repatriation
Reluctant return
The IDPs from Malakand region don't want to repatriate and become displaced again as has happened in the case of the people in Bajaur and Waziristan in the past
By Rahimullah Yusufzai
Military operations are continuing and more people are getting displaced. But at the same time some dislocated families are returning to Swat and other districts of Malakand division in a hope that the military has been able to push back the militants from certain places.

The curious case of Hafiz Saeed
The release of of JuD ameer has surprised many
By Amir Mir
The Punjab government's sudden move on July 15, 2009 to dissociate itself from the Hafiz Mohammad Saeed detention case in the Supreme Court of Pakistan was driven by the fact that the federal government lacks considerable evidence against the Jamaatul Daawa (JuD) ameer to convince the apex court to allow his continued preventive detention, thus making it difficult for the right-wing Sharif government in Punjab to yet again seek his house arrest for an indefinite period.

Taal Matol
People without power
By Shoaib Hashmi
University of the Punjab is the largest in the country, probably one of the largest in the Subcontinent. It was set up by the British 150 years ago and was initially under the University of Bengal, the Brits just having taken over the Punjab. It lorded it over hundreds of colleges all over the Punjab and was divided into two in 1947. But our part still remained huge.

issue
End of the story?
Threat of terrorism is not the only cause of the falling NWFP cinema industry. A detailed feature on the state of cinemas in the province
By Tahir Ali
The cinema industry in NWFP is one of the biggest recipients of the negative impact of militancy and terrorism. Currently under severe financial crisis, it is literally falling.

RIPPLE EFFECT
Where are the Swat
Taliban leaders?
By Omar R. Quraishi
The IDPs are on their way home -- though the percentage of those going back is not known. And for obvious reasons, the government is trying to put a positive spin on it. Several news reports suggest that many of the IDPs have simply refused to go back; that many of those living with relatives and friends not in camps have chosen to stay and that even some of those staying in camps have now chosen to go live with someone they know rather than return home. Their reasons are quite understandable: many towns of Swat still have curfew for much of the 24-hour day and markets have yet to function properly. There are many families who have sent a person or two back to their homes to first to assess whether it is safe and feasible for them to return home. And, again, who can blame them? Take, for example, a report of this past week where a policeman was beheaded in Matta -- although this time there was one significant difference: the police did not just run away but retaliated and killed some men who they thought were militants.

 

 

Reluctant return

The IDPs from Malakand region don't want to repatriate and become displaced again as has happened in the case of the people in Bajaur and Waziristan in the past

By Rahimullah Yusufzai

Military operations are continuing and more people are getting displaced. But at the same time some dislocated families are returning to Swat and other districts of Malakand division in a hope that the military has been able to push back the militants from certain places.

And in fresh developments that could only add to the confusing state of affairs, new armed groups and alliances are being formed and jirgas and lashkars constituted to take on the militants. The government in a desperate bid to turn the situation around is trying new ideas and methods to split the militants' groups and weaken powerful Taliban commanders such as Baitullah Mehsud.

As if we didn't already have enough Taliban groups, another one was reportedly formed in South Waziristan recently using the name of the slain commander Abdullah Mehsud. Surprisingly, it didn't include the faction led by Abdullah Mehsud's cousin Misbahuddin, who replaced his brother Qari Zainuddin when the latter was recently assassinated on the orders of Baitullah Mehsud in Dera Ismail Khan. He could be persuaded to join the group to make it strong and enable it to effectively challenge Baitullah Mehsud.

The new Abdullah Mehsud group is being led by one Ikhlas Khan Mehsud, also known as Waziristan Baba despite being 42-years old only and not very old as all Babas are supposed to be. The two other factions that have joined the new group are headed by Turkistan Bhittani, a former soldier who served with the paramilitary Frontier Corps and has been engaged in a deadly blood-feud with Baitullah Mehsud, and Tehsil Khan Mehsud. All these commanders have scores to settle with Baitullah Mehsud and are, therefore, happy to lend their services and seek government help to fight their common enemy. 

