The problem with drones and the flourishing system of esteem among the Taliban

The article in today’s NYTimes by Eric Schmitt and Jeane Perlez [“Strikes Worsen Qaeda Threat, Pakistan Says” ] tells us some useful details about the struggle with the Taliban-AlQaeda in Pakistan. The Pakistani officials are saying that the drone strikes have had their effect but they also generate more volunteers for the cause. What I wonder about is whether the Pakistan objections by the military are not mere admissions of how much trouble they are in, now that they have created a “monster” and nourished it all these years. The article helps me understand the system of esteem at work in the tribal areas where the Taliban are flourishing. And it turns out that Arab zealots are key in it.

Some significant statements in the article.
• “But they express growing alarm that the drone strikes in particular are having an increasingly destabilizing effect on their country. They also voiced fears that the expected arrival of 17,000 American troops in Afghanistan this spring and summer would add to the stresses by pushing more Taliban fighters into Pakistan.” [Does this suggest that they haven’t actually minded much that the Taliban were able to operate so freely inside Afghnistan?]
• There is “no cessation to the attacks by Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban aimed at undermining Pakistan’s government.” [This is the reason for their worry.]
• “Pakistani officials suggested that Al Qaeda was replenishing killed fighters and midlevel leaders with less experienced but more hard-core militants, who are considered more dangerous because they have fewer allegiances to local Pakistani tribes.” [From what we already know the Taliban are not tribal and have worked hard to undermine tribal authority – killing 48 tribal leaders a few months ago. Dozens if not hundreds of tribal leaders have been assassinated by the Taliban, so this claim seems unconvincing; the Taliban have never been responsive to tribal controls.]
• “Al Qaeda was using sophisticated Web sites and sleeper cells across the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia to enlist young fighters who were less patient or inclined to plan and carry out far-reaching global attacks and who had instead redirected their energies on more immediate targets and on fomenting insurgency in Pakistan, the officials said.Qaeda leaders have also increased their financing and logistical support for the Taliban and other militant groups, having come to see the survival of Qaeda sanctuaries as dependent on the ability of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan to hold territory.” [What seems to be new here is that the new focus of AlQaeda attack is Pakistan. No wonder then that the Pakistanis are complaining. But to blame drone attacks for this seems disingenuous, as they have harbored AlQaeda-Taliban for so many years. It is true, though, and we can sympathize, that they now have a monster on their hands.]
• The complaint is that “the missile strikes cause too many civilian casualties and that they hand the militants a propaganda windfall.” [This is hard to deny. Air power in its various forms seems effective technically but socially and politically it seems consistently to create anger on the ground. From here it would seem that without an effective thrust on the ground the use of drones is likely to continue. So the Pakistani army has a case.]
• “The Pakistani intelligence assessment found that Al Qaeda had adapted to the blows to its command structure by shifting “to conduct decentralized operations under small but well-organized regional groups” within Pakistan and Afghanistan. Al Qaeda has given up training sites and shifted to mobile training teams, which Pakistani intelligence officials say are still effective. They often consist of just a few bomb-making or tactical experts schooling a handful of fighters in a private house, . . . “ .
• “The flow of new recruits comes largely from countries like Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Somalia and Uzbekistan, Pakistani intelligence officials said. They often travel through Iran, enter Pakistan through Baluchistan Province and then move onto Waziristan for training, . . .” [That this is being published indicates how well know it is. The one source of recruits that seems curious is Uzbekistan. These recruits are creations of Karimov’s repressive measures there; anyone he distrusts he calls an Islamist, a Wahhabi. So is he creating his own “Wahhabi” movement up there? Note that the training is centered in Waziristan. This has been a major target of the drone attacks.]
• “Uzbeks affiliated with Al Qaeda carried out the brunt of the militants’ operations against civilians and the army in Swat, . . . The Uzbeks, who were driven across the border from Afghanistan with the Taliban and Qaeda after 2001, have been particularly ruthless as they helped their allies secure sanctuary in the tribal areas. They have now been unleashed on Pakistani soldiers in Swat, . . . .”
• “Maulana Fazlullah, the leader of the Taliban in Swat, was backed by about a half-dozen Arab fighters from Al Qaeda who served as the “main motivators,” . . .
• The Arabs who traveled from the Qaeda bases in Waziristan across the tribal belt to Swat are held in high esteem by Pakistani Taliban fighters, the agent said. “The Arabs motivate the local guys, who see them as people who have forsaken all their money for jihad,” [The Arabs thus appear to be wealthy, or are believed to be so by the Pakistani Taliban.]
• [A social movement is an esteem system and it seems that Arabs are now much admired among the Pakistani Taliban. Arabs considered wealthy and zealous for their faith are inspiring young Taliban to follow their example. In fact, the Arab influence in the movement in Pakistan seems to be a critical feature of the situation the Pakistani military have to deal with. Note the following concluding statements in the article:] “the Arab leaders of Al Qaeda were intent on promoting their fighters up through the ranks to overcome the loss of leaders like Mr. Kini, . . . The Arabs have a strategy to elevate people to a higher position, . . . If someone is killed there is always a replacement. The training goes on.”

