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Category — SWAT VALLEY

Revisiting the Swat operation: by Zahoor Khan Marwat in The News,May 15, 2017

The Swat Operation began eight years ago on May 16, 2009. The operation was necessitated following inhuman practices adopted by Maulvi Fazlullah, the son-in-law of Sufi Muhammad, and his cohorts in the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan in the name of Islam. These included beheading of common people, kidnappings for ransom, abduction of women, robbing private properties, attacks on security forces personnel, interference in government functions and what not. The criminals portrayed themselves as they had trappings and privileges of legitimacy. The merger of crime and terrorism had moved into a new phase.

The people of the area and those throughout Pakistan supported the armed forces in the operation that countered the TTP and its obnoxious practices of vengeful nature that had nothing to do with the religion. Also, the political parties in the country, through an all-parties conference (APC), pledged to unite the nation against insurgency and terrorism in these regions.

Within three months, Pakistan’s armed forces successfully tackled the threat posed by the foreign-funded and Indian RAW sponsored terrorists in Buner, Dir, Swat and other adjoining areas and successfully ejected them.

On April 26, 2009, the Operation Black Thunderstorm-I began in Lower Dir. By April 28, the district was largely cleared of terrorists and their efforts stymied. The second phase of the operation was in Buner, which was cleared within a week’s time. The third phase saw intense fighting in Swat, which was also cleared of terrorists’ presence. The Pakistan Navy and Pakistan Air Force also participated in the operation aimed at restoring the government’s writ and sovereignty over these mountainous areas.

In all, the Pakistani armed forces fought valiantly against the anonymous fanatical gunmen and terrorists and ended their reign from the areas, eliminating their roots. The foreign war colleges have studied the Swat battle and have been struck by the professionalism of the operation.

The quick win in a new kind of warfare was highly acclaimed. The war colleges learnt that strategic threat to national security has to be forcefully countered, aggression of terrorist outfits has to be pre-empted and that wars are not won by good defences. New tactics were used in the asymmetric warfare, enriching the experiences of the battle-hardened Pakistani forces, which further developed and refined the capacity to counter foreign state-sponsored terror attacks.

Finally, as a result of the operation, the terrorists’ capabilities in the area were measurably diminished. The operation was highly successful as it effectively ended the terrorists’ writ from Swat and adjoining areas. It clearly demonstrated the nation’s commitment and strategic intent to regional peace and stability. Later, the displaced people returned to their homes.

The repulsive belligerence of chubby Mullah Fazlullah was ruined once and for all. https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/204510-Revisiting-the-Swat-operation

PAK SCENE – TERRORISM

May 15, 2017   No Comments

Constable gunned down in another incident: report in The News, Dec 1, 2015

SWABI: Dr Muhammad Yaqoob, head of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) in the district, was shot dead and his driver injured here on Monday.
Unidentified motorcyclists fired at them in jurisdiction of Zaida Police Station when they were on way to Bacha Khan Medical Complex at Shahmansoor from Dodher village in an official vehicle.
The incident occurred on the Zaida Bypass. After hearing the gunshots, people rushed to the spot but the assailants had fled the scene within no time.The EPI chief died on the spot and his cousin Muhammad Irfan, who was driving the vehicle, sustained injuries. He was taken to the Bacha Khan Medical Complex and hospitalized.
Soon after Dr Yaqoob’s killing, people of his village and doctors of the Bacha Khan Medical Complex placed his body on the Swabi-Jehangira Road to stage protest and demand arrest of the killers.
The protestors blocked the road for all kinds of traffic for about two hours.Later, the officials of the district administration assured them that the killers would be arrested by the police within 48 hours. After getting this assurance, people took the body to Dodher village for burial.
When contacted, District Police Officer Javed Iqbal said that it was too early to say anything about Dr Yaqoob’s killing but the incident seemed to be an act of terrorism.Meanwhile, the Paramedics Association announced one-day mourning while demanding the arrest of Dr Yaqoob’s killers.
Meanwhile, unidentified assailants killed a cop and injured another when they opened fire on two policemen patrolling the area on a motorcycle here on Monday.DPO Javed Iqbal said the cops were performing routine duty in the assigned area of Thandkhui village on a motorbike when two unidentified assailants fired at them. The attackers were also riding a bike.
Constable Imtiaz Khan, who belonged to Managi village, was killed on the spot and his colleague Ghulam Abbas was taken to Bacha Khan Hospital Complex at Shahmansoor town in an injured condition.
When contacted, the doctors said that he was in a serious condition and preparing were being made to take him to a hospital in Peshawar.Officials said that it was a case of target killing and it seemed the incident was linked with terrorism. http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-7-354359-Constable-gunned-down-in-another-incident

