“Congratulations! you have the honor now”, a sarcastic friend from Waziristan told me in the aftermath of the newly selected chief of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP — the South Asian nation’s largest terrorist network), Mullah Fazlullah’s announcement to have Dir (a mountainous northwestern region in Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan’s Kunar province) as the new headquarters of the TTP. According to media reports, Mullah Fazalullah has already arrived in Dir (which is divided into two administrative districts — the Upper Dir and Lower Dir).
The Pakistani media reported in recent days that Fazlullah had made it to Waziristan from Kunar in northeastern Afghanistan where he was hiding after being driven away, or ‘being shifted’ as some cynics suggest, from Swat (the picturesque mountainous region) during the last military offensive in Swat in 2009.
The comeback of one of the most brutal commanders of the TTP and his latest design to shift his headquarters to Malakand division, has raised new fears on the one hand and reinforced the usual conspiracy theories on the other. While ordinary people like us in Swat dread this development as a reinforcement of the fear of Fazlullah’s terror, some local ‘political analysts’ see it an ‘arrangement’ of the Pakistan’s powerful spy agency the Inter Services Intelligence to warn the PTI and JI government in the province (Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf of former cricket hero Imran Khan and Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami run a coalition government in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa province) against their decision to withdraw troops from Swat and rest of Malakand division.
The gory brutalities of the Taliban aside, conspiracy theories are still abound about militant violence in Swat even three years after the successful military operation in the region.
“We, the Urdu press people, regard Taliban and the military the same and do not differentiate between these two forces while you, writers in English, think otherwise and regard the Taliban a separate entity”, a local Urdu daily columnist exhorted me recently.
“In the dark they used to be Taliban while in daylight these same men wore army uniforms,” an elderly social activist told this writer. Such confusion is often seen in parts of Swat which is most unfortunate in the middle of Pakistan’s war against terrorism. It consequently gives the terrorists an edge over the military and public.
When Mullah Fazlullah was made TTP chief, the people of Malakand division, especially of Swat, were generally shocked because most of them had tasted the brutality of this man, who was then known as “Mullah Radio” in Swat. (Fazlullah got his radio fame for the fiery speeches he made on his mobile FM broadcasts across the Swat Valley during the Taliban’s rise in the area).
At his becoming the TTP leader; and his making it to Waziristan and now to Dir from Afghanistan; the question being raised is how Fazlullah managed to scape the Operation Rah-e-Raast back in the summer of 2009. People shudder to recall his reign of terror in those days when prolonged curfews, outages and shortages had made people’s lives miserable. The question of his escape to Afghanistan still haunts the minds of the people of Swat. Wasn’t it a blunt failure of the country’s powerful security agencies?
“We will leave Swat for good if it is again ‘allowed’ for the Taliban. We will leave it for ‘Pakistan’ and its military. Enough is enough”, a taxi driver switched off the music in his cab and sighed in Mingora, the largest city of the valley.
“Enough” should now be the call from all and sundry to end this ‘game’, which has so far left over 50,000 Pakistanis dead and cost the country’s economy hundreds of billions of dollars.
In the name of ‘national interest’, ‘strategic depth’, ‘national security’ or whatever these ghosts are called, the use of these proxies must now be stopped. Whether the Taliban and affiliates are lured to talks or cured by force, the government must bring permanent peace to Pakistan.
Many people in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa regard the talks with Taliban no more than a tactic to save ‘Punjab’ (Pakistan’s largest province and home to the largest number of parliamentary seats) from their attacks. They assert talks with Taliban by the Punjab-dominated government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the military is not meant to end the ‘terrorism franchise’ but to convince the Taliban so that they may not launch terrorist attacks in Punjab. (Many in Pakistan question the diversity of Sharif’s government whose cabinet has no representation of ethnic Pashtoons and other communities).
It seems to have weight-age. For instance sit-ins and protests against the NATO supply (to Afghanistan) are ferried through Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa province, ignoring the fact that the supply route goes all through Sindh and Punjab provinces. Imran Khan, another powerful leader from Punjab with roots in Waziristan, has chosen Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa as battleground for his politics on drones here.
The people of Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa have always fallen prey to Pakistan’s internal and regional politics because of their province’s geographical location and backwardness. These influences are often reflected in political choices of their own or those imposed on them through electoral frauds. They ‘voted’ for the Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) — a procivil-military establishment alliance of religious parties pampered by General Pervez Musharraf to prolong his rule — and endured its misrule for five years. Next came the Awami National Party, a progressive secular anti-thesis of right-wing MMA; and more recently Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI). The PTI government apparently was less prepared for governance that’s why it has so far failed to remove its impression of having a more ‘opposition’ than government outlook.
On the contrary Punjab has demonstrated more permanent political choices. Voters in Punjab have consistently elected more or less same faces despite the dramatic rise of PTI in the province. This is, perhaps, the reason that major national and international games are played in this region.
In the presence of terrorists in their backyard conspiracy theories and resentment will naturally grow ubiquitously in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa. As long as Pakistan adheres to its dubious policy to tackle the ‘terror game’ the people of smaller provinces like KP and Balochistan will be further alienate from Pakistan.
Zubair Torwali is a human rights and development activist born, raised and based in Pakistan’s picturesque Swat valley. He is a researcher and has been contributing to all the major English newspapers in Pakistan. He has been awarded by the Human Rights Watch for his commitment to freedom of expression during the militant insurgency in his home valley Swat. He is also a voice of the linguistic indigenous minorities living in northern Pakistan. Currently he heads Institute for Education and Development, a Swat-based civil society organization working in education and language research.