Taliban are hunkering down?

The BBC report on affairs in Pakistan [2/24/09] says that the unilateral ceasefire announced by Faqir Mohammad, deputy of Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, was because “Pakistan is our country and the Pakistan army is our army”. . . . “We don’t want to fight the army, but some elements have been creating misunderstandings between us.” He also claimed that there were no foreign fighters in Bajaur. Now, it seems, the Taliban are ready to grant that they live in part of Pakistan, a new admission.

Apparently also a strategic one, given the circumstances. The report says that “The announcement comes a day after the security troops dislodged militants from the strategic Bachina heights. . . . and also “two days after the head of the TTP, Baitullah Mehsud, announced a new strategic alliance with two important non-TTP groups in Waziristan. One is led by Mullah Nazir in South Waziristan and the other by Hafiz Gul Bahadur in North Waziristan.” The deals in Waziristan are taken to mean that “the Waziristan groups have decided to fend for themselves.”

So in several places separate deals are being made. Does this mean that the apparent unity among the Taliban is weakening? The deals are of course taking place on the heels of the notorious cease fire in Swat.

Tucked at the end of the BBC report is the most interesting detail: “observers believe some militants are on the retreat due to people’s war fatigue, the recent realignments within different groups in anticipation of the new US strategy in the region and increasing international pressure on Pakistan to eliminate militant sanctuaries.” War fatique? If this is the reason, it is good news because in such a context a true resolution to these conflicts is possible.

And does this mean that anticipation of a greater US commitment to the region is generating worry among the Taliban? Reason enough to lie low.

(Click on the title for a link to the whole article.)

Kamran Rehmat’s report on Swat: A worrying picture

AlJazeera reproduced the following report by Kamran Rehman on Swat. A sad story. RLC