December 1, 2015   No Comments

Congested border crossing may affect U.S. build-up in Afghanistan

By Joshua Partlow in The Washington Post, Jan 19
SPIN BOLDAK, AFGHANISTAN — The pace of President Obama’s troop buildup in Afghanistan hinges in part on a narrow, pothole-riddled dirt track that is controlled by a 33-year-old suspected drug lord and by the whims of the Pakistani military.

It is down this road each month that thousands of cargo trucks bearing U.S. and NATO military supplies pass through the only major border crossing in southern Afghanistan — the area where most American troop reinforcements are scheduled to deploy.

Here at the border crossing, where traffic switches from the left side of the road in Pakistan to the right in Afghanistan, supply trucks must pass along with the flood of pedestrians, donkey carts, drug shipments and materials to make roadside bombs. Only about 2 to 3 percent of the vehicles are regularly searched, and payoffs to border guards are rampant, U.S. military officials say.

The chaos and congestion of this border crossing have become a matter of urgent concern as military logisticians scramble to fulfill Obama’s plan for bringing 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan this year. Compounding the problem is that Pakistan has been slow to respond to U.S. proposals to create a separate lane for coalition military vehicles and nighttime crossing rights, U.S. officials say.

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, flew to Quetta, Pakistan, on Monday to meet with Pakistani military commanders, then toured the border crossing with officials from both countries.

“It’s absolutely key to have this gate functioning better,” said Maj. Gen. Hubert De Vos, a Belgian army officer who is the deputy chief of staff for resources with the coalition military command. “It’s a direct link to the south, and the south is absolutely critical.”

Hastening overland supplies of fuel, food and military equipment to Afghanistan is just one issue in a frenzy of logistical work that is required to feed, house and protect soldiers coming to fight. The military is rushing to construct and expand military bases, dig wells and build power plants, dining halls, aircraft landing strips and temporary housing. At the end of each week, coalition officials responsible for southern Afghanistan convene for hours to monitor the progress — meetings that have earned the nickname “Friday night fights.”

Maj. Gen. Don T. Riley, the chief engineer for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said the pace of traffic through Spin Boldak needs to increase to 150 NATO supply trucks a day, up from the current average of just under 100. These additional trucks are needed, among other reasons, to slake the military’s demand for fuel, which is expected to increase by 30 to 40 percent.

The U.S. military has longer-term plans to build a bypass road around the crossing. In the short term, it is pushing for overnight access through the border.

But for the past month, Pakistan has given little ground. Part of the problem is apparently bureaucracy, with at least five Pakistani agencies involved in providing security for NATO convoys between the port city of Karachi and the border. In the past, Pakistani officials also have criticized U.S. plans to increase troop levels, arguing that an intensified war will spread back into their country.

There is trouble on the Afghan side as well. The urgency to increase the flow of military supplies has forced the U.S. military to rely heavily on Abdul Razziq, the illiterate local commander of the Afghan border police.

According to U.S. military officials, Razziq wields near total control over Spin Boldak and the border crossing. Razziq, a former anti-Taliban fighter, owns a trucking company, commands 3,500 police, effectively controls the local government, and reportedly takes in millions from extorting passing vehicles and trafficking drugs. He is a colonel, but his soldiers call him “general.” On Monday, Razziq popped pistachios while smiling and chatting with U.S. generals.

Razziq can shut down the border crossing at will. He also provides intelligence to Americans about potential attacks and keeps the insurgency in check in his area. He says he is amenable to U.S. plans to fast-track NATO supplies but has tried to keep U.S. soldiers at arm’s length at the crossing point.

