Saturday, February 21, 2009

Reading Swat

Increasingly, I am convinced that the discourse on Pakistan within the United States needs some major intervention. My fear, or maybe paranoia, is that Pakistan is en-route to be declared "mentally incapacitated" by United States aka "failed state". The impact of such a declaration (whether stated or not) would be that US will need to put a "care-taker" in charge of the mess. The rising frequency of the drone attacks, the extension of missile strikes, the troop "surge" in Afghanistan read as concrete steps towards a radically intrusive strategy towards Pakistan. I will have more to say on this. But I wanted, for the moment to simply bring to your attention some recent writings on Swat.

1. Jackie Northam, "Pakistan Deal With Taliban Draws Criticis", All Things Considered, Feb 17, 2009.
Perhaps the worst of all recent pieces - NPR could only find 1. CIA Station Chief, 1. State Department Official and 1. NSC Official to declare that the Swat deal basically meant that Afghanistani Taliban have basically invaded and taken over Swat and that this means the Pakistani army is ridiculously weak. Between the lines, you should understand that the nukes are about to fall into the Taliban hands. Also al-Qaeda. Thank you, NPR.

2. The New York Times managed to get their reporters to Pakistan. Their write up, Pakistan Makes a Taliban Truce, Creating a Haven at least took the time to point out:
Many of the poor who have stayed in Swat, which until the late 1960s was ruled by a prince, were calling for the Shariah courts as a way of achieving quick justice and dispensing with the long delays and corruption of the civil courts. The authorities in the North-West Frontier Province, which includes Swat, argued that the Shariah courts were not the same as strict Islamic law. The new laws, for instance, would not ban education of females or impose other strict tenets espoused by the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Leaving aside what "strict Islamic law" even means (and how it compares to the California "Three Strikes" law), I was relieved that Jane Perlez sought to give some sense of the history of the region. Though this whole "prince" bit could have been used to provide a quick word on Swat's constitutional relationship to Pakistan. The nice thing about the piece was that it actually quoted experts in Pakistan (such as Shuja Nawaz) even though the generic spin remained the same ("Theeeeere Here!")

Moving from US press to Pakistani press, there is actually nuanced content for us to consume.

3. Rafia Zakaria, "Drones vs sharia", Daily Times, Feb 21, 2009.
This is an interesting read.
The strategy to agree to a peace deal between Sufi Muhammad of the TNSM is a markedly different one from the drone approach, and is based on a calculated gamble which posits that if the Taliban are handed control of the area, the consequent repression they will impose on the people will automatically turn public opinion against them.

I think it is a mistaken notion that these are "outsiders", but Zakaria focuses on the lives of the ordinary Swatis and that is of enormous consequence to the situation. You will notice that the alarmism of the US pieces is balanced by some knowledge of the locale.

4. Ayesha Jalal, "The Fallacies of Mainstreaming ‘Jihad’", Dawn News, Feb 14, 2009.

A contrary position to Zakaria is taken by Ayesha Jalal. I think this is an intriguing piece though I am not convinced that a semantic battle over the word jihad serves anyone's interest. The underlining point, fitna vs jihad, does point towards the possibility of a theological push against the Swati militants.

5. Muhammad Hanif, "Defense main Shari'at", BBC Urdu, Feb 18, 2009.

This is an "open letter" to the Swati militants. Writing with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, Muhammad Hanif seeks to point out the ridiculousness of these entrepreneurs of a strict Islam. I admit that the piece made me laugh. Yet, I was disturbed by the underlining inability to empathize with Swatis. Perhaps continuing the mistake of seeing these as "outsiders", Hanif can poke fun at them as one in a long line of "mullahs". Muhammad Hanif is a fine journalist and author, and he deliberately situates himself in this upper-class neighborhood in Karachi, but this piece reads a bit callously, showing a blasé approach to the realities of everyday lives in Swat.

I took the trouble to translate the piece for you (it is rough, has typos - though, the missing 4th point is not my typo):
Shariat in Defense

On behalf of the inhabitants of Defense Housing Authority, I congratulate from the bottom of my heart the esteemed Asif Zardari, the Commander of Pakistan, General Kiyani, The Mujahideen of Islam Maulana Sufi Muhammad and his son-in-law (Broadcaster of the Year and Conqueror of Swat) Maulana Fazalullah, on the establishment of a Justice system in the Valley.

At this historical juncture, I want to bring to your attention the many denials of God in every alley of Defense and I beg we should not denied the benefits of the Shar'ia laws and they should be implemented here, immediately.