A decisive military action against Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan was delayed not only due to the need to unify the disunited anti-Baitullah Mehsud factions but also on account of the Pakistan Army's preoccupation with operations against the Taliban militants in Swat and elsewhere in the province. The government's hands were also full as it tried to cope with the challenge of looking after the needs of the internally displaced persons (IDPs). Displacing more people as a result of new military operations without providing adequate relief and rehabilitating those already uprooted couldn't be a good idea.

Already, a large number of people have been displaced from South Waziristan and North Waziristan due to fears that the military was planning a big operation in the two Taliban-infested tribal agencies. In fact, such fears grew when the militants, led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur in North Waziristan, unilaterally scrapped their peace accords with the government after accusing it of violating the terms of the agreement and began attacking military convoys. The Taliban militants in Wana, headquarters of South Waziristan, loyal to Maulvi Nazeer also scrapped their peace accord with the government and started firing rockets at the military camps in the area. And in the parts of South Waziristan inhabited by the Mehsud tribe, tension had started to build up even earlier and people had begun to move to safer places in Tank and Dera Ismail Khan when first President Asif Ali Zardari and then the NWFP Governor Owais Ahmad Ghani announced that military action was being taken against the Tehrik-i-Taliban head Baitullah Mehsud.

The displacement from the Mahaud tribal territory in South Waziristan was particularly high but there was no sign of any government initiative to provide relief to these IDPs. No camp was set up for these IDPs and no plans were announced to look after their needs. A committee set up by the Mehsud tribesmen to highlight the problems and needs of the IDPs lamented that none in the government or the army had come to their help. The displaced people from the two Waziristan were referred to as the children of a lesser God due to the stepmotherly treatment that they received from the government and the donors. 

This wasn't the first time that the IDPs from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) such as those from Waziristan complained of discrimination. Earlier, the IDPs from Bajaur and Mohmand tribal agencies putting up in the Jallozai camp in Nowshera district had complained that they were ignored and discriminated in the provision of relief goods, healthcare and educational facilities despite the fact that they were living in the same camp as the displaced people from Swat and rest of Malakand division who got a better deal. The ANP-led NWFP government was obviously keen to serve its own IDPS from Malakand division better. The upkeep of the IDPs from FATA was the responsibility of the federal government and the FATA administration led by the Governor. Also, there was a feeling that the people in Swat and other districts of Malakand division were displaced primarily due to the military action and thus it was the responsibility of the government to look after their needs so that they could be made the army's allies in the fight against the militants. The kind of sympathy seen for the IDPs from Malakand division, particularly Swat whose name was mentioned in the appeals for assistance to the displaced people, wasn't on display from the IDPs from Waziristan, Bajaur, Mohmand, Orakzai, Darra Adamkhel and other tribal territories. 

Meanwhile, the repatriation of the IDPs to Swat, Buner, Lower Dir, Shangla and other districts in Malakand region is continuing. It began on July 13 and is gathering pace. By July 21, the NWFP government said about 54,000 IDPs had returned to Swat, Buner and Lower Dir. The majority, totalling more than 47,000, returned to Swat, which saw the most displacement due to its bigger population and more intense fighting and bombing by the military. Those returning to their homes in Buner numbered more than 5,000. The number of displaced people going back to their villages in Lower Dir was negligible as the IDPs there mostly stayed within the district instead of coming down to Mardan, Swabi or other down-country districts.

However, this figure doesn't include the IDPs who left for their towns and villages prior to the July 13 when the government launched its repatriation programme and began providing transport to the displaced people at the relief camps for the journey back home. The provision of trucks and other vehicles to the IDPs was a good idea even though many families preferred to drive back in their own transport or rented vehicles for the purpose. The government would have won the goodwill of the people in Swat and elsewhere in Malakand if it had arranged transport when the residents were instructed to leave their villages and towns within a certain deadline. Paucity of vehicles, exorbitant fares, curfew and closure of roads and lack of direction and guidance at the time made the displaced people suffer. No wonder then that they showed bitterness to the government and the military and complained about the treatment meted to them at every opportunity.