Razziq said in a telephone interview that the allegations against him are “totally baseless,” and that in the past three months his police has confiscated 11 tons of drugs and arrested at least 15 traffickers. “If they have any kind of evidence, then they should present that evidence,” he said.

Razziq’s power also seems to anger Pakistan, which already has a fraught relationship with Afghanistan over the disputed border. One Western official who works with the Pakistani Army said Pakistan wants the border crossing to be more efficient to avoid backups on its side.

But, he said, Pakistani officials find Razziq “unpalatable,” think that he is slowing traffic and are upset that “he’s getting all the money.” Fittingly, the Friendship Gate, which marks the border with dual archways, is locked.

Riley, the chief engineer, said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, regional envoy Richard C. Holbrooke and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl W. Eikenberry are “all working feverishly to get the two governments to work a little more closely together” to speed supplies.

After his meetings in Quetta and Spin Boldak on Monday, McChrystal sounded optimistic.

“We want to make sure that it’s as efficient as it can be,” he said of the border crossing. “And instead of it being something where the two nations don’t work closely together, we’d really like it to be something that’s a little closer to a handshake. And I think we can do that.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/18/AR2010011803474_pf.html

January 19, 2010   No Comments

Pak army facing threat from Punjabi, al-Qaida and Taliban militants

By Declan Walsh in The Guardian
Islamabad: Pakistan’s army made a stark admission today of the scale of the threat it faces from a nexus of Punjabi, al-Qaida and Taliban militants whose attacks are increasingly coordinated, include soldiers in their ranks and span the country.
The unusually frank assessment, made after the audacious assault on the military’s headquarters this weekend, came as a Taliban suicide bomber struck an army convoy as it passed through a crowded marketplace in a small mountain town near the Swat valley, killing 41 people and wounding 45.
It was the fourth militant atrocity to hit Pakistan in eight days of bloodshed that have killed more than 120 people. One television channel reported that the bomber in Shangla district in North West Frontier province was a 13-year-old boy.
Meanwhile a Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the 22-hour gun battle and siege at the army’s headquarters in Rawalpindi, which ended on Sunday morning when commandos freed 39 hostages. Eleven soldiers, three civilians and nine militants died.
“This was our first small effort and a present to the Pakistani and American governments,” a Taliban spokesman, Azam Tariq, told the Associated Press.
Addressing journalists a few hundred metres from the scene of the gunfight, an army spokesman, Major General Athar Abbas, described how the 10 attackers came from two different sets of backgrounds. Five of them came from Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous and wealthy province, he said, while the other five were from South Waziristan, a Taliban stronghold at the southern end of the tribal belt, along the Afghan border.
Abbas said the attackers were led by a Punjabi militant named Aqeel, also known as Dr Usman, but the operation was ordained by a Taliban commander based in South Waziristan. Citing an intercepted telephone call, Abbas said commander Wali-ur-Rehman urged followers to “pray” for the attacks after the assault began on Saturday morning.
Abbas said the militants intended to take senior army officers hostage and use them to negotiate the release of more than 100 militants. Other demands included an end to military cooperation with the US and for the former president, General Pervez Musharraf, to be put on trial.
Aqeel, the only surviving attacker, was being treated for serious injuries, Abbas said. He confirmed that the militant was a former army medical corps soldier from Kahuta, a town in the army’s Punjabi recruitment heartland that is home to a major nuclear weapons facility.
Aqeel deserted the army in 2004, he said, and joined Jaish-e-Muhammad, a notorious militant group that in recent years has spawned splinter groups which have become allied to al-Qaida.
The militant attacks come as 28,000 army soldiers prepare to launch an assault on South Waziristan, where an estimated 10,000 fighters are holed up. Yesterday army jets hit Taliban targets in the area for the second day running, in preparation for an offensive the interior minister, Rehman Malik, said was “imminent”.
The army’s admission of ever stronger links between the Taliban, al-Qaida and Punjab-based militant groups was rare public confirmation of a trend analysts have observed for years. “We’ve seen this troika nexus in many major terrorist attacks – on the Marriott in Islamabad, on the navy headquarters in Lahore, and on the FIA [Federal Investigation Agency],” said Amir Rana, a terrorism analyst.
In some instances, Rana said, al-Qaida provided the financing, the Taliban logistics and training support, and Punjabi militants executed the operation.
The growing importance of the Punjabi factor in local and international militancy has placed the army under pressure to extend its crackdown beyond the tribal belt. At the weekend a spokesman for the North West Frontier province government said that even if a South Waziristan offensive succeeded, militants could still get help from Punjab.
Ajmal Kasab, the only surviving gunman from last November’s Mumbai massacre, comes from a small village in southern Punjab. Jaish-e-Muhammad operates a giant madrasa on the edge of Bahawalpur, a dusty city in southern Punjab notorious for its hardline madrasas.
The army rejected suggestions that a military operation would solve the problem. “Yes there are terrorists in southern Punjab, and these groups have links to the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan,” said Abbas. “But it’s a very different environment. It’s well developed, it has a communications infrastructure and a huge security force presence. It’s very different from what was Swat, and what [we see] in South Waziristan.”
In Lahore, a court freed Hafiz Saeed, a prominent extremist cleric whom India accuses of playing a major part in the Mumbai attacks. A prosecutor said the extremist charity he heads, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, had not been officially banned.
The turmoil spooked investors on Pakistan’s main stock market, which tumbled 1.3 per cent. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/oct/12/pakistan-army-taliban-militancy-threat

