Will the Taliban Re-Emerge?
By Air Marshal (Retd) Ayaz Ahmed Khan
Los Angeles , CA
Pakistan Army helped by the Pakistan Air force and the Frontier Constabulary and the fullest support of the people and the government defeated the Taliban insurgents in Swat. The military operation caused the exodus of two million who became IDPs, i.e. internally displaced people.
Peace-loving Sawatis were pushed out of their homes and hearths into the IDP camps in sizzling midsummer. It was a tragedy and a test of the resilience of the suffering people, and of the Pakistani nation, which grieved over what was happening to their hapless countrymen. The nation stood as a rock behind the government and with the support of the people, the military defeated the Taliban to rid Swat, Malakand and North and South Waziristan of the murderous Taliban insurgents.
The IDP’s are returning to their homes, but the battle is not over. The insurgents are on the run, but are not dead or gone. The Swat Taliban under Maulvi Fazalullah have gone into hiding and could emerge at the time and place of their choosing. Creation of a strong police force, backed by armed citizenry-lashkars, return of government institutions, especially courts under “Nizam-e-Adal” to bring the brigands and killers to justice, civil administration, opening of educational institutions-schools, colleges, hospitals, and of course uninterrupted electricity supply to the area, must be given priority. But will the Taliban, conspirators, and enemy agents allow peace to prevail and social progress to take place? The Taliban were trampling the writ of the government underfoot. Education, peace and progress are contrary to their motives and designs.
The hardcore Taliban are hiding in the hills and caves of Swat and Malakand. Their warlord Fazalullah is still at large. The Swat Taliban could regroup in Kohistan, in Kaladahka, and other remote areas of Mansera Division. Most of them belong to the madrassas in Pakistan, and could have returned there. Thousands could have shaved their beards and disappeared among the IDP’s or local villagers. They are unlikely to surface in Swat and Malakand immediately, but being experts at spreading rumors and fomenting unrest, they will do everything to discredit the policies and what the government wants to achieve.
Many of the Swat terrorists are former students of Jamia Hanfia - a part of the Red Mosque in Islamabad and were indoctrinated into believing that Pakistanis are corrupt and sinful, and must be subjected to the codes of rigid Sharia that they understood; including flogging, cutting of hands, feet, and heads. They could have returned to thousands of other madrassas, where they are likely to be welcomed with open arms. The clerics had masterminded anarchy in Pakistan under the cloak of “Sharia”. They are responsible for brainwashing innocent children into fanaticism and violence.
Fazalullah had five thousand armed Taliban under his command, trained and equipped with modern weapons, munitions, and communication equipment. They are well-trained and hardened guerrilla fighters. The Army claims to have killed and injured about four thousand. Pakistan Air Force has taken a heavy toll of insurgents’ life and property. With precision weapons, Taliban hideouts, caves, training places, and munitions dumps and armories were destroyed. But Taliban supply lines extend all the way to Waziristan and Afghanistan.
Fazalullah is a seasoned guerrilla fighter. He fought against NATO forces in Afghanistan for over a decade. He is a good organizer. His chain of FM radio stations across Swat and Malakand, and provision of cell phones, training for suicide bombings to poor illiterate boys, and launching them on suicide bombing missions, prove that he is dangerous as long as he is alive. He had established effective coordination with Baitullah Mehsud’s Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. With the death of Baitullah Mehsud and infighting among some factions of TTP, especially the Mehsud and Bhittany Taliban, coordination could have become non-effective. The Taliban are highly strung, emotional, violent and suspicious of fellow Taliban from other tribes and areas. The recent assassination of Zainuddin, and clashes between Mehsud and Bhittani fighters, resulted in the death of seventy people and amply proves this point.
Taliban influence in Pakistan has greatly eroded as a result of suicide bombings at mosques, schools, colleges, hospitals, shops, hotels, market places and the resultant killing of innocent people at political gatherings. Pakistani people now believe that the Taliban are out to destroy life and property. In the tribal agencies, including Malakand and Swat, people have formed vigilante “lashkars” - volunteers fighters - to fight the Taliban to protect themselves from violence and death.
The next mission of the Pakistan armed forces is to bring normalcy to North and South Waziristan. The military planning for this mission seems to be in order. The Pakistan Air Force has been given the mission to “soften up” the terrorist resistance by accurate bombing of high value targets. The targets are dispersed and hidden in caves, bunkers, trenches in culverts and difficult terrain. With precision guided weapons, missiles and guided bombs much greater accuracy of air attacks is being achieved. Pakistan Air Force, having flown three hundred ground strike missions, inflicted fair amount of damage on the Taliban insurgents in Swat, which brought them to their knees. Over one hundred such sorties have already been flown against Taliban insurgents in Waziristan. After the death of Baitullah Mehsud, disarray in the ranks of TTP insurgents and continued air strikes, there are likely to be more defections, with the demoralized Taliban wishing to surrender. This should be encouraged under the present stick and carrot policy. With the decision to allow the political parties to function in all the seven tribal Agencies of the FATA, it is time that the parties define their agendas for the tribal region. They should come out of their Hujras and air-conditioned drawing rooms and head for the tribal towns and cities to assist the tribal people who have seen nothing but suffering since the last three decades.
If the politicians dedicate themselves sincerely to the service of the suffering, distraught and tortured tribal brothers and sisters, the chances of re-emergence of the Taliban will recede. The tribal masses must be brought on board in the political and economic life of the country in the interest of long-term peace and amity in the border regions and the country.