The government is hoping that the pace of the repatriation would pick up in the coming days and weeks. Most of the IDPs were waiting to receive the Rs25,000 per family compensation package before deciding to return home. Others are waiting to hear about the security situation from their relatives and friends who have returned to Swat and other places prior to making up their minds about repatriation. Most of Swat district hasn't been cleared by the military yet and the IDPs from places like Matta, Kabal, Charbagh, etc have to wait for the government announcement regarding their dates of repatriation. Villagers from certain parts of Buner too want to be sure about improved security situation in their area before returning home. The IDPs from Malakand region don't want to repatriate and become displaced again as has happened in the case of the people in Bajaur and Waziristan in the past.

The government has also been slow in finalising and implementing administrative, judicial and other reforms in Swat and rest of Malakand division. The establishment of new tehsils has been announced, certain new police stations have been set up and policemen are now seen manning police posts, traffic stations and other places. But the courts aren't functioning yet and the line departments of the government haven't come on the ground. The civil administration and the judicial units must start operating to give confidence to the people. The politicians, particularly the assembly members and nazims, have to return and live among the people if they wish the affected districts to return to full normalcy. The military too has to clear the remaining areas from the militants and show evidence of its claims about the losses suffered by the Taliban. Only then would those opposed to the Taliban gather courage to feel confident to return to their homes and villages in Swat, Buner and Lower Dir.

 

The curious case of Hafiz Saeed

The release of of JuD ameer has surprised many

By Amir Mir

The Punjab government's sudden move on July 15, 2009 to dissociate itself from the Hafiz Mohammad Saeed detention case in the Supreme Court of Pakistan was driven by the fact that the federal government lacks considerable evidence against the Jamaatul Daawa (JuD) ameer to convince the apex court to allow his continued preventive detention, thus making it difficult for the right-wing Sharif government in Punjab to yet again seek his house arrest for an indefinite period.

As a three-member Supreme Court bench, comprising of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, Justice Sair Ali and Justice Jawad Khawaja, was hearing two identical petitions filed by the federal and Punjab governments against the June 3 release of Hafiz Saeed by the Lahore High Court, the Advocate General Punjab Raza Farooq surprised everyone in the court room by seeking withdrawal of the Punjab government's appeal. Stating that it was not possible to pursue the petition on the basis of the evidence that the Punjab government had against Hafiz Saeed, the Advocate General said he had instructions from the provincial government to withdraw the petition. Despite the fact that the appeal does not stand withdrawn as of now, legal experts have a unanimous opinion that the federal government will have no other choice but to let this happen if the Punjab government so desires.

Six months after being placed under house arrest by the Punjab government (which was actually acting under the instructions of the federal government), the Lahore High Court ordered the release of Saeed, saying the authorities had failed to justify his detention under the Maintenance of Public Order (MPO). Mr A. K. Dogar, the counsel for the petitioner argued before the court that Hafiz Saeed cannot be detained only to please the Indian lobby on the false propaganda that he is involved in the Mumbai attacks -- a bald allegation being levelled only to conceal the Indian security lapses.

Rejecting the government's contention that Hafiz Mohammad Saeed had been put under house arrest due to his alleged al-Qaeda and Taliban links and that he should remain behind bars in the interest of Pakistan and for his own security, comprising Justice Ijaz Ahmad Chaudhry, Justice Hasnat Ahmad Khan and Justice Zubdatul Hussain ruled that the government has no evidence of Hafiz Saeed's links with al-Qaeda or his involvement in any anti-state activity except for the Indian allegations that he had been involved in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.

On May 30, 2009, hardly three days before the LHC verdict was announced, the Attorney General of Pakistan Latif Khosa had presented documentary evidence to the three-member Lahore High Court bench, linking the JuD to al-Qaeda and Taliban and pleading that the JuD ameer should remain under house arrest. Khosa further told the court that Hafiz Mohammad Saeed was detained after the United Nations declared his group a terrorist outfit in the wake of the Mumbai attacks. He pleaded that the action of the UNSC Sanctions Committee obliged the Pakistan government to act against the JUD leadership.

When the LHC judges did not agree with his contention and asked him whether the government had any independent evidence of its own Latif Khosa met the three honourable judges privately, according to sources, and told them that one of the culprits involved in the Mumbai attack -- Commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi -- has known links with Hafiz Saeed. He pleaded that the lone surviving Mumbai attacker Ajmal Kasab has already admitted to being a Pakistani national and having been trained for the 26/11 attacks by Lakhvi, the LeT's chief operational commander and a close associate of Hafiz Saeed. According to sources, Latif Khosa then showed the judges what he claimed was independent evidence of the JuD's links with al-Qaeda.

