This is what elections do -- open up a window of opportunity for the people to change their rulers if they so desire. Clearly, the situation that developed in NWFP in the last eight years was not to the liking of the majority of the people of the province.
There came a time when the distinction between the tribal belt and the settled areas vanished and a place as serene as Swat, not sharing any border with Afghanistan, became a big trouble spot. 20,000 Pakistani troops are still deployed in Swat to restore peace. The problems in FATA are of course much bigger, with a not strictly local impact and where Pakistan is forced to act on strategic compulsions. No wonder the number of troops is Sawt multiplied by four.
What was being seen as a piecemeal attitude of Pakistani security forces that alternated between talks and force and talks -- remember those peace accords with Taliban commanders in both Waziristans -- led to something like a final showdown with the militants and a spate of bomb blasts and suicide attacks in reaction.
Security forces were targeted in their most protected zones like never before. Till the point that there emerged a consenus, even before the election, that a military solution is perhaps not the best solution for this tide of extremism and militancy.
It wasn't long before the people of the province, in Feb 2008, rejected all those who represented the old order and voted in those who talked of peace.
The April 2 briefing of the army top brass to the political forces and the atmospherics thereafter take into account the urgent need for this kind of political engagement and appear to lay the initiative at the doors of politicians. This is an ideal moment and the political leadership, despite holding divergent solutions, could possibly agree on giving peace a chance and put the military option on hold. The government may well proceed on its promise of bringing the tribal areas into the country's constitutional scheme alongside.
For a change, the army is willing to take guidelines from the elected government and serve as an implementing agency
By Rahimullah Yusufzai
The military threw the ball in the court of the ruling politicians by arranging briefings for them on its operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and Swat and updating them on the level of the terrorist threat in the country. Now it would be waiting for the PPP-led coalition government to give its input and guideline on how to tackle this situation while seeking to peacefully bring to an end the conflict.
It was unusual on the part of the Chief of Army Staff to come to the Prime Minister's House in Islamabad and arrange a comprehensive briefing for politicians. Normally, political leaders have been going to the General Headquarters of the Pakistan Army in Rawalpindi to be briefed and even guided on crucial issues concerning national security. Discreet meetings between generals and politicians seeking power and favours are also the norm in a country that has been ruled for most of its existence directly or indirectly by the military.
This was the second time in recent political history that the Army commanders briefed politicians on important security issues. The last time such a briefing was arranged in 1988 by the then prime minister Mohammad Khan Junejo, who remained unheralded and under-estimated despite some of his good deeds. The issue then was the Geneva accord which Pakistan had agreed to sign despite some opposition by General Ziaul Haq to facilitate the withdrawal of the war-weary Red Army troops from Afghanistan.
Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, however, deviated from the norm by going to the official residence of newly-elected prime minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani along with his aides instead of summoning him and leaders of the PPP and its allied ruling parties to the GHQ. In fact, the newspapers reported that it was General Kayani's initiative to hold the consultative process with a view to devising a policy that had the backing of both the military and the democratically elected government. A report by Qudssia Akhlaque in The News referred to it as the '3-Step Policy Review' opening with a briefing on the security situation by the army and followed by a meeting of the political leadership to formulate the country's anti-terror policy. The third step was to bring together the political leadership and the army's top brass again so that the Chief of Army Staff is apprised of the policy to be pursued. General Kayani would be asked to give his input before the new policy is finalised and made operational.
General Kayani led the briefing and introduced the subject before Major General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, director general, military operations (DGMO), took the floor and gave a detailed presentation on the ground situation and the status of the military operations and threats to Pakistan's security. General Pasha, it may be recalled, has twice in recent months given much-needed and keenly anticipated briefings to the domestic and foreign media.
In his opening remarks, General Kayani reportedly stressed the need for convergence in policy objectives and strategy between the military and the politicians. While arguing that military action could succeed once backed by political leadership, he said the army as an implementing institution would execute the policy formulated by the elected government. This must have been music to the ears of the politicians at the briefings because until now the military commanded by General Pervez Musharraf had been making policies and the ruling politicians were required to do the implementation and also take the flak in case of failure. For a change, the army was willing to take guidelines from the elected government and serve as an implementing agency. It would be great if this situation lasted for a while because it is too good to be true.