For your convenience, I present this 7 point plan. Upon reading this, it will be clear as day that this neighborhood (Defense Housing Authority) is the domain of the devil.

1. In our 'hood, hundreds of children walk around carrying plastic bags, double their own size. They collect items from garbage thrown from houses and then sell those items.

2. Since a key force in Maulana Fazlullah's success was his FM radio, lot of people have taken his lead and established their own radio stations. But, god help us, from these radio stations, only the devil speaks in many voices; day and night playing sexually arousing songs. One of these station, even identifies itself as Mast FM which sounds like a Jewish conspiracy. We have heard that for the last two years the Government has been trying to buy a signal jammer to jam Maulana Fazlullah's FM broadcast. Now after the agreement, there is no need for that equipment. We request that such a jammer be installed in our region instead, so that our ears are protected from these devilish sounds.

3. In our region, small children sell roses in the evening. Whenever they spot a couple, they try to sell them a rose. Just consider - at seeing a rose, no Islamic emotion can possibly arise, only a non-islamic one. We ask that such sexually arousing practice be immediately stopped. In any case, these children should be enrolled in some madrassa where they can learn law and hadith so that they do not embarrass the Muslim community.


5. Nowadays a number of young men wander our region carrying plastic flowers in one hand, and a camera across their shoulders. Upon investigation it emerges that many domestic servants have their pictures taken with these flowers and mailed to their homes in villages (their income is too low to permit them actually visiting). flowers! cameras! If we connect the dots and keep in our mind point #3, we have an inkling of a devious plan. This needs immediate investigation.

6. The biggest obstacle to implementation of Shari'a in our region is the sea. (Which is missing in Swat - hence this great task by accomplished by simply destroying a few hundred schools and killing a few hundred enemies of Islam). Our eyes are lowered in shame when we see a veiled woman frolic on the beach with some free-loader. From appearances, they look to be acquainted with Islamic values (We have also heard that some ill-reputed women use the veil as a mask). The blame must go to the sea. When that tide rises, people forget their inner Islam and become animals. This has a simple solution. Some Arab brothers are creating luxury flats by pouring cement into the ocean and making mini-islands. This process should be encouraged until all of the sea can be filled by concrete and sand. No sea, no tide, no sexual urges.

7. In our region, the moon is also responsible for some societal ills. At first glance, this seems to beg explanation. But when there is a clear sky, and a full moon, humans, along with animals, feel their sexual urges rise. This, too, has a solution. We can make a request to, the father of the Pakistani bomb, the incomparable poet and columinst, Dr. AQ Khan to create a missile which would blast the moon away. To convince him, we can argue that if there is no moon, no Hindu will ever get there first and look down upon the Muslim 'ummah (You may have heard that the Hindus, in cahoots with the Americans, have been trying to send their girls to the moon. One of them even died in that shuttle on the way.) If Dr. Khan needs even more convincing, we can offer them land in the Defense Housing Authourity and he will immediately agree.

6. Fiaz Zafar, "Maulana Fazlullah key naam kulha khat", Daily Swat.

This is a must-read. Now contrast Hanif with this "Open Letter". This one written by another journalist but one who lives _in_ Swat. Read between his lines, look at the ways in which he approaches the same set of questions as Hanif. Here is a man who knows that the price of this letter may very well be his life. Just recently a well-known journalist, Musa Khan Khel was killed in the region.

However, one can gleam from this open letter that these are not "outsiders" but members of this same community. There is no invasion of Talibans from across the borders but a rapid militarization of internal groups with a long local history. We need to focus on this long history. We need to find a way to deal with it. I have also taken the trouble to translate this second letter for you. (Pardon the spelling mistakes).

An Open Letter to Maulana Fazlullah

Respected Maulana Fazlullahh, Supreme COmmander of the Taliban Movement of Swat
Assalam-u Alaikum

I hope that you, Haji Muslim Khan, Maulana Shah Durran, Ibn Yamin, Fatih, are in good health. I am in frequent phone contact with Haji Muslim Khan. I even met you, last year, in Taran but have not been able to contact you directly since them. Sometimes, I get to talk to Maulana Shah Durran on the phone. I met Fatih, Abbas and some of your other commanders the day we went to photograph Pir Samihullah's body in Piuchar. I had really hoped to meet you, so that I could tell you, in person, the things I am about to write. But, it did not happen. Hence I am writing you a letter about myself and the people of Swat.