Pakistan’s lost paradise By Kamran Rehmat in Islamabad Amid Barack Obama’s inauguration as US president, the war on Gaza and the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, Pakistan’s media had until recently all but ignored the descent into hell of the Swat Valley in the North-West Frontier Province. The valley has been transformed from a tourism magnet because of its alpine scenery into a valley stained with blood in recent months. From banning female education and blowing up schools to the hanging of decapitated bodies in Mingora, the valley’s main town, the reign of terror spearheaded by Maulana Fazalullah, a radical cleric, defies description. Until recently, the 11-month old government in Islamabad was virtually oblivious to the chain of events that question the very territorial integrity of the country. Even the hyper-active local media was busy elsewhere: angling for the latest in the India-Pakistan stalemate, decoding what the incoming Obama administration held for Islamabad and the usual soap opera that passes for national politics. No-go area Swat valley was once a tourism magnet because of its alpine scenery [GALLO/GETTY] That all changed, however, after radicals delivered on their promise of blowing up schools if they were not shut down by a January 15 deadline. Their actions have made a mockery of the government’s commitment a day earlier that the schools would reopen with its patronage and protection. Only last week did the national parliament pass a resolution, rejecting the ban on female education and condemning the blowing up of schools. On Saturday, the government decided to deploy troops to guard some institutions in Mingora. But the belated measure to post 25 soldiers each at 16 locations is seen by many as an exercise in futility. Swat today is a decidedly no-go area. Even Haji Adeel, a senator and senior leader of the Awami National Party, which heads the ruling coalition in the North-West Frontier province, pointed to the valley’s dire security situation. He said: “Swat is a part of Pakistan but no governor, chief minister or the prime minister can venture to go there.” The Pakistan army says armed groups have so far blown up or torched 165 schools for girls, 80 video shops, 22 barber shops and destroyed 20 bridges. A devastating after-effect of the insurgency is that an estimated one million children in the Frontier province, which includes Swat, may have missed anti-polio vaccinations after the government exempted from its immunisation drive various settled areas it deemed too dangerous. Kingdom of fear Fazalullah’s attempts to enforce Islamic Sharia and an ongoing military operation launched by Pervez Musharraf, the former president, in 2007 have forced nearly a third of Swat’s 1.5 million people to migrate out of the province. Taking advantage of the government’s deep engagement in the “war on terror” and Musharraf’s own protracted battle for survival in 2007, Fazalullah’s 10,000-strong private army established control over 5,337 square kilometres of territory. The radical cleric uses FM radio to pass on his decrees to the local population. So effective is his grip on the valley, that the government’s influence is now largely confined to just 36 square kilometres of territory in and around Mingora. Fazalullah runs a self-styled judiciary, which hears cases and hands down verdicts. A treasury collects ushr (the Islamic practice of collecting one-tenth of agricultural produce). Last month, they also collected animal hides worth millions of rupees on Eid Al Adha, the Muslim festival of sacrifice. His feared – and well-equipped – rebel army reportedly takes its cue from Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, an extremist organisation headed by Baitullah Masud, the commander suspected of authoring the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, a former prime minister, in 2007. The two came together in the aftermath of a sweeping military operation in 2007 at the Red Mosque in Islamabad that killed hundreds of seminary students and clerics who had defied the Musharraf regime for months. Following up on their threat to avenge the killings, this alliance is said to be responsible for suicide bombings that killed dozens of security personnel. The army, which has four brigades in Swat, says it is considering a new strategy to retrieve the situation by securing the main supply routes and reinforcing its strength in urban and rural centres. However, skepticism abounds about how that will be achieved. Scene from hell Zubair Torwali, a social activist who lives in Swat, says the security forces fear patrolling the Swat valley. “The police are escorted by the army personnel and come out of their hideouts for a couple of hours,” he said. “One of the busiest squares, Grain Chowk, was renamed by shopkeepers as Khooni (bloody) Chowk because when they come to their shops in the morning, they find four or five bodies hung over the poles or trees. The bodies are usually headless.” “The police are escorted by the army personnel and come out of their hideouts for a couple of hours” Zubair Torwali, a social activist A more chilling account of the prevailing fear is provided by Hamid Mir, a talk show host with Geo TV; Mir earned fame for his interview with Osama bin Laden in 2001. Mir describes an episode in which a widow, who taught at a private school in Mingora, was warned by the extremists to stop coming out of her house, let alone teach. Having no other means to feed her three children, she begged a religious scholar to intercede with the extremists, one of whom was a former student of the scholar. However, the commander of the extremists was so annoyed that he had the scholar arrested immediately, before banishing him from Mingora. Days later, the widow was executed by the extremists after being declared a prostitute. At least three journalists – Sirajuddin, Azizuddin and Qari Shoaib – have also been killed while a sister of another, Sherinzada, perished in an attack on his house. However, two other journalists, Hameedullah Khan and Musa Khankhel, have braved death to report on events in Swat. Khan had his house dynamited by the local Taliban earlier this month and Khankhel has escaped two assassination attempts. Khankhel has managed to earn the ire of both the security agencies and the extremists for his reporting. The army has also been accused of indiscriminate fire resulting in the deaths of many innocents. It claims to have killed 784 extremists while losing 189 personnel since launching the military operation. Mission impossible? Faizullah’s army with its sophisticated weapons practically rules Swat [GALLO/GETTY] Syed Allauddin, a ruling Pakistan People’s Party MP from Swat who is unable to return to the region, believes there may be a three-pronged solution to the violence. He suggests that Sharia be officially implemented followed by economic development and creation of job opportunities. “But if I cannot enter my area how can I help my voters?” he said. Caught between an indifferent government and ineffective army on the one hand and the extremists on the other, the people of Swat are, similarly, at a loss. “The predicament of the people of Swat is worse than even of the people of Gaza. In Gaza, the enemy was well known but in Swat, the people don’t know who the enemy is and whom to hold responsible,” said Torwali. The lack of faith is understandable, said Nasim Zehra, a security analyst based in Islamabad. “Clearly, people in Swat have zero faith in the institutions of their own country. Can we blame them?” Kamran Rehmat is News Editor at Dawn News, an independent Pakistani TV news channel. The views expressed by the author are not necessarily those of Al Jazeera.

Pakistan’s requests for Drone Strikes

Today’s New York Times says it as if it were common knowledge: that Pakistan wanted the US to attack some Pakistani Taliban leaders inside Pakistan. Somehow I have missed it, and a statement to that effect disappeared on me [or was I seeing things?]. So today they say it in more explicit terms:

(“Obama Widens Missile Strikes Inside Pakistan” By MARK MAZZETTI and DAVID E. SANGER)
“For months, Pakistani military and intelligence officials have complained about Washington’s refusal to strike at Baitullah Mehsud, even while C.I.A. drones struck at Qaeda figures and leaders of the network run by Jalaluddin Haqqani, a militant leader believed responsible for a campaign of violence against American troops in Afghanistan.
“According to one senior Pakistani official, Pakistan’s intelligence service on two occasions in recent months gave the United States detailed intelligence about Mr. Mehsud’s whereabouts, but said the United States had not acted on the information. Bush administration officials had charged that it was the Pakistanis who were reluctant to take on Mr. Mehsud and his network.”

(Click on the title for a link to the original article.)

Will the real Killers of Anna Politkovskaya Ever be Found?

In a country where “nothing works,” especially when “the system” has its reasons for hating those who publish information unvetted by the system, justice is scarcely impartial and the truth is hard to come by. The loss of Politkovskaya was a loss to the world because she so fearlessly declared the abuses of the highest officials as well as the tragic personal costs of those abuses. She was an example to journalists around the world — of how to sniff out details the authorities are trying to hide, and also of what happens when the venality of authorities is shouted out to the world. [Thanks, by the way, to Registan for keeping a list of journalists murdered.
http://www.registan.net/index.php/the-murdered-journalists-of-central-asia/]
Some selections from the NYTimes are below.