The invitees to the briefing included PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, PML-N leaders Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif, ANP president Asfandyar Wali Khan, JUI-F head Maulana Fazlur Rahman, parliamentary leader of Fata MNAs, Munir Khan Orakzai, defence minister Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar, foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, minister for frontier regions Najmuddin Khan, adviser to prime minister on interior, Rahman Malik, and Pakistan's ambassador to the US, Maj Gen (r) Mahmood Ali Durrani. Reports said the participants took active part in the discussion that followed the presentations by army commanders.
Five days after the briefing at the Prime Minister's House, Islamabad, a similar event was arranged in Peshawar at the Chief Minister's Secretariat. Corps commander Peshawar, Lt Gen Masood Aslam, went there to brief newly-elected chief minister Ameer Haider Khan Hoti and heads of the ANP and its allied ruling parties. ANP provincial president Afrasiyab Khattak and his party's Senator Zahid Khan, PPP NWFP head Rahimdad Khan and top government functionaries attended the briefing. According to an official handout, the corps commander, chief minister and leaders of both ANP and PPP highlighted the fact that talks were the only solution to rid the province and the adjoining tribal areas of militancy and extremism. They emphasised that use of force could not resolve the complex issues facing the province and the country. The 37-year old chief minister said the jirga system would be revived in the troubled districts to find a negotiated solution to the conflicts there and peace jirgas formed at local level to bring an end to violence.
Chief minister Hoti followed this up by constituting a six-member ministerial committee to constitute a jirga of elders, elected representatives, Ulema and other influential figures belonging to Swat and rest of Malakand region for initiating dialogue with the militants. The committee was given two weeks to give recommendations to the provincial cabinet so that the jirga could be formed and contact established with rebel Swati cleric Maulana Fazlullah and his band of militants. This was the first concrete step taken for holding dialogue with the militants but the effort was confined to Swat, where Pakistan Army has deployed more than 20,000 troops and is still engaged in military operations to regain full control of the valley and restore normalcy.
However, a far bigger problem exists in Fata, particularly in South Waziristan, South Waziristan, Bajaur and Darra Adamkhel, which are beyond the control of the ANP-led coalition government in the NWFP and are under the administrative control of the President of Pakistan acting through the Governor of the province. That is where the new policy being formulated by the PPP-led federal coalition would be tested. The ANP, secular and nationalist, is being given an important role to try and defuse the situation in the NWFP and Fata but Maulana Fazlur Rahman's Islamic-rooted JUI-F cannot be ignored as it still enjoys some support in the tribal areas. The two parties are on the opposite side of the fence, the ANP publicly opposed to Taliban and supportive of President Hamid Karzai's government in Kabul and the JUI-F keen to see the return of Taliban to power in Afghanistan after the withdrawal and defeat of US-led coalition forces. As part of the PPP-headed coalition government at the centre, they make strange bedfellows and it is possible that rifts could emerge between them and other allied parties in due course of time.
As prime minister Gilani was quoted as saying during the April 2 briefing by the army's top brass in Islamabad, the menace terrorism and extremism would be tackled "through a comprehensive strategy based on political engagement and economic development backed by credible military element." And in case of need the army would be called for assistance. This is the gist of the new policy that is under-consideration right now in the power corridors of the federal capital. This means that the military option would be kept in reserve as peace is given a chance. It may or may not work but this is a sensible approach and should be given primacy even if there are setbacks in the early phase of the peacemaking effort. Allowing the elected representatives and the parliament to lead the way and deflecting the unwanted US and Western pressure is a pragmatic solution to a compex issue. It would also give respite to the military and save it from being labelled as a mercenary force fighting America's never-ending 'war on terror'. The country cannot afford disagreements on such a vital issue between the army and the elected government, which itself appears divided with prime minister Gilani and his PPP describing it as Pakistan's own war and the PML-N leadership terming it as someone else's war.
Tribals hold divergent views on the prime minister's announcement regarding repealing the FCR but agree that it is unacceptable in its present shape
By Yousaf Ali
The announcement made by Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani in his maiden speech on the floor of the National Assembly regarding abolishing the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) -- a law promulgated by the Britishers way back in 1901 to control the people of tribal areas -- has met with a mixed response. If, on the one hand, it has been appreciated by many, there are circles that have expressed their reservations.