Interestingly, however, the LHC judges wanted to see a copy of the government notification under which the al-Qaeda had been declared a terrorist organisation. Two days later, on June 1, 2009 the Attorney General went back to the court and told the judges that the Pakistan government had not yet declared al-Qaeda a terrorist organisation. The court subsequently told the Attorney General if that was the case, Hafiz Saeed's having links with al-Qaeda was no offence under the law of the land. The LHC released its detailed verdict on June 6, 2009, making public the grounds on which it had ordered the release of the JuD chief. One of the grounds said: "It would be relevant to mention here at this juncture that the security laws and anti-terrorism laws of Pakistan are so far silent about the fact that al-Qaeda was a terrorist organisation".

The Lahore High Court judgment further added: "Even after the perusal of the documents presented by the government, we do not find any material declaring that Hafiz Saeed's detention was necessary for the security of the petitioner and there was no evidence that the petitioner had any links with either al-Qaeda or any other terrorist movement. The material provided by the government to the court in chamber against petitioners was mostly based on reports of intelligence agencies which had been obtained after their detention, but even then, there was no solid evidence or source to supplement the reports".

"As regard the contention of the Attorney General of Pakistan that the petitioners are being blamed to be involved in Mumbai attacks, not a single document was brought on the record showing that the JuD or the petitioners were ever involved in the incident. As far as the allegation in the UN resolution that Hafiz Saeed and Zaki Lakhvi had links with al-Qaeda, we have found that in the earlier judgment, as reported in Mamoona Saeed Vs the Government of Punjab etc (PLD 2007 Lahore 128), it was observed that there was no evidence against the JuD for its links with al-Qaeda".

About the legality of the detention orders, the LHC bench observed as per Article 10 (5) of the Constitution, it was mandatory on the detaining authority to provide grounds for detention on which the order had been made within 15 days. However, the relevant authority made clear violation of explicit provisions of the Pakistani Constitution, which deprived the JuD petitioners from assailing their detention before the competent forum and also to know the allegations against them".

Concluding the verdict, all three judges on the bench observed with a unanimous view that the writ petition in form of habeas corpus was maintainable as prima facie the Pakistan government had no sufficient grounds to detain the petitioners for preventive measures. "So far as resolution of the UN is concerned, there was no matter before this court about its vires and the federal government can act upon the same in letter and spirit, if so advised, but relying upon the same their detention cannot be maintained as it was even not desired thereby. Hence the writ petition is allowed and the impugned detention orders are quashed", the three-member LHC bench had observed in its verdict.


Taal Matol

People without power

By Shoaib Hashmi

University of the Punjab is the largest in the country, probably one of the largest in the Subcontinent. It was set up by the British 150 years ago and was initially under the University of Bengal, the Brits just having taken over the Punjab. It lorded it over hundreds of colleges all over the Punjab and was divided into two in 1947. But our part still remained huge.

For many years the premier educational event in the country was the declaration of the Matriculation result of the University until, for some reason, they divided it into dozens of Secondary Boards. Now the largest event is the graduation result of the university. Last week they announced this result and the province was all agog -- especially because all the newspaper headlines announced that all the six top positions, for the BA the BSc pre medical and pre-engineering, were garnered by females.

There were pictures of the six girls and their families on all the front pages of next day's newspapers. It was music to my heart as I have been carrying on for years that the girls are leaving the boys far behind. I started noticing this about fifteen years ago when I saw the girls leaving the boys standing.

It came to a head a few years ago when we had the convocation of Government College, the largest among the colleges affiliated with the University. We'd been trying for three years to get the Premier to come, and it fell through each year until we were constrained to have the formal convocation for three years.

The college has twenty post-graduate departments which offer Master's degrees for their own subjects and the student who places first each gets a gold medal. Over the three years there were sixty candidates for the gold medal, one from each department. When the time came I got all sixty candidates to stand for the audience to see. The applause started slowly and then built up as everyone noticed that among the 60 people who stood seven were boys and 53 girls. The BA results bear me out!