New York Times February 20, 2009
Jury Acquits 3 in Killing of a Russian Journalist
By ELLEN BARRY and MICHAEL SCHWIRTZ

MOSCOW — A jury here ruled unanimously on Thursday to acquit three low-level suspects in the murder of a prominent investigative journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, frustrating hopes for bringing to justice those responsible for ordering the killing.

. . . Coming exactly a month after the killing in broad daylight of a human rights lawyer and a 25-year-old reporter, the verdict was more cause for pessimism in human rights circles about political violence.

“The fact that no one at all has been held accountable for this murder sends a very clear message to potential perpetrators: You can do it, and you can get away with it,” said Tatyana Lokshina, deputy director of the Human Rights Watch Moscow bureau. “Brazen killings have become almost routine in the Russian Federation.”

. . . But two and a half years later, the three men who were tried on murder charges were peripheral figures: . . . the suspected triggerman, . . . has never been found. Sergei M. Sokolov, deputy editor of the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, where Ms. Politkovskaya worked, attributed the result to “resistance from the whole system,” in particular the refusal to prosecute members of law enforcement and special forces.

“There were two verdicts delivered today,” he said. “One, de jure, was the acquittal of the defendants. But a guilty verdict was leveled against the corrupt system that exists here. Nothing works, not one governmental institution works.”

. . . “Russia is a country where for years and years now, journalists who cover human rights issues and corruption are being murdered and assaulted,” . . . “It has to be admitted, at the highest level of the country, that there can be no free speech in a country where the best journalists are afraid for their lives for doing their jobs.”

. . . Ms. Politkovskaya, 48, distinguished herself covering Moscow’s war in Chechnya, which she characterized as “state versus group terrorism.” She documented torture, mass executions, kidnapping and the sale by Russian soldiers of Chechen corpses to their families for proper Islamic burial, concluding, “What response could one expect but more terrorism, and the recruitment of more resistance fighters?”

Recent articles on Sufi Muhmmad and Mullah Faizullah

Rescue or surrender? Local hero brings sharia law to troubled region

• *Taliban-dominated area wins religious concession *

• *Government accused of capitulation to Islamists*

Saeed Shah in Islamabad The Guardian, Wednesday 18 February 2009

With his long, flowing white beard and black turban, Sufi Muhammad cut an imposing figure as he walked through the crowds in Mingora town, north-west Pakistan yesterday. Tribesmen and mullahs jostled to be at his side, then raised him aloft. All around, black-and-white flags fluttered – flags of the religious group founded by Muhammad, the Tehreek Nifaz-e-Shariat Mohammadi.

The organisation was banned in 2002 after Muhammad led hundreds of young men across the border to fight alongside the Taliban against the US-led coalition. He was jailed and only freed last year. Yesterday though, Muhammad was hailed as the man who brought peace to Pakistan’s Swat region – by securing the official imposition of Islamic law. Muhammad has persuaded the government of Pakistan to agree to the enforcement of sharia for the vast Malakand area, which includes Swat.

Desperate for a respite from violence, thousands turned out in Mingora, Swat’s main city, to greet him. A ceasefire was announced by the local Taliban in response to Muhammad’s deal, which was unveiled on Monday. And that has made this Islamist something of a local hero. Sweets were distributed in the town as people flocked on to the previously deserted streets. For the first time in months, all the shops opened, the bazaars were busy and even schools suddenly started teaching again.

“We have come out of a nightmare. We are very excited,” said Zubair Torwali, a social worker from Swat. “Ordinary people want peace at any cost.”

The authorities portrayed it as a political settlement to end the bloodshed. Others see it as the moment of Pakistan’s capitulation to the extremists.

Swat slipped out of government control two years ago, and over the last few months it had been an almost total takeover by a fearsome band of Taliban led by Muhammad’s estranged son-in-law, Mullah Fazlullah. Under the militants’ control, girls schools were closed, women banned from shopping, and public floggings and executions were carried out. The main business in Swat – tourism – was extinguished. For the people there, Sufi Muhammad had managed to get the extremists to lay down their arms in return for the introduction of Islamic courts. In turn, government forces will pull out of active operations in the region.

It remains unclear how much hold Muhammad has over Fazlullah and more hardline elements in the region. Yesterday, though, the people of Swat appeared relieved that the fighting had stopped.

“Today, the fear has finished,” Sherin Zada, a hotelier in Swat.

Others in this country, though, are less optimistic. “This is not a political solution. It is very clearly a surrender,” said Athar Minallah, a lawyer and civil liberties activist. “It’s a complete failure of the institutions of the state. The political forces are looking for a shortcut, but this will have very long-term repercussions for this country. It sends the message that anyone who takes up arms will succeed.”