It is generally believed that the announcement was made in haste and without any homework, so to speak. The prime minister had no alternative in his mind as he had not discussed the matter with those in the know, nor with the parliament members who hail from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).
It was due to a lack of preparation that the issue was brought up before the newly formed federal cabinet whereupon a committee was appointed to analyse whether the law should be abolished altogether or amendments should be introduced in its 'black and draconian' sections.
Apparently, the intention was to put an end to the increasing militancy in tribal areas and to overcome a feeling of vehemence and deprivation among the tribesmen.
However, according to political and social circles, the law has nothing to do with militancy. There are certain sections that are oppressive for the tribal folk and give unlimited powers to the political agents. Proper amendments in the law or its replacement with another system in accordance with the wishes of the people of the tribal areas would certainly serve to appease the volatile situation in the region.
The tribal people are opposed to a complete abolition of the FCR, because they think that the judicial and administrative system in vogue in other parts of the country would be extended to Fata and their free status would cease to be -- something that they would not want to happen.
Fata Grand Alliance, a Musharraf-backed representative body of elders from the tribal areas, was prompt to react to the PM's announcement. President of the body Engr Mohammad Zaman Dawar addressed a press conference in Peshawar Press Club, saying that the decision had deeply shocked him "like other tribesmen who want reforms and amendments in the existing FCR and not its complete abolishment".
Zaman was of the view that the step was undemocratic and against the wishes of the tribesmen, as neither the elected representatives of tribal areas nor their elders were taken into confidence before going ahead with the announcement.
He added that if the government was sincere about bringing a positive change in the lives of the tribesmen, it should make amendments in the FCR in line with the recommendations of the FCR Reforms Committee in 2006. It was unfortunate that President Musharraf failed to implement the recommendations of the committee that comprised tribal elders, lawyers and seasoned journalists with Justice (r) Ajmal Mian as its head.
Fata Lawyers Forum, a body of legal fraternity belonging to the tribal areas, put its weight behind the announcement of the prime minister and suggested that the FCR should be replaced with Fata Regulation 2006 Reforms, suggested by the FCR Reforms Committee.
The president of FLF, welcoming the decision of the premier, said that with the abolition of the FCR, judicial and administrative powers enjoyed by the political administration in tribal areas would be separated and the people of the region would get justice.
As regards the rising militancy in tribal areas, the FLF representatives were of the opinion that the issue could be resolved if the army withdrew from the territory and the concerns of the tribal people were addressed through dialogue and the traditional 'jirga' system.
They also sought an independent assembly or council for the tribal areas where the tribal people could take their decisions on their own.
The million-dollar question when dealing with the FCR is as to what is the alternative. One solid replacement at present is the Fata Regulation 2006 Reforms towards which the tribal representatives have already pointed their fingers.
However, many of the tribal people want the system to be replaced with Islamic Shariah. The tribesmen and some religio-political parties working in the tribal belt hold the view that the Islamic system should be introduced in place of the FCR and the tradition jirga system should be replaced with an elected one. These remarks were expressed by Qazi Hussain Ahmad, central president of Jamaat-i-Islami and a host of tribal representatives at a jirga that was held in Peshawar a few days back.
The FCR as it was introduced by the Britishers in 1901 is a mixture of executive powers and traditional customs and norms. It is widely termed as a 'black and draconian law' and believed to be a set of suppressive rules that deny the tribal people their basic human rights.
The most notorious sections of the regulations are 21-24 that deal with the issue of collective territorial responsibility. These are particularly problematic clauses which have empowered the political agent to punish an entire tribe or clan for crimes committed on its territory by imposing fines, arresting individuals, seizing and even demolishing property anywhere in the country.
Under the FCR, the political agents enjoy the powers of the district magistrate while the assistant political agents are vested with the power of additional assistant magistrates.
A lot of tribesmen are still confused over whether the FCR should be repealed or not, as they believe this would mean the extension of the Pakistani laws into the tribal society. This is not acceptable to them. Though, one thing is clear: they want an end to the unlimited powers of the political agents and support the institution of the tribal jirga to become all powerful. They believe that jirga is the only institution that provides for justice to the tribesmen.
Doctors, teachers, journalists and all the other members of civil society have been forced to leave their homes
By Javed Afridi
The past eight years have seen a great deal of unrest and human suffering in the tribal region, particularly in the North and South Waziristan agencies, but the plight of the professionals in these areas remains a forsaken truth.