Anyway, after the ceremony they got all the top position holders together in the University Hall and called everyone including the Chief Minister to laud them. When they called the Chief Minister to make a speech, the power went off. Everyone waited in the dim emergency lights until those went out also.

Next morning, the university authorities announced they wanted an inquiry into the power situation, appointed a three-member committee and gave them three days to report. I have no idea what the report said but the whole episode sums up the current story of the country -- there are brilliant young men and women, and no power!

 

issue

End of the story?

Threat of terrorism is not the only cause of the falling NWFP cinema industry. A detailed feature on the state of cinemas in the province

By Tahir Ali

The cinema industry in NWFP is one of the biggest recipients of the negative impact of militancy and terrorism. Currently under severe financial crisis, it is literally falling.

Opinions may differ on the exact cause of downfall of the industry. Cinema owners, contractors and spectators were unanimous in their view that growing insecurity, poverty, cable network, complaints of obscenity, costly tickets, had together contributed to the decreased number of cine-goers in recent years.

"Lack of quality movies, ban on import of Indian movies in the past, mobile, internet, computers, dish antenna and lack of official support have also hit the industry hard," said Qaiser Khan, a Mardan-based cinema contractor. According to him, the booming real estate business and public taxes and duties exerted on different sub-sector of the industry have also devastated the prospects of its revival.

Acknowledging the importance and state of affairs of the declining, rather disappearing, cinema industry, the NWFP government in February this year had announced a reduction in the entertainment tax (ET) on cinema houses by 50 percent. A proposal was prepared by the provincial Excise and Taxation Department to this effect. It however could not materialise; the government reportedly backtracked on its commitment.

Minister of Culture, NWFP, Syed Aqil Shah was recently reported as having said that the provincial cabinet didn't entertain the proposal. But when TNS contacted him, he denied having issued any such statement. "I support giving every possible help to revive the industry. My department will certainly push for cut in ET to help revive the industry. This would also help provide cheap recreation facility to the people. We would be doing what we could to rejuvenate the sick cinema industry," he said.

A cinema owner in Peshawar confided that half the ticket money went as Entertainment Tax. Shah, however, declined to share the exact amount of ET on cinema ticket but said the industry should be given maximum concession in the ET.

Apparently the federal government too had decided some time ago to cut the ET but then kept silent on the issue. The Punjab government had brought down the ET on cinema houses to zero level. Sindh has also made some positive adjustments to its procedure for ET on cinema tickets.

The amount fetched by ET to the NWFP exchequer has fluctuated. According to the whitepaper 2009 released by the Frontier Finance Department, the government collected Rs3.50 and Rs5.15 million in financial years 2004 and 2005. In 2006, the amount astonishingly surged to Rs19.98 millions (mind you MMA was ruling the province at the time). The next year it again dropped to Rs4.73 million. In 2008, the budget envisaged a target of Rs15million in ET but later it was revised to Rs3 million. ET estimates in the budget 2009 have been projected at just Rs4 million. The last two figures indicate that budget makers had set a marginal target under the consideration that government was to curtail the tax.

Cinemas are not fetching enough money for their location and size of their land. They are demolishing the structures one after the other and are building multi-storey plazas, petrol pumps and other commercial centres on the sites.

According to relevant laws, the land or building once used for cinema or any other entertainment purposes cannot be used for construction of any other commercial building on nor could their designs be approved.

Two movie theatres in Mardan -- Spinzar and Nandara -- have been demolished. Zafar Ali, a contractor, said the two were located in heart of the city but earned little revenue. He said the decision could have been forced by profit-considerations. "For example, Spinzar is spread over a five canal area but it earned the owner just Rs.50, 000 a month. It could fetch hundreds of thousands a month in rent if a market is built here," said Zafar.

He was of the opinion that cine-goers were on the decline due to fear of terrorism, profusion of net-cafes, cable network and the notoriety associated with the cinema-houses that left no room for families to come to cinema-houses. This, he said, means empty houses and little profit that drew their owners to pull them down and shift to other businesses.

But Mardan is not the only city to have witnessed the phenomenon. Peshawar, the capital city of the NWFP has also seen five cinema houses -- Ishrat, Palwasha, Falakser, Novelty and Metro brought down by their owners to replace them with big plazas and markets. Another one Tasweer Mahal was lost to the deadly suicide blast that killed over 20 people last month.