October 13, 2009   No Comments

Pakistan bombs region once declared Taliban-free: The Washington Post

By HABIB KHAN, The Associated Press
KHAR:– Pakistani fighter jets bombed suspected militant hide-outs Monday in a tribal region where the military had previously declared victory over the Taliban, killing 13 alleged extremists a day after the end of a deadly siege of the army’s headquarters.
A series of attacks over the past week shows that the Taliban have rebounded and appear determined to shake the nation’s resolve as the military plans for an offensive in South Waziristan, the insurgents’ main stronghold along the Afghan border that has never been fully under the government’s control.
Monday’s airstrikes were in Bajur, a separate segment of the lawless northwestern tribal belt where Pakistan waged an intense six-month offensive that wound down in February. Resurgent violence in Bajur could distract the military as it tries to focus on South Waziristan.
“This was a heavy spell of bombing,” said local government official Tahir Khan, who put the death toll at 13. Nine other alleged militants were wounded, he said.
Also in Bajur on Monday, a remote-controlled bomb went off in front of the political administration office in the main city of Khar, wounding a passer-by. In addition, militants were suspected of abducting 10 tribal elders after they attended a meeting aimed at forming a citizens’ militia to protect against the Taliban, said Faramosh Khan, another local official.
The 22-hour weekend standoff at Pakistan’s “Pentagon” in the city of Rawalpindi followed warnings from police as early as July that militants from western border areas were joining those in the central Punjab province in plans for a bold attack on army headquarters.
A team of 10 gunmen in fatigues launched the frontal assault on the very core of the nuclear-armed country’s most powerful institution. The violence killed 20, including three hostages and nine militants, while 42 hostages were freed, the military said.
The suspected ringleader in the raid, known as Aqeel, also was believed to have orchestrated an ambush on Sri Lanka’s visiting cricket team in Lahore this year. Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said the militant’s nickname, “Dr. Usman,” derived from the time he spent as a guard at an army nursing school before he joined the insurgents.
The U.S. has long pushed Islamabad to take more action against Taliban and al-Qaida militants, who are also blamed for attacks on U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, and the army carried out a successful campaign against the militants in the northwestern Swat Valley in the spring.
But the army had been unwilling to go all-out in the lawless tribal areas along the border that serve as the Taliban’s main refuge. Three offensives into South Waziristan since 2001 ended in failure, and the government signed peace deals with the militants.
In the wake of the seige in Rawalpindi, the government said it would not be deterred. The military launched two airstrikes Sunday evening on suspected militant targets in South Waziristan, killing at least five insurgents and ending a five-day lull in attacks there, intelligence officials said.
“We are going to attack the terrorists, the miscreants over there who are disturbing the state and damaging the peace,” Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said. “Wherever they will be, we will follow them. We will pursue them. We will take them to task.”
Officials have warned that Taliban fighters close to the border, Punjabi militants spread out across the country and foreign al-Qaida operatives were increasingly joining forces, dramatically increasing the dangers to Pakistan.
The weekend strike on army headquarters was a stunning finale to a week of attacks that highlighted the militants’ ability to strike a range of targets.
On Monday of last week, a suicide bomber dressed as a paramilitary police officer blew himself up inside a heavily guarded U.N. aid agency in the heart of the capital, Islamabad. On Friday, a suspected militant detonated an explosives-laden car in the middle of a busy market in the northwestern city of Peshawar, killing 53 people. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/11/AR2009101100162_pf.html