The launching of a full-fledged military campaign by state forces in mid-March 2004 and the indiscriminate shelling on non-combatants led to a large-scale displacement of tribesmen from the violence-hit areas. Hundreds of families were forced to move to the neighbouring towns or put up at open spaces in the adjacent Tank district. Lawlessness and the failure of the government to establish its writ in the region also forced thousands to flee. Continuous shelling and bombing destroyed a large number of houses besides causing several civilian casualties. Tribal elders from Wana, Mir Ali, Tank and other parts of NWFP received hundreds of families from different parts of the troubled areas. The Mehsud tribesmen from Tank and Dera Ismail Khan made most of the arrangements for the displaced people. In this scenario, professionals such as doctors, teachers and journalists who opted to stay back had to accept any of the three options available to them -- leave the area, give up their profession or establish terms with the militants.
The last option, which also included the provision of monetary and professional services to the militants, however, was only possible at the expense of annoying the authorities and very few dared to go for it.
Journalists were an exception where a majority of the community members opted to establish terms with the militants that meant they had to take extra care while reporting events.
"We were asked not to use terms such as 'terrorists' or 'infiltrators'," says an anonymous tribal reporter from Miramshah, the agency headquarters of North Waziristan Agency, talking to TNS. "Earlier, we were barred from using the word 'militants' and directed to write 'mujahideen' instead."
The journalist revealed that during their long-winded discussions with the militants they were warned by Taliban not to use strong words in their newspaper stories.
"We told them we're mere employees of the organisations that we represent, and that we're not policy makers," he said.
Journalists' reports from the troubled areas, therefore, tended to be harsher towards the government and at times landed them in trouble, too. Hayatullah is a case in point. A photojournalist, Hayatullah was working for the Islamabad-based Urdu daily, Ausaf, as well as for the European Press Photo Agency when he was abducted on Dec 5, 2005. His body was recovered in Mir Ali on June 16, 2006.
According to his younger brother, Ihsanullah Khan Dawar, Hayatullah was murdered because he had reported the US planes' killing of the North Waziristan people. "He released pictures of the remnants of the US-made Hellfire missiles that had killed Al Qaeda operative Hamza Rabia in North Waziristan," said Insanullah, "Later, he told us he could be killed for releasing the pictures."
In addition to the journalists in the region, doctors and teachers are two other communities that wished to continue in the Waziristan agency despite all odds but a lot of them could not.
People like Dr Sultan Nawaz Kundi (Physician), Dr Sadiqullah (Eyes specialist) and Dr Pukraj (gynecologist) were forced out of the areas for one reason or the other.
The principal of the only government college for women in Miramshah was expelled from the area after the militants raised objections to her 'conduct'. The facility was bombed after she left, and the college remains closed ever since.
A schoolteacher from the Barki tribe of South Waziristan, along with his fellow tribesmen, refused to move to a safer place when heavy battle started between militants and the security forces early this year. The reason for his refusal was his attachment with his 80 years old mother who was too frail to walk. It was only after the fighting intensified that he decided to leave. However, he could not save his mother who passed away while he was carrying her on his shoulders on his way to Tank district on foot.
It has become a trend to declare any bomb blast a suicide attack and link it to the militant groups in Waziristan to avoid further investigations
By Javed Aziz Khan
Predictably enough, the Lahore police has alleged that the deadly attack on lawyers outside Lahore High Court and the blasting of the Naval College were masterminded in Waziristan tribal agency. Waziristan is, for all practical purposes, the safest haven for militants operating across the country which might be the reason why the investigators do not think twice before placing the blame of any terrorist activity on the people of these restive tribal agencies. A 15-year-old slip of a boy, Aitzaz Shah recently made headlines when he confessed to being a part of the back-up team tasked by his commanders in Waziristan to kill Benazir Bhutto. He was arrested along with two accomplices from Dera Ismail Khan while they were on their way to the Agency. The family of Aitzaz in Mansehra, however, denied the involvement of Shah in BB's assassination in Rawalpindi on Dec 27, 2007.