Swat lies in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), just 100 miles from the capital Islamabad, not tribal areas further west that have always had their own rules and, after 9/11, have been largely lost to the Taliban and al-Qaida. In Swat in 2007, Fazlullah broke with the somewhat softer Islamist organisation of his father-in-law and joined the Pakistani Taliban, taking up arms and suicide bombings. The rule of the Taliban in Swat has led to the death of hundreds, while up to 500,000 may have fled their brutal attacks.

IA Rehman, director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, warned that the new courts, not the government, would end up deciding what constitutes sharia and Islamic punishments, producing a new tussle with the state. “There’s a question of whether it [sharia] can be contained to Malakand. Once it spreads to Frontier, then why not Punjab (Pakistan’s heartland)?” said Rehman.

The Pakistan army, which has around 12,000 soldiers deployed in a losing battle in Swat, announced that it will now hold fire against the militants.

Asad Munir, a retired army brigadier who was formerly head of military intelligence for the NWFP, said that the government was right to try to isolate Fazlullah by building up Sufi Muhammad and conceding the key demand of sharia. But he warned that military operations had to continue and that the Taliban would use the ceasefire to regroup.

“[The Taliban] are not going to leave the power they’ve got through the gun,” said Munir. “They will never surrender.”

The government, which is led by the secular Pakistan People party, seems not to know how to deal with the extremists. Islamabad said that the new laws would not come in until peace was restored and that the form of sharia would comply with the existing constitution of Pakistan.

“Western values cannot hold the ground all the time, said Raza Rabbani, a minister in the federal government. “You mix values and principles with ground realities and give it a touch which is Pakistani.”

Pakistan’s western allies view it differently. The British high commission in Islamabad warned that, “previous peace deals have not provided a … long-term solution to Swat’s problems”.

Nato, which heads the international coalition across the border, is concerned that Swat and the wider Malakand region could now become a sanctuary for militants that would then cross over into Afghanistan. “We should all be concerned by a situation in which extremists would have a safe haven. Without doubting the good faith of the Pakistani government, it is clear that the region is suffering very badly from extremists and we would not want it to get worse,” said a Nato spokesman, James Appathurai, in Brussels. Law unto themselves

*Malakand* administrative “division” now comprises the mountainous, former princely states of *Swat*, *Dir* and *Chitral*, in the far north-west of Pakistan. These states remained independent during the British Raj and even after Pakistan was formed, becoming part of the country only in the 1960s.

In Swat, under the ruler, the “*Wali* of Swat”, there was what he called *Islamic law* and, though it was not a particularly religious form of justice at the time, many in the area hanker after sharia, remembering how quickly cases were decided in the Wali’s era.

A young *Winston Churchill* wrote his first published non-fiction book, The Story of the Malakand Field Force, about a military campaign he fought in Malakand in 1897.

The British did not believe in the kind of *peace* deal just announced by Pakistan. In the book, Churchill describes a *massacre* of the local tribes, with six-foot-high piles of bodies.

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Peace or appeasement in Pakistan?

*The recent deal between religious leaders in tribal Pakistan and the government legitimates the Taliban insurgency* Mustafa Qadri guardian.co.uk , Wednesday 18 February 2009 22.00 GMT

The timing could not have been more emblematic of the mess engulfing Pakistan. Barely a day after the new United States envoy for the region, Richard Holbrooke, completed his preliminary consultations with Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders about confronting the Taliban, the same leadership endorsed a deal with religious leaders sympathetic to the jihadi movement in the country’s northern tribal district of Malakand.

The agreement negotiated last Monday with a local group called Tehreek-e-Nifaaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi, or Movement for the Establishment of Islamic Law, did not directly involve the Taliban. But TNSM has many ideological similarities with the Taliban and its leader, Maulana Sufi Mohammad, is the father-in-law of a key Taliban leader in the region, Maulana Fazlullah.

The Taliban issued a 10-day ceasefire in Malakand in honour of the agreement.

Under the “Nizam-i-Adl Regulation” reached between TSNM and the North Western Frontier Province government, sharia, or Islamic law, is to supersede “all un-Islamic laws” – meaning the secular laws of the local, state and, potentially, federal governments of Pakistan. President Asif Ali Zardari said the new legal regime would not supplant “the writ of the state” but that leaves open the question: whose state? The Taliban or the TSNM could argue that because Pakistan is an Islamic state, actions aimed at enforcing Islamic law and tradition, even by force of arms, are consistent with the writ of the state.

The Pakistani government could contest these claims, but people in Malakand think little of the politicians in Islamabad whose lifestyle and language is a world away from their own. The views of local conservatives like Maulana Sufi and the Taliban’s Fazlullah resonate more easily even if people do not accept all their pronouncements.

The government has made two main calculations in concluding the agreement, one tactical the other political. It has gambled that acquiescing to the implementation of Islamic law removes much of the oxygen upon which the fire of Taliban descent is fuelled.