October 13, 2009   No Comments

Security of Pakistan nuclear weapons questioned: The Washington Post

By Chris Brummitt & Pamela Hess
ISLAMABAD — An audacious weekend assault by Islamic militants on Pakistan’s army headquarters is again raising fears of an insurgent attack on the country’s nuclear weapons installation. Pakistan has sought to protect its nuclear weapons from attack by the Taliban or other militants by storing the warheads, detonators and missiles separately in facilities patrolled by elite troops.
Analysts are divided on how secure these weapons are. Some say the weapons are less secure than they were five years ago, and Saturday’s attack would show a “worrisome” overconfidence by the Pakistanis.
While complex security is in place, much depends on the Pakistani army and how vulnerable it is to infiltration by extremists, said a Western government official with access to intelligence on Pakistan and its nuclear arsenal, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
Analysts say a more realistic scenario would involve militant sympathizers getting work as scientists at the facilities and passing information to extremists.
“It’s not thought likely that the Taliban are suddenly going to storm in and gain control of the nuclear facilities,” said Gareth Price, head of the Asia program at London think tank Chatham House. “There are enough command-and-control mechanisms in place to prevent that.”
A U.S. counterproliferation official in Washington said strong safeguards are in place and there is no reason to believe the nuclear arsenal is in imminent jeopardy of seizure by militants.
The official, who commented on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the matter publicly, said there is a major difference between attacking a nuclear site and actually seizing and using the nuclear material stored inside.
Security at Pakistan’s isolated nuclear installations is believed to be significantly higher than at the army headquarters, which was relatively relaxed by the standards of other nations. Thousands of people and vehicles enter the headquarters compound in Rawalpindi daily, and the 10 attackers, while able to take dozens of hostages Saturday and kill 14 people before a commando raid ended the siege, never penetrated to the heart of the complex.
Pakistan is estimated to have between 70 and 90 warheads, according to Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project of the Federation of American Scientists.
Shaun Gregory, an expert on Pakistani security at the University of Bradford in Britain, said militants have struck near an air base in Sargodha, where nuclear missiles are believed to be stored, and the Wah cantonment, where missiles that could carry nuclear weapons are believed to be assembled. He added that the attacks did not appear to have targeted nuclear weapons.
Pakistan uses armed forces personnel to guard nuclear weapons facilities, and it physically separates warhead cores from their detonation components, Gregory wrote in the July issue of The Sentinel, the monthly journal of the Combating Terrorism Center.
The components are stored in protected underground sites. The warheads themselves are electronically locked to ensure that they cannot be detonated even if they fall in terrorists’ hands, Gregory said.
The Pakistan military carefully screens and monitors the officers vested with protecting the warheads, drawing them almost exclusively from Punjabi officers who are considered to have fewer links to religious extremists or with the Pashtun area of Pakistan, where the Taliban garners much of its support.
No action or decision involving a nuclear weapon can be undertaken by fewer than two persons. But Gregory acknowledged the possibility of collusion between cleared officers and extremists.
The personnel assigned to sensitive nuclear posts go through regular background checks conducted by Pakistan’s intelligence services, according to a 2007 article in the journal Arms Control, co-written by Naeem Salik, a former top official at Pakistan’s National Command Authority, which oversees the nuclear arsenal.
“It is being acknowledged by the world powers that the system has no loopholes,” Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, a military spokesman, said Monday. “The system is foolproof, as good and bad as their own systems.”
The U.S. and the British governments agree there is little risk of a weapon falling into militants’ hands.
In London, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said there is no evidence “that has been shown publicly or privately of any threat to the Pakistani nuclear facilities, said.
Gregory said in an e-mail to The Associated Press that he did not share Miliband’s assertion, adding that “there is plenty of evidence of threat.”
Individuals in the Pakistan military have colluded with al-Qaida in providing safe houses for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and individuals in Pakistan’s civil nuclear sector have met with al-Qaida figures, including Osama bin Laden himself, Gregory said.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton dismissed any suggestion militants could overthrow the government and gain control of the nuclear arsenal. “We have confidence in the Pakistani government and military’s control over nuclear weapons,” she said.
Kristensen said that while U.S. officials have said they have helped Pakistan increase security at its nuclear facilities, “they have not been allowed to go to those sites, so it’s something they’ve had to do remotely.”
Saturday’s attack “somehow seems to show that the Pakistani military is perhaps a little overly confident” about some of its most important military facilities, he said.
“If a relatively small group of people is able to penetrate into their ‘Pentagon,’ then it might show something about the overconfidence of the Pakistanis, and that is worrisome – it’s surprising that they were able to go in there relatively simply,” Kristensen said.
He noted that the military headquarters is different from a nuclear facility. “One cannot compare insurgents going into an office building to them going into a nuclear facility for the nation’s crown jewels,” he added.
While stringent security checks on personnel are meant to prevent militant sympathizers from working at the facilities, Pakistan’s nuclear establishment has seen serious leaks of nuclear knowledge and materials by insiders.
Top government scientist A.Q. Khan operated a global black market nuclear network for more than a decade until he was uncloaked by U.S. intelligence. And the CIA has confirmed a meeting between Khan associates and bin Laden before 9/11.
Israel has not taken a formal position on the danger of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists. However, in a parliamentary briefing last year, Defense Minister Ehud Barak mentioned such a scenario as a nightmare for the world, according to security officials speaking on condition of anonymity because the session was closed.
“Pakistan’s weapons are less secure today than they were five years ago, and it seems they’re even less secure than under the Musharraf government,” said Gerald Steinberg, professor of political studies and conflict management at Bar Ilan University in Israel, referring to the previous administration of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
Steinberg said Israelis are becoming less confident of the U.S. ability to control events and put plans into action that would protect Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/12/AR2009101202343_pf.html