Earlier, the involvement of the militants of Darra Adamkhel and Waziristan was feared in the Nishtar Park blast in Karachi where dozens were killed and several injured thanks to a blast during a religious congregation. There have been a number of incidents that were linked to the Islamists of Swat and several others that were referred to as a reaction to the Lal Masjid operation where dozens of innocent seminary students had been killed.
Recently, the Lahore Police nabbed two alleged terrorists -- Shehzad and Nadeem -- for facilitating the terrorists behind the suicide attack outside the Lahore High Court on Jan 10 and the attack on Naval College on Mar 4. The two suspects, according to a Lahore police chief Mohammad Iqbal, were members of the banned organisation, Jihad-e-Islami, and had links with militant groups in Waziristan. At least 22 persons were killed and over 60 others injured in the first attack outside the LHC building while another six were killed and several others wounded in the suicide bombing on Naval College.
Lahore has witnessed at least four major blasts in the past few months where hundreds were killed and countless others injured. The most fatal was the suicide attack in the building of Federal Investigation Agency on Mar 11 where over 60 persons, including several officials of the agency, were killed.
The Baitullah Mahsud-led Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan has categorically denied involvement in the murder of the (late) two-time prime minister of Pakistan and other terrorist attacks. However, investigators are still probing the Waziristan factor on priority basis every time a terrorist incident takes place.
"Yes, we were curious about the Waziristan connection in the attack on the Italian restaurant in Islamabad last month as well as other terrorist incidents in the twin cities over the past two years," a senior investigator, requesting anonymity, told TNS from the federal capital. He also admitted that in many terrorist incidents the attackers were found to be members of the banned jihadi groups and they hailed from the settled districts.
"The suicide bomber who carried out the attack in the house of the former federal minister Amir Muqam is said to be from Azakhel town of Nowshera, while the woman who got killed in an attack on a military check post in cantonment also belonged to the settled areas," an official of the Frontier Police opined.
He added that the suicide bomber that struck the jirga in Darra Adamkhel on Mar 2 was also local and had no connections with Waziristan.
Referring to the killing of Punjab's female minister for social welfare -- Zill e Huma Usman -- at the hands of Mohammad Sarwar in Feb last year, the official said that in many cases ordinary people or members of outfits operating in different parts of Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan were involved.
Keeping in view the post-2004 situation in North and South Waziristan agencies, one cannot rule out the key role of the militants from this restive part of the country in terrorism attacks in other parts of the country. However, it has become a trend to declare any bomb blast a suicide attack and link it to the militant groups of Waziristan to get rid of further investigation. As mentioned by a former general of the Pakistan Army who also served as interior minister in the centre that Karachi and the cities of Punjab are far away from Waziristan and the reach of a person from that restive tribal area to these parts of the country was quite a difficult job, though it is not impossible.
The ruling coalition in the Frontier has vowed to give peace a chance while recommending to the Pak Army to hold back its military operations
The recently-installed, ANP-led coalition government in NWFP took its first step towards a negotiated solution of the conflict in Swat by forming a six-member ministerial committee on April 8 to initiate a dialogue with militants through a reactivated traditional jirga comprising elders, elected representatives and Ulema, or religious scholars.
The decision to this effect was taken in the first meeting of the provincial cabinet. It followed the cabinet's resolve to give top priority to the restoration of peace in the province. The urgency of the situation was evident from the two-week time-limit given to the committee to decide the modalities of the jirga and come up with recommendations to the cabinet. Once the recommendations are approved, the jirga would be expected to contact the underground leadership of the militants for starting a dialogue aimed at peacefully ending the conflict in Swat district. Prior to that, the committee would have to take the military into confidence about providing guarantee to the militants' representatives that they would not be arrested or harmed during the period of negotiations. Some kind of a ceasefire would have to take place to let the talks proceed unhindered.
Chief minister Ameer Haider Hoti, at 37 the youngest to hold this position in the history of NWFP, had been repeatedly talking about holding a dialogue with militants and using the traditional jirga system to bring peace to the militancy-hit parts of the province. Those senior to him in the ANP including Asfandyar Wali Khan too have been stressing the need for peacefully resolving the issues of violence and militancy. ANP's coalition partner, PPP, was also in favour of dialogue with the tribes and other stakeholders. It was, therefore, understandable that the ruling coalition in the Frontier would give peace a chance while recommending to the Pakistan Army to hold back its military operations.