Eighty percent cinemas have been closed and replaced by plazas, petrol pumps, medical centres and other commercial centres. Thousands of people associated with the industry have been rendered jobless. Millions are deprived of cheap entertainment.

25 of the 38 cinema houses in the province have been abandoned and the rest are also expected to meet the same fate shortly -- in the face of ever increasing threats by militants and the profit urge of owners that invariably warrant shifting to another business.

Swat had two cinemas and both were closed a few years ago when things started getting worse there. Kohat had also seen all of its cinemas closed down. In Nowshera, four of the five cinemas are gone. Two cinemas -- Tajmahal and Indus -- in Ghazi, Raja Palace in Manshera, AMC cinema in Abbotabad, three cinemas -- Regal, Baghesukoon and Saleem theatre -- in Bannu, two theatres, Garrisons I and II, in Dera Ismail Khan, Artillery cinemas in Tank, Wana and Razmak, two cinemas in Mardan, Capital and PAF in Kohat are no more available for screening films.

NWFP has 24 districts but most of them -- Swabi, Charsadda, Haripur, Buner, Kohistan, Chitral, Dir Upper/Lower, Shangla, Laki Marwat and others -- didn't have movie theatres. The entire tribal belt -- excluding South Waziristan -- also had no cinema to entertain the locals.

Tariq ascribed the receding number of cine-goers to growing extremism and terrorism in the region. "You know there have been incidents of terrorism in cinema houses. Extremists also hurl threats of suicide bombing to cinema owners. Anything could happen. Why would people risk their lives by coming to cinema houses especially when they could entertain themselves with any kind of movies in their homes."

Taj Ali Khan, who used to visit cinema houses frequently, is no more interested in doing so. He said cinema houses had faulty sound system and squalid seating arrangements. "Most cinemas today have too high ticket rates. Why would you buy a ticket in Rs100 to watch a film you can otherwise watch on DVD by spending just Rs 30 in the luxury of home?" remarked Khan.

"Recently a terror group warned an influential family in Peshawar -- that owns cinema houses notorious for screening indecent movies -- to avoid showing films in their theatres, shift to other business or risk suicide attacks," remarked a worker in a cinema house in Peshawar wishing anonymity.

Shopkeepers near the sites said their businesses had suffered a lot following their closure. The shoemakers, Kabab-makers and grocery stores are the most affected. Saleem Khan, 80, who runs a grocery store near Golden cinema Mardan, said he had been there for thirty odd years but his income had never been that meagre as these days. "I would easily earn Rs500-700 in the past. Now with drop in the number of spectators, I make less than Rs200 daily," said Saleem. He said only one or two shows daily are screened these days as against four in the past.

A cinema manager in Peshawar, who wished not to be named, said it was hard to get a ticket in cinema just 20 years ago and you had to get it in the black to enter the hall in time. "A film manufactured with a budget of Rs0.4 million would make around 30 million rupees easily. Now an average Pashto film consumes around five millions but it hardly gets the producers any income as cinema contractors or owners are in no position to give them their due," he said.

"People would also visit Peshawar from other cities for films. Only 20 to 30 persons come while there is a room for 400-500 persons in our cinema. We give millions to the government in ET. Please notice that we give Rs20 per ticket as ET to the government. We also have to pay thousands in power and gas bills per month and also have to pay to the workers," said the manager.

He said the industry was in dire need of public support. "Tax exemption for five years as well as discount in power and gas bills must be given to cinema industry before it is too late," he said.

An official from the NWFP ministry of culture, who declined to be named, admitted that the cinema industry needed support from the government but said that the industry should also make concerted efforts to revive its golden period. "They demanded permission of screening Indian movies and it was granted to them. The step, however, didn't rejuvenate the cinema industry as was being expected. Cinema owners would have to ensure various facilities in their theatres to attract more people to cinema houses."

 

RIPPLE EFFECT

Where are the Swat

Taliban leaders?

