesty International estimates that between 250,000 and 500,000 people have fled their homes since late 2007, when the Taliban revolt began in Swat, an alpine region 130 km northwest of Islamabad. Tens of thousands have fled since August last year after an earlier peace deal broke down.

    Public Beheadings: Known as Pakistan’s ‘Switzerland’ and once a popular tourist destination, Swat has become associated with sickening sights.

    People in the scenic valley witnessed public beheadings and summary executions by Taliban fighters administering their brand of justice.

    Bombs have targeted security forces, schools have been torched as part of a campaign against female education, and aid workers running immunisation programmes for children have been chased away by militants.

    “If peace comes through this agreement, then we wholeheartedly accept it. After all, we’re Muslims and want Islamic system,” said Mohammad Naeem, a teacher in Mingora, the main town in Swat, whose own school was destroyed.

    Analysts, however, see the pact as little more than a tactic to buy time, as the government seeks a firmer foothold in a region over which it had lost control.

    They fear reluctance to permanently deal with reactionary forces will lead to greater problems later on. That has certainly been Swat’s history in the last two decades.

    “I think this is going to be another blunder by the government,” said Khadim Hussain of the private Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy. “There may be a lull for awhile, but I think the government will again be trapped in more fighting. There will be more violence.”

    Monday’s agreement was the third such pact signed by Pakistani authorities with Sufi Mohammad, a radical cleric who began a violent campaign for the enforcement of Islamic sharia law in the region in the 1990s.

    The first agreement provided for the appointment of a Qazi, or an Islamic jurist, to assist a judge in deciding disputes in line with Islamic injunctions, though the jurist’s advice was non-binding.

    In the second pact signed in 1999, the advice of the jurist was made binding though it was never enforced.

    The latest accord, sets time limits on how long a court can take to decide a case, and establishes a designated appellate bench, meeting two key desires by the people for better justice.

    Analysts say the government may be trying to drive a wedge between hardline followers of the elderly Mohammad and even more radical militants led by his young son-in-law, Fazlullah.

    Bad precedent? They said: It is a risk.

    Even if the laws being brought are far softer interpretation of sharia than the harsh Taliban version, giving ground to religious hardliners would set a ‘bad precedent,’ analysts said.

    It could convince the most irreconcilable militants that their violent campaign was working.

    “The present Talibanisation is not just a movement for enforcement of sharia,” Asad Munir, a former military intelligence official who served in NWFP and adjoining tribal areas wrote in a Pakistani daily. “The mullahs want power, authority and a defined role in decision-making in the social system of Pashtun society.”

    Pakistani authorities have struck a number of deals in the past with militants in the tribal areas, known sanctuaries for al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Generally, the violence dies down for awhile and then flares again. Analysts didn’t foresee Fazlullah and his fighters staying quiet for long.

    “The militants are not going to give up their control…They will be getting more capability to launch more strikes, more violence if the agreement does not work,” Hussain said.





    8 killed in Pakistan bomb blast

    18 02 2009



    2/17/2009 2:01 PM ET

    (RTTNews) – 8 people, including two terrorists, have been killed and 16 others wounded in a car bomb explosion outside the home of a government official in Pakistan’s volatile North West Frontier Province (NWFP) Tuesday.

    Reports quoting the police said the terrorists were apparently targeting the mayor of Bazidkhel near the city of Peshawar, who was campaigning against the Taliban. He survived the attack unhurt.

    The terrorists, who tried to escape after detonating the bomb hidden in a car parked outside Mayor Fahim-ur-Rehman’s residence, were shot dead by local people.
    A young girl was also reportedly killed in the blast.

    Monday, a Taliban group agreed to ceasefire in the Swat valley on condition that the government in NWFP enforces Islamic Sharia law in the restive region.

    by RTT Staff Writer





    Pay-up time

    12 02 2009

    Source: Frontline
    NIRUPAMA SUBRAMANIAN

    Pakistan: None of the first steps of the Obama administration has given the kind of unconditional reassurance that the Pakistanis want.

    SHERIN ZADA/AP

    A MAN CARRIES his elderly mother on his back as the family flees from the troubled Swat valley on February 1 as fighting between the militants and the security forces escalates.