Ordinary citizens in the urban centres where most of Pakistan’s population live have been deeply troubled by a conflict pitting Pakistani against Pakistani that has killed many hundreds and displaced up to 200,000 more in Malakand alone. As one army captain who had just returned from Malakand told me in Islamabad last month: “Fighting your own people is the most painful thing you can do [as a soldier].”

As a result of the agreement, the government – whose political opponents accuse it of killing its own people for the sake of its western allies – can claim it is seeking to stem the carnage.

Last week a bomb believed to have been planted by the Taliban killed a secular Pashtun leader in Peshawar, capital of the North Western Frontier Province. The same day, the Taliban claimed responsibility for a bloody attack on central Kabul, Afghanistan just a block away from the presidential palace.

Internationally there are fears that this latest arrangement – like previous peace agreements between pro-Taliban groups and the Pakistani government – will give the Taliban time to recoup losses until they are ready to fight again.

Britain’s ambassador to Pakistan warned that the agreement could “create space for further violence”, a view echoedby Nato officials in Brussels. India’s minister for external affairs said his country was monitoring the situation and called the Talibana “danger to humanity and civilisation”.

The Australian government did, however, give qualified support to the arrangement, with foreign minister Stephen Smith, currently on an official visit to Pakistan, calling it “a positive development”.

The specifics of the peace agreement are yet to be ironed out, but there are some preliminary indications. It relates to the Swat valley region of Pakistan’s northwest, a predominantly mountainous, tribal sector of the country that has been gripped by a resilient Taliban insurgency since October 2007. Maulana Fazlullah is the public face of that insurgency, although few have actually seen him.

“I haven’t had personal contact with Fazlullah, but he is my commander and I always obey him,” explained one Taliban commander I met in the lower Swat valley late last year. “Ultimately, we want Sharia over all of Pakistan, but, first of all, here [in Malakand],” he continued.

A young cleric who emerged from the madrasas of these mountainous parts preaching a return to the sharia, Fazlullah is popularly known as Maulana FM for his clandestine radio broadcasts which, since 2006, have promoted a harsh, conservative brand of Islam similar to that practised by the Taliban when they ruled Afghanistan. Fazlullah has also made threatsagainst a wide range of people over the airwaves, from policemen merely seeking to enforce the law to schoolgirls whom he threatens with brutal attacks for daring to seek an education.

Maulana Sufi rejects Fazlullah’s resort to violence and has appealed to the young cleric to end his militancy. That may have something to do with Sufi’s imprisonment by Pervez Musharraf in 2002 for helping to organise young men to support the Taliban against Nato and the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. A chastened Maulana Sufi was released last year after he renounced violence and publicly stated that he supported education for women and immunisation for children. The Taliban has destroyed hundreds of schools in Malakand since 2007 and vehemently opposes immunisation programmes which they believe are part of a global western-Zionist plot to sterilise the population.

Following this latest agreement, however, the line between violent and nonviolent Islamist has become dangerously blurred. The decision to implement sharia is a significant victory for the Taliban because it implicitly legitimates their cause by acknowledging that Pakistan’s tribal areas need the stamp of approval that only an Islamic political movement can provide.

The Taliban’s ideological battle, in Malakand at least, will now shift away from promoting the sharia to arguing it is best placed to administer it. That debate is unlikely to be nonviolent.

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Violence still a threat in Swat Valley despite Sharia deal Zahid Hussain in Islamabad The Times February 19, 2009

Waving black and white flags and chanting “God is great!” thousands of men marched through the streets of the main town in Swat Valley yesterday, led by a hardline cleric who called for peace in return for the enforcement of Islamic law.

“I have come here to establish peace and I will not leave until this has been achieved,” Sufi Mohammad, the aging, white-bearded leader of an outlawed Islamic movement, told his supporters in Mingora, the main town in the area.

On Monday the regional government in northwest Pakistan struck a peace deal with Mr Muhammad, who was released recently after spending six years in jail for leading thousands of his supporters to Afghanistan to fight American forces in 2001.

In return for the imposition of Sharia, the pro-Taleban cleric is expected to persuade Mullah Fazlullah, his son-in-law, who is spearheading the insurgency, to lay down arms.

“It will be a good step if it ends the bloodletting,” Mohammed Jaffer, whose grocery business has suffered hugely as a result of the fighting, said as he watched from his shop doorway. It is a common sentiment in Swat, desperate for peace after years of violence. But reining in Mullah Fazlullah will be no easy task.

The firebrand cleric, 33, has turned what was once a favoured tourist destination into a byword for terror. The Taleban in Swat has conducted a campaign of beheadings, lynchings and bombings, and although Mullah Fazlullah announced a ten-day ceasefire on Sunday, analysts said that there was no indication that he would agree to put his weapons aside.

A similar deal last year collapsed in a few months and was blamed for giving the insurgents time to regroup. Many people — including Western politicians — accuse the Government of surrendering to terrorism and abdicating its responsibility to protect the lives and property of the people.