By Omar R. Quraishi

The IDPs are on their way home -- though the percentage of those going back is not known. And for obvious reasons, the government is trying to put a positive spin on it. Several news reports suggest that many of the IDPs have simply refused to go back; that many of those living with relatives and friends not in camps have chosen to stay and that even some of those staying in camps have now chosen to go live with someone they know rather than return home. Their reasons are quite understandable: many towns of Swat still have curfew for much of the 24-hour day and markets have yet to function properly. There are many families who have sent a person or two back to their homes to first to assess whether it is safe and feasible for them to return home. And, again, who can blame them? Take, for example, a report of this past week where a policeman was beheaded in Matta -- although this time there was one significant difference: the police did not just run away but retaliated and killed some men who they thought were militants.

Then there is the issue of the Swat Taliban leaders. At least half a dozen times the government and the military have claimed that senior leaders of the Swat Taliban have either been killed or wounded. At least three to four times it has been claimed separately that Mullah Fazlullah has been wounded, even grievously, that forces have circled his hideout and that it is only a matter of time before he gives up, or before they get him -- or that he dies. The same is the case with his dreaded right-hand man -- Mullah Shah Dauran -- it was claimed some weeks ago that he had been badly injured in shelling and that he too was close to death. When these claims were made for the last time (they have been made several times over the course of several weeks), a Taliban spokesman scoffed at them and said that all the Taliban leaders were safe and suggested that they had all retreated for tactical reasons. Besides, if either Fazlullah or Shah Dauran are dead, where are their bodies?

And the same question needs to be asked of other senior commanders as well, since not a single of those who were listed in a government advertisement, complete with a mug shot and an announcement that head money running into millions of rupees was being placed on them, have yet to be either arrested or detained. In fact, it was during this time that at least one English newspaper (The Nation), reported that Fazlullah was said to have fled to Waziristan and was in fact seen in the company of Baitullah Mehsud in North Waziristan, attending a meeting (with his other lieutenant, Muslim Khan) where several senior members and an emissary of Mullah Omar were present. This report was never denied and it was a few days after its publication that the interior minister started claiming that Fazlullah had been cornered. However, this was also around the time that the military was carrying out an operation against Baitullah and his stronghold in South Waziristan so it could well be that -- if at all -- Fazlullah had been cornered along with Baitullah in Waziristan. And while all this was going on, the Daily Times reported on July 18 that residents of Swat had reported hearing a sermon by Fazlullah on FM radio -- although the report did say that the residents were not sure whether it was a live broadcast or a pre-recorded one, although Fazlullah was reported as sounding positively docile in it.

Whatever the reality, the fact that not a single senior leader of the Swat leader has been either arrested or killed will obviously make many Swatis wonder whether the initial seriousness of the military operation has been commandeered by other apparently more pressing 'interests' (a euphemism for terms like 'strategic depth' and 'proxy wars'). Clearly, it seems that there are still some people within the military establishment who think that the jihadis can be controlled, manipulated and directed towards our eastern and western neighbours and that this policy will not have bad consequences for Pakistan itself. Obviously, they are living in Cuckoo land because they cannot see the mayhem and destruction this has already caused Pakistan and its citizens over the past few years; they are also bent on giving India a 'moon torh jawab'. Furthermore, almost on a daily basis, ISPR itself gives figures for militants killed and of fighting in the Malakand and Swat area and on July 21 a fierce battle was reported near Mingora by this newspaper in which an army major was killed as well. So isn't it a bit early for the IDPs to be heading home? And isn't it premature for the government and the military to be saying that these areas have been cleared of militants and that it is now safe for the IDPs to return?

***********

According to a website detailing the list of casualties by country of all nations participating in Operation Enduring Freedom, the Marriot tblast killed at least two US army soldiers. The first was Matthew O'Bryant, a junior cryptologic technician, and a third class petty officer of the US Navy, serving in its Information Operations Command based in the US state of Maryland. O'Bryant was a native of Duluth, Georgia. The second soldier killed was Rodolfo I Rodriguez, a major serving in the US Air Force's 86th Construction and Training Squadron. He was a native of El Paso in Texas. Both were listed as being killed by 'hostile fire' and their place of demise was listed as Islamabad. The date -- written in the American way 09/20/08 -- coincided with the date of the attack on Marriott.

he writer is Editorial Pages Editor of The News. Email: [email protected]

 


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