    THE bad news arrived quickly. Just three days after the Obama inauguration, the new United States administration made it plain to Pakistan that the winds of change sweeping America would not travel as far the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, at least not in the way that the rulers in Islamabad desired. If anything, the relationship might grow more difficult. The message came riding on two missile attacks on suspected militant compounds, within hours of each other, on the evening of January 23: one in North Waziristan and the second in South Waziristan.

    The number of people killed in the attacks may have been 20. It is likely that there were both civilians and militants among the dead. It has always been impossible to verify such information. In Pakistan, the question is not so much if Al Qaeda operatives were among the dead. The missile attacks, launched from unmanned Predator aircraft, generically known as drones, are seen as violations of the country’s air space, territorial integrity and sovereignty.

    There have been more than 30 such attacks since August 2008. Despite the Pakistani government’s protests against such incursions during the days of the Bush administration, the attacks continued, increasing in frequency and appearing to gain in precision. It led to the widespread belief that Pakistan’s civilian government was complicit in them. A Washington Post report in November 2008 said the Pakistan People’s Party-led government had given the Bush administration the green signal to carry out such attacks in the tribal areas. The understanding, according to the Post, gave Islamabad the right to protest against the attacks to keep domestic public opinion satisfied. Obama’s Defence Secretary Robert Gates told a congressional committee recently that the drone attacks would continue and that the decision had been conveyed to the Pakistani leadership.

    The government has strenuously denied any secret understanding with the U.S. on the attacks. From President Asif Ali Zardari to Prime Minister Yusouf Raza Gilani to Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, all Pakistani leaders have made the point that the missile attacks were “counter-productive”: they fanned the flames of militancy that is eating the region – when civilians get killed, their fellow tribesmen, looking for revenge, swell the ranks of the Taliban and pro-Al Qaeda elements.

    Pakistan’s influential media even went so far as to advise the government to stop the drones militarily, and, for a few days last year, the Pakistan Air Force flew sorties over the tribal areas in a sort of show of force. But as Qureshi once told reporters in his hometown Multan, when they asked him why the country could not stand up to the drone attacks in the same way that they had dealt with the alleged air space violations by the Indian Air Force in the wake of the Mumbai attacks: “Pakistan cannot equate the U.S. with India.” An indication that there was a limit to how far the government could go in challenging the drones. This also became evident when drones attacked a target in Bannu, which is not a territory in the lawless tribal region known as FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Area) but a “settled” district in North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

    Some days before the Obama inauguration, Gilani told the National Assembly, the lower house of the Pakistan parliament, that the incoming administration would not carry out missile attacks inside Pakistani territory. That turned out to be an incorrect reading of the new U.S. administration’s intentions.

    In fact, none of the first steps of the Obama administration has given the kind of unconditional reassurance that the Pakistanis want from their patron country. In keeping with the new President’s campaign promise to focus on the “war on terror” in Afghanistan, his agenda for foreign policy, announced the day after his January 20 inauguration, gave top billing to Afghanistan and Pakistan, but not in the way Pakistan wanted.

    The agenda document spoke about refocussing American resources to deal with what the document described as the “greatest threat” to U.S. security: “the resurgence of the Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan”. It spoke of increasing troop levels in Afghanistan and asking the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) to do the same, while promising more money for economic development to the war-torn country. The new administration has said it will make the Afghan government “do more” in terms of cracking down on the illicit opium trade and on corruption. For Pakistan, the new administration has promised more “non-military” aid, while holding it “accountable” for security in the border region with Afghanistan.

    Hussain Haqqani, Islamabad’s Ambassador to Washington, told Geo television that if U.S. policy was not “positive”, Pakistan “will have to review its options”. He expressed the hope that President Obama would give a “patient hearing” to Pakistan’s concerns.

    The increase in non-military aid is expected to come via the Biden-Lugar Bill, a bipartisan draft legislation sponsored by Joseph Biden – now the U.S. Vice-President – and adopted by the Senate in September 2008.

    The Bill, which the House of Representatives is yet to take up – it lapsed with the inauguration of the new administration and will need to be reintroduced in the Senate – proposes tripling Pakistan’s non-military financial aid over the next five years in recognition of the need to stabilise the country’s economy and democratic institutions, making the bilateral relationship more oriented towards Pakistan’s people rather than its military. It also makes military aid conditional on greater accountability from the Pakistan security forces.