“This deal shows that the Pakistani Army has been defeated by the militants and the State is incapable of retaining control over its territory,” Athar Minallah, a leading lawyer and a former provincial minister, said.

At the end of 2007 Islamabad sent thousands of troops to quell the insurgency as the Taleban expanded its influence from the semiautonomous tribal areas into parts of the North West Frontier Province of which Swat, with a population if 1.3 million, forms a part.

Even though Swat does not border Afghanistan, Mullah Fazlullah pledges allegiance to Mullah Omar, the spiritual leader of the Afghan Taleban movement.

Security officials say that large numbers of fighters from Waziristan, along with Uzbeks and Chechens, have joined the insurgents in Swat. That means that as many as 8,000 well-armed militants, allegedly funded by Arab charities, have been fighting government forces in Swat.

Mullah Fazlullah is also known as Mullah Radio for his sermons broadcast on a pirate radio station. He has declared a holy war against the Pakistani Government and in effect established a parallel Islamic regime.

Another journalist murdered, another murderer escapes. The ugly face of power in Swat

The murder of Musa KhanKhel, a TV journalist, in Swat yesterday sadly awakens all the fears we have had about the deal the army and the Taliban have just made there. Posted a few minutes ago on Earth Times Online the article reveals how little has changed: In fact, KhanKhel had been threatened by Pakistani officials. It makes us wonder how to distinguish between “officials” and criminals.

KhanKhel had reported being threatened by “a powerful force … they want to kill me” and that he had repeatedly refused to “report what the army wanted him to report.” Someone didn’t want him to report on what he was learning: Who? The Army?. Of course the intent of the murder was not merely to silence this voice but also the voices of those who are left alive. Someone wanted to ensure that journalists avoid revealing things those with the weapons of power want hidden. Again the ancient wisdom: “Men loved darkness rather than light; they would not come into the light lest their deeds be exposed.” And they would take a life rather than have the truth revealed. How precious does that make the truth?

The one thing we can confidently affirm is that the killer will go free. A chilling fact of life in Pakistan is that murderers of journalists get away with it. Of the two dozen journalists killed in the last two years, virtually none of their killers has been found. I have the highest respect and admiration for those now who have the courage to demonstrate publicly against the government — the army, essentially, which owns most of the country — in the face of the terrifying impunity enjoyed by criminals. Thank God for the Pakistani journalists who persist in exposing the truth as they know it at the risk of their lives.

Here is the article from The Earth Times.

Pakistani journalists protest colleague’s killing
Posted : Thu, 19 Feb 2009 11:48:08 GMT
Author : DPA

Islamabad – Pakistani journalists on Thursday held rallies across the country to protest the overnight killing of a local reporter in the troubled Swat district of North Western Frontier Province (NWFP). Musa Khankhel, a correspondent for the Geo TV and English-language daily The News, was seized by gunmen in the Matta area on Wednesday when he was covering a peace rally by Islamic cleric Sufi Mohammad, the father-in-law of Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah.

Khankhel’s bullet-riddled body was found few hours later in Detpani village, some 4 kilometers from Matta. “He received 30 bullets,” said Fayyaz Zafar, a local journalist.

Around 200 journalists held a protest rally in Islamabad, chanting slogans in support of press freedom and demanding protection for media persons working in conflict areas like Swat and the tribal region, where the government forces are fighting Islamist insurgents.

“The situation in Swat is very dangerous, but we will continue to report from there. We will not bow to the extremists and the armed militias,” said Ihsan Haqqani, a journalist from Swat.

Tariq Chaudhry, president of the National Press Club, told the rally that 24 journalists had lost their lives in the line of duty during the last two years in Pakistan, while dozens more were injured or harassed.

“The killers of none of these 24 were ever arrested and brought to justice,” he told the rally.

Similar protest demonstrations were also held in several other cities, media reports said.

Scores of journalists gathered outside the press club in Mingora, the main town of Swat, and demanded the arrest of the murderers and an enquiry into the incident, which was the first violation of the 10-day ceasefire announced by the militants.

Hundreds of people attended Khankhel’s funeral on Thursday.

The slain journalist was trying to get the details of the ongoing negotiations in Matta where the cleric Mohammad is trying to convince his son-in-law to join the peace deal he has signed with the regional government in NWFP to end the conflict in Swat.

Fazlullah has been fighting the security forces since late 2007 in a campaign for the enforcement of Islamic sharia law in the region. The rebellion has left hundreds of militants, security personnel and civilians dead, and caused a mass exodus from the war-torn district.

Under the peace accord signed with Mohammad, the NWFP government agreed to establish Islamic courts in Swat and six other districts in the Malakand region.

No group has claimed responsibility for Khankhel’s murder, but his media organization reported that he was also receiving threats from the authorities.

“I have been receiving death threats from a powerful force. They are after me. They want to kill me,” Khankhel was cited as saying by The News. The daily said his organization took up the issue with the authorities.