October 13, 2009   No Comments

GHQ raid highlights Punjab risk: analysts

LONDON: The attack on the General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi has highlighted not only the threat from the Taliban in the Tribal Areas bordering Afghanistan, but also from those based in Punjab.

Security officials said some of the militants involved in the attack on the GHQ appeared to have links to Punjab. “South Punjab has become the hub of jihadism,” analyst Ayesha Siddiqa wrote in a magazine article last month. “Yet, somehow, there are still many people in Pakistan who refuse to acknowledge this threat,” she wrote.

Security officials said a militant arrested after the attack and hostage-taking at the GHQ was believed be a member of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Some hostage takers’ phone calls were intercepted and they were speaking Punjabi, another security official said. However, Interior Minister Rehman Malik has said it is too early to say whether Punjab-based groups were involved.

Separate danger: NWFP Information Minister Iftikhar Hussain called on Saturday for the elimination of militant bases in Punjab as well as South Waziristan. But targeting all of the country’s militants at once could create an even more dangerous coalition by driving disparate groups closer together, analysts say. The army also draws many of its recruits from Punjab, making any efforts to root out militants there all the harder.

“Deploying the military is not an option. In the Punjab this will create a division within the powerful army because of regional loyalty,” wrote Siddiqa. But the police force in the province is inadequate and unlikely to be able to take on the thousands of armed men belonging to different militant groups. Complicating the picture further are pressures from both the US and India, which want Pakistan to target the groups directly in conflict with them.