    Specifically, the proposed legislation authorises $7.5 billion over the next five fiscal years ($1.5 billion annually) under the Foreign Assistance Act. It also advocates an additional $7.5 billion over the subsequent five years, subject to improvements in the political and economic climate.

    ASIF HASSANAFP

    JAMMAT-E-ISLAMI ACTIVISTS demonstrate against the missile strikes after Barack Obama took over as President, in Karachi on January 25.

    It makes military assistance beginning in 2010, and new military sales beginning in 2012, conditional on certification by the U.S. Secretary of State that Pakistani security forces “are making concerted efforts to prevent Al Qaeda and associated terrorist groups from operating in the territory of Pakistan; are making concerted efforts to prevent the Taliban from using the territory of Pakistan as a sanctuary from which to launch attacks within Afghanistan; are not materially interfering in the political or judicial processes of Pakistan”.

    The increased non-military aid would address Pakistan’s contention that militancy must be tackled not by the military alone, but through economic development of the border regions, giving people education and jobs and “mainstreaming” them.

    Pakistan had also hoped that Obama’s promised special envoy to the region would be mandated to work with India as well to press for a solution to the Kashmir issue. During his campaign, Obama said in an interview that a solution to the Kashmir problem was vital for peace in Afghanistan. The reasoning: the Kashmir issue is the cause of Pakistan’s insecurity with India, leading to its continuing quest for “strategic depth” in Afghanistan through jehadist proxies. Therefore, a resolution of the problem is as vital for the stability of Afghanistan as it is for peace between India and Pakistan.

    In the event, the appointment of the tough-talking Richard Holbrooke as Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan caused disappointment in Pakistan that Obama had backed down, in the face of aggressive Indian diplomacy, from his resolve that the U.S. must help find a solution to Kashmir. But Pakistani leaders have continued to emphasise that Holbrooke’s mandate must be expanded to include India and Kashmir. In fact, the Foreign Ministry press release welcoming his appointment studiously avoided mentioning the two countries included in his mandate, stressing instead the word “region”.

    The concern in New Delhi is whether Holbrooke will lean towards Pakistan’s view of the Afghan crisis or whether he will lean on the Pakistan military to produce the keys that can unlock the puzzle. Accepting Pakistan’s position would be no less than accepting jehad and terrorism as legitimate instruments of foreign policy. Leaning on the Pakistan military, on the other hand, would amount to challenging the nature of the Pakistani state.

    Finally, the realisation that jehad is unviable has to come from within Pakistan, as it now has over the Taliban takeover of Swat. The picturesque valley in the NWFP, once a holiday destination for tourists, is now under the grip of a Taliban group under the leadership of Fazlullah, a mullah with extreme views who has thrown in his lot with the South Waziristan-based warlord Beithullah Mehsud.

    Fazlullah’s marauding militants run a virtual parallel government in Swat. They brook no defiance and have imposed their extreme version of Islam on the people, making men wear beards and salwars that must end above the ankles, and women wear the shuttle-cock burkha, which was once unknown in that part of the world. Disobedience means death, with the body hanging in the main square in Mingora, the big town in Swat. The chowk itself has come to be known as “khooni chowk” (bloody square) or “chowk zibakhana” (slaughterhouse square). The valley was known for its vibrant singing and dancing, but that has ended, and an estimated 300,000 people of the total population of 1.6 million people have fled the district. No elected representative from Swat has dared to step into his constituency in months.

    After a national outcry against the Pakistan Army for doing nothing to bring the situation under control, Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani visited the valley in a prelude to a fresh round of operations.

    But Pakistanis still tend to see the situation in Swat in isolation, as if it has no connection with the larger issue of jehadist militant groups raised by the Pakistani state for proxy wars in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

    These groups and their virulent ideologies are eating at the very vitals of the country, threatening to tear it apart politically and socially, while their actions abroad threaten to push Pakistan out of the comity of civilised nations.

    The message from Swat is that it is easy to start a jehadist war but containing it means a systemic overhaul that is not possible only by pasting a democratic face to the state. And in this lies the challenge for U.S.-Pakistan ties, as much as it does for the India-Pakistan relationship.•