A journalist in Swat who spoke on condition of anonymity said that Khankhel had repeatedly refused to “report what the army wanted him to report.”

An international organization, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), condemned the murder of the journalist.

“We mourn the tragic death of Musa Khankhel and send our condolences to his family and colleagues,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia programme coordinator.

“But grief and condolences are not enough – the government must act swiftly to bring his killers to justice and protect journalists working in this volatile region.”

Mian Iftikhar Hussain, NWFP’s information minister, condemned the killing and termed it “an attack on the (provincial) government.”

Copyright, respective author or news agency

A double game: Real cooperation between US and Pakistan?

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Pakistanis and Americans, contrary to the formal denials of the Pakistanis, have been cooperating in the recent drone attacks against Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders. It turns out that the Pakistanis have been sufficiently helpful for the attacks to become better targeted. This report makes me wonder that I actually did see something in an early version of the the NYTimes article on the subject a couple days ago, a statement that was purged in later editions, claiming that the Pakistanis have complained that the drones have not been targeted their bad guys, only the ones troubling Afghanistan. I’m still not sure that that is what I read [foolishly lost the text] but this article almost says it — well, not quite.
What this reminds us is that we cannot believe all that we are told: governments tell the stories they want people to hear, not what they know is accurate. All the more reason we need to be seeking various sources for what we think. Even then we have to assume we are living in a world of contrived myths, contrived by those who know better and who want us to accept their judgment. I used to condemn Cheney for this but he did not invent such a practice, which of course is as old as the human imagination.
Here I note some of the key statements in the Wall Street Journal article.

Wall Street Journal * FEBRUARY 18, 2009

Pakistan Lends Support for U.S. Military Strikes
Leaders Continue to Condemn Air Attacks, but a Private Shift in Policy Aims to Aid Drone Assault on Militant Targets more in US »
By MATTHEW ROSENBERG in Islamabad, and SIOBHAN GORMAN and JAY SOLOMON in Washington

Pakistan’s leaders have publicly denounced U.S. missile strikes as an attack on the country’s sovereignty, but privately Pakistani military and intelligence officers are aiding these attacks and have given significant support to recent U.S. missions, say officials from both countries.

American unmanned Predator aircraft have killed scores of Islamic militants in Pakistan in more than 30 missile strikes since August, provoking outrage in the South Asian nation. Two in the past four days have killed more than 50 suspected militants. Yet, with the Taliban pushing deeper into the country, Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders, while publicly condemning the attacks, have come to see the strikes as effective and are passing on intelligence that has helped recent missions, say officials from both countries.

As a result, “the Predator strikes are more and more precise,” said a Pakistani official.

Eleven of al Qaeda’s top 20 commanders have been killed or captured since August because of the Predator missions conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency, according to the Pakistani official, and current and former U.S. intelligence officials.

. . . Maj. Gen Akhtar Abbas, a spokesman for the military, said Pakistan and the U.S. “have a long history of military cooperation and intelligence sharing.” But he said it doesn’t include the missiles strikes. “We have made our opposition clear,” he said. “The strikes are counterproductive.”

But other Pakistani officials say there has been a shift in Pakistan’s private response to U.S. insistence the strikes go ahead. Initially, Pakistani complaints were genuine, these officials say, and reflected widespread discontent with the U.S.-led war on terror.

But after Pakistan’s complaints were repeatedly rebuffed by the U.S. and with the Taliban making gains against the Pakistani military and the police, these officials say President Asif Ali Zardari and top military leaders decided in recent months to aid the American effort in the hopes it will help them regain control over the tribal areas. . . .

The protests are “really for the sake of public opinion,” said one Pakistani official. “These operations are helping both sides. We are partners on this.”

A former U.S. intelligence official said cooperation has always been strong between the two countries’ intelligence services. “There’s always been a double game,” the former official said. “There’s the game they’ll play out in public [but] there has always been good cooperation.”

. . . Most of the Predator strikes have so far targeted al Qaeda and Taliban fighters who attack U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, using Pakistan’s tribal areas only as a rear base. But in exchange for helping the U.S., Washington is “sharing more intelligence with” Islamabad on Taliban factions focused on toppling Pakistan’s government, said the Pakistani official.

While officials say there is overlap between the Pakistani Taliban, who fight under the banner of the Tehrik-e-Taliban, and the Afghan Taliban, the two are considered distinct networks with different aims.

. . . A senior ISI officer acknowledged his agency maintains contacts with Afghan Taliban leaders at or the near the top of the U.S. target list, such as Mullah Nazeer and Jalaluddin Haqqani. The officer said Mr. Haqqani could be “a force for stability” in Afghanistan, and insisted that he and other Taliban leaders spend most of their time in that country, not Pakistan, as U.S. officials assert.

—Zahid Hussain in Islamabad contributed to this article.

The Wall Street Journal, page A12

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