The NWFP cabinet has two senior ministers, which is unusual and has been dictated by the demands of having a stable coalition government, and both would collectively head the six-member ministerial committee. ANP's Bashir Ahmad Bilour and PPP's Rahimdad Khan in their capacity as senior and most influential ministers were tasked to constitute a representative jirga not only from Swat district but also rest of the erstwhile Malakand division. Four ministers from the Malakand region including Swat were named members of the committee. Their input would be necessary to identify members of the jirga and establish contacts with leaders of the militants.
By winning seven out of the eight provincial assembly seats and one National Assembly seat in Swat in the February 18 general elections, the ANP is under pressure to bring peace to the scenic valley and come up to the expectations of the electorate. It could win the eighth NWFP Assembly seat as well when by-election necessitated by the death of PML-Q candidate and former minister Asfandyar Amirzeb in a bomb explosion is held in May. The second National Assembly seat from Swat was won by PPP candidate, Syed Alauddin. In fact, the PPP bagged more assembly seats than the ANP in the Malakand region and would, therefore, be equally anxious to deliver on its promises to the voters and make Swat and rest of Malakand a peaceful place again.
Though Swat was the epicentre of the Maulana Fazlullah-led militancy and suffered heavily due to acts of violence by militants and as a consequence of military operations, others parts of Malakand region too faced fallout of the volatile situation in the valley. Taliban fighters affiliated to the faction of Tanzim Nifaz e Shariat-i-Mohammad (TNSM) headed by Fazlullah also briefly occupied Alpuri, headquarters of adjoining Shangla district, and received reinforcements and support from Upper Dir, Lower Dir and Buner districts and Bajaur and Malakand agencies. The original TNSM, banned by the government after its founder and Fazlullah's father-in-law Maulana Sufi Mohammad took several thousand fighters on a misguided adventure to fight alongside the Afghan Taliban against the US military and its Northern Alliance allies, still has pockets of support in these places, particularly in Bajaur where Maulana Faqir Mohammad remains defiant and ready to battle the government. Thus it would be wise to form a jirga with representatives from all of Malakand region even though the immediate focus would be to defuse the situation in Swat, where more than 20,000 troops are still deployed after having launched military operations last winter.
The provincial government's writ runs in Swat and other districts in the so-called settled area while the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), which includes Bajaur and six other tribal agencies, are managed and controlled by the federal government through the Governor of NWFP. It is, therefore, obvious that the ANP-PPP coalition government would be required to first resolve the problems in Swat before contributing to a solution of the more serious and hitherto intractable conflicts in tribal agencies such as South Waziristan, North Waziristan, Bajaur and Darra Adamkhel. Swat valley doesn't border Afghanistan and this single factor has resulted in reduced US interest in the conflict there. The Americans are more concerned about the situation in the two Waziristans and rest of the tribal region as they believe the al-Qaeda leaders including Osama bin Laden are hiding there and Taliban militants based in the area are easily able to cross the border to attack soldiers from the US, Nato and Afghan armies. Any negotiated political solution in Swat would not alarm the US and its allies and they are unlikely to object to such a move. But it would be an altogether different story if the new, democratically elected PPP-led coalition government at the centre attempted a similar political settlement of the conflict in tribal areas over the objections of the US.
It also needs to be mentioned that the MMA government and the subsequent caretaker administration of chief minister Shamsul Mulk also held jirgas to peacefully end the conflict in Swat. The MMA was later accused of not doing enough and failing to take timely action to resolve the problems in Swat. In fact, the MMA components such as JUI-F and Jamaat-i-Islami were blamed for allowing Fazlullah to continue unlawful activities that emboldened and strengthened him and his armed followers. The caretakers didn't take decisive steps because they didn't have the mandate and time to undertake a serious peacemaking effort. However, the caretaker government in NWFP did shift the jailed Maulana Sufi Mohammad from the prison in Dera Ismail Khan to a public hospital in Peshawar and also pondered releasing him to reduce Fazlullahís influence and defuse the situation in Swat.