Pakistan has focused largely on acting against groups representing a direct domestic threat, leading some analysts to suggest it may want to retain groups like the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba to be used as “strategic assets” against India. But defence analyst Brian Cloughley said the attack on the army’s headquarters showed how little support militants had in the military and the Inter-Services Intelligence. http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2009\10\12\story_12-10-2009_pg7_8

October 12, 2009   No Comments

No peace in the Swat Valley: op-ed in The L A Times Oct 7

By Anna Husarska
( the author is senior policy advisor at the International Rescue Committee).
Writing From Mingora, Pakistan: The drawing shows three boys in traditional Pakistani long shirts, shalwar kameez, crying and holding banners that read “We want peace,” “Not the peaces [sic] of human bodies” and, in Arabic script, “Aman” — Pashto for “peace.” On the left of the group, two hooded men (members of the Taliban, one presumes) carry swords; on the right, two figures in uniform carry guns (Pakistani army, one guesses). In the foreground, a hooded figure holds down a person who is pleading, “Please let me go; I have small children.”

This was a drawing by a schoolgirl named Sheema for an end-of-Ramadan competition in Mingora, the main town of Pakistan’s Swat Valley in the North-West Frontier Province. The scene depicting her hometown this spring — civilians caught between the militants and the army — illustrates the huge human cost of the operation by the Pakistan army against the Taliban. And the suffering is far from over. After a week of talking to people living in the Swat Valley, displaced from Swat or working in Swat, I can attest that Sheema got it exactly right.

The tragedy of more than 2 million people being displaced in less than two months may have vanished from the headlines, but the civilian drama continues. If there is less attention to their needs, it’s partly because it’s still hard for anyone other than the armed forces or a native Swati to reach most of the district north of Mingora. The army can take foreign journalists on periodic tours of the “cleared” areas in the south but rarely in the north, where the situation remains uncertain. One thing is obvious: Beyond Mingora, the Swat Valley is still an insecure place.

The Pakistanis themselves have concerns for the collateral damage that the offensive has caused: A visit by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan resulted in a strongly worded report about mass graves and extrajudicial “revenge” killings. And last week, the Pakistani daily Dawn and others reported that a 10-minute video apparently showing Pakistani soldiers beating men detained in anti-militant operations had surfaced on the Internet. The army is investigating.

If the restrictions caused by emergency army administration — such as curfews and checkpoints — are a nuisance and add risks for civilians, anger against the militants is rising too. The displaced return to areas promised to be “cleared” of militants, only to find it may not be so. People fear that if they are seen during daytime (from the hills where the militants tend to hide) having contact with any army or government personnel, the Taliban will come down at night to exact a heavy price on them.

Close to Peshawar, in Mardan, I met with some of the displaced people who have found temporary shelter there — they number more than 1,000. Fourteen of the families are redisplaced — i.e. they tried to return home and found it impossible to live there. What 35-year-old Selma mentions is typical: Before the army’s action, her daughters could not go to school because of Taliban-imposed rules, and one brother’s shop was judged un-Islamic — for selling clothes catering to women — and destroyed. Now the daughters cannot go to school because of the army-imposed curfew, and the army told her brothers to dismantle the homes of suspected militants (which exposes them to revenge). So after one month spent back in Charbagh, a former Taliban stronghold, the family opted to flee yet again.

The situation in other parts of the North-West Frontier Province remains unstable. Reporting about a militant attack in a market last month in Kohat, a local Pakistani newspaper wrote that for several hours after the blast, “an enraged crowd did not allow the bomb-disposal squad to enter the market.” How huge must be the people’s grief, and animosity toward those responsible for the mayhem, for them to shoo away Samaritans coming to rescue their loved ones.

The message in Sheema’s drawing gets confirmed with every conversation I have with those who fled the Swat Valley. It resonates across the troubled province, where another major anti-Taliban assault by the army is brewing, this time on the militant stronghold of South Waziristan. Hundreds of thousands more civilians may be forced to flee, caught between the army and the Taliban.

However, in Mingora and the territory just south of it, ringed by army checkpoints and crawling with street patrols, many wish for a civilian administration — a sign that things could be genuinely stabilizing. The army is beginning to draw back in Mingora and hand over security to the police. There too I find a beaming principal of a private girls school, Ziauddin Yousafzai, whose enthusiasm over the “clearance” of Mingora is contagious. And his pupil, Sheema, has another, more hopeful drawing showing her high school reopened and boys and girls holding hands and smiling. Were it that the rest of the Swat Valley could hold hands and smile. http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-husarska7-2009oct07,0,2648217,print.story

October 8, 2009   No Comments