It wasn't done and the new, elected government and the military authorities would now have to decide whether it would be useful to free him. They would also be required to devise a package of socio-economic reforms for the uplift of the violence-hit area and decide the timing of the announcement of amendments in the Shariah regulations that were enforced in Swat and rest of Malakand division following the previous TNSM-led armed campaign in 1994 and subsequently in 1999. The new, amended law is said to be ready but was delayed to deny Fazlullah the credit for having forced the government to enforce Shariah in the area. The ANP and PPP, both secular parties, may want to further amend the Shariah law and even scrap it altogether. But that may not happen because enforcement of Shariah is a popular demand. More importantly, it was the PPP government in the first place that enforced the semi-Shariah law in Swat and Malakand region in the 1990s. The ANP, on its part, along with the PPP and other parties backed the MMA's Shariah package for NWFP after the 2002 elections.
-- Rahimullah Yusufzai
Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan has hailed the government offer for talks
Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has welcomed the recent offer by the government for a peaceful resolution of their differences, yet warned of bloodshed if the government continued with what they term Gen Musharraf's pro-US policies.
However, analysts believe the traditional jirgas which held talks with militants in the past would have little impact if they did not include all the stakeholders including people from civil society and the Pakistan Army in the proposed dialogue with militants or Taliban as they preferred to be called.
TTP, which is an association of all militant organisations operating in all the seven tribal regions along the Pak-Afghanistan border as well as in 24 settled districts of North West Frontier Province (NWFP), is headed by noted militant commander Baitullah Mahsud.
It may be recalled here that the government placed the blame of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto on Baitullah Mahsud, though the latter repeatedly denied his involvement, arguing that since she had not come into power nor had she acted against Taliban till then, there was no point in making her a target.
The TTP was formed on Dec 15, 2007, and launched attacks against the security forces and government installations after their demand for halting military operations in the tribal areas and Swat valley was turned down by the government.
Their main demand was to end military operations in North and South Waziristan tribal agencies as well as Swat, but they also demanded the release of Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi, Imam of Lal Masjid, Islamabad.
The newly elected federal government has offered to resolve the outstanding disputes through negotiations, while the NWFP government has already formed a committee comprising two senior ministers and four provincial ministers tasked to form jirga for talks with militants in the picturesque Swat valley.
Rahim Dad Khan, NWFP senior minister and Pakistan People's Party provincial chief who is also one of the two heads of the committee, told TNS that the committee would include people from all political parties and Ulema (religious leaders) to seek their proposals how to restore peace in the region.
Later, he said, the jirga would hold talks with militants' leaders for a durable and peaceful solution to the conflict.
He said that the army help could be sought if use of force was required to restore peace in the region.
The senior minister avoided to comment when asked as to how did he envisage bringing peace to the troubled tribal regions of South and North Waziristan, Bajaur, Mohmand, Kurram and Khyber tribal agencies, saying that these areas were beyond their administrative control.
Also, he didn't answer when asked what action the government would take against Maulana Fazlullah whom President Gen (r) Pervez Musharraf had himself accused of killing Benazir Bhutto.
Militants led by Maulana Fazlullah, also known as Mullah Radio, a name he got because he was operating an illegal radio station for the promotion of his religious agenda, welcomed the government offer and vowed to work for the restoration of peace in the troubled territory.
Maulana Fazlullah's spokesman, Sirajuddin said they were ready for talks even with Gen Musharraf, but he complained that the government instead of finding a peaceful solution to the conflict had further complicated matters by sending in more and more troops armed with heavy weaponries to kill innocent people.
He demanded that the government should withdraw security forces from Swat and release all the people detained during the course of the military operation.
Sirajuddin also said that the government would be required to announce Shariah (Islamic rule) in Malakand and compensate all the people who suffered in military actions.
Maulvi Omar, a central spokesman of TTP, also hailed the government offer for talks and assured of their full support.
"We are looking forward to holding talks with the jirga as we are the scions of this soil and would never wish to see bloodshed here. But the government would have to make sure that it does not repeat the pro-US policies of the previous government," he told TNS.
However, political analysts feel the militants could become stronger if the jirga members did not include Army officials in their talks.
They also suggest that the government should strengthen the civil society and traditional jirga members to play their roles in their respective areas so that the militants cannot surface again.
Brig (r) Mahmud Shah, ex-secretary security Fata, suggested the government should dislodge local militants from foreign fighters who, he said, were the actual players of the game.
"Their actual masters are these foreigners and our government should seriously work towards separating both of them. Otherwise these jirgas would have no role to play in resolving the conflict," he declared.