The people of Swat are extremely helpless. Thousands have died, thousand homes have been destroyed, hundreds of thousands have migrated, businesses have closed - after all this, to not have mercy on the people of Swat would be a grave injustice indeed. The rich of Swat have all fled to ISlamabad, Karachi, Peshawer, Abbotabad and other cities with their familiyes. Those, like myself, who remain in Swat do not have the capacity to go to these other cities. Those who remain have some demands from you. They have some problems that I am laying before you. I hope that you will provide a solution through Maulana Shah Durran in his FM radio address.

You have placed a ban on female education. After the ban, people stopped their girls from attending schools. And since the holidays, you will not have seen any girl in the schools. There are over 100,000 girls in various schools in Swat and their parents do have the hopes that they become educated. You know very well that the Swati people are highly religious - a clear evidence being your movement. At a single call from you, thousands of people gathered in Imam Dehrai, Kibl and Dehrai grounds. All the girls who attended school here, also went to religious school after they came home to learn Quran. And often one hears one mother ask of another, how many times has your daughter read the whole Quran and she would tell, with pride, of her own daughters many full recitations. You are a member of the Taliban Movement of Pakistan. Neither Baitullah Mehsud, in Waziristan, nor Maulana Faqir Muhammad, in Bajaur, have placed any restriction on female education. Sure, they have instructed that proper veiling be observed. I humbly request that you re-consult your religious advisory council and reconsider your decision. Certainly, we can have separate section for girls, and only women teachers can teach girls, and even the transportation system of girls can be separated, and all girls must observe strict veiling. You can even order that the subjects of Islam and religion be increased three-fold in schools. And that along with earth-sciences, all girls be taught the Quran in translation. If you make this decision, that the girls can have both religious education and secular.

You have forbidden cable and dish antennas. To combat obscenity, this is a welcome step. But obsenity can come from many places. Since you have started your movement in Swat, no one can do any business in Swat that can be considered pornographic. So much so, that people have stopped listening to songs in their cars, instead tuning in to Quranic rectitation or hymns to the Prophet. Lets take the cassette tape. Just as everything has two sides, such is the case with the tape recorder. On this instrument, people, in Swat or elsewhere, can listen to Indian songs but people can also listen to the Quran. Similar example is of the Radio - which has over a hundred station. Some people listen to songs, but people in Swat either listen to your speeches or the speech of Maulana Shah Durran. If we consider tv and satellite, we see the same two sides. Just as people can see Indian songs and movies, they can also watch the transmissions from Saudi Arabia, Quran TV, Peace TV and other channels which broadcast directly from the Holy land. Before the injunction against Cable, I had it in my house. I would watch the news stations since, as a lowly journalist, it is my responsibility. My mother, who is illiterate, would watch the quran transmission every morning, along with the Pushto Khyber TV which had translation of the Quran. Similary, many other women of my household, who cannot read, would get the Pushto translations from the television. Some people would see the direct broadcast of prayers from Mecca - even those who have never been there but have desires. Those that had, would pray that God grant them another trip. What I mean by this discussion of the two sides is simply that if we can try and teach the people than we can make them listen to religious works on the radio or television instead of Indian songs. Hence, I request that you allow cable providers to only allow Islamic channels and news channels. IN this way the people of swat can continue to be informed of global affairs as well as religious news.

The last request, I want to make on behalf of the people of Swat. Many people have written to us, and told us, about this. But we cannot publish all this in the newspaper. Hence, through this letter, I want to get the people's voice to you. The people of Swat say that if a soldier, or policeman dies while fighting you, or is injured, it is fine. Because in battle these things happen. But those who are off-duty, in plain clothes, please do not kill them. One person wrote in with the argument that in Waziristan, Baitullah Mehsud told the police to keep their employement because it fed their families but not to fight the Taliban. Those who did, would be killed. We request that you order a similar injunction that whoever fights the Taliban will be killed and the plainclothes will not be harmed.

Going back to the "theological push" angle, notice how brilliantly Zafar highlights the differences between Mehsud and Fazlullah.

[X-posted from CM]


badger said...

That is extremely informative and much-needed! Please, to the extent you can, continue including material from local sources in Urdu (do you know Pashto too?) so as to highlight these very important differences. Otherwise ...

Anonymous said...

I completely disagree with the POV expressed by Rafia Zakaria in the article you excerpted. As a Pakistani she must be aware that it is almost IMPOSSIBLE to discredit any group with a religious agenda, especially if this group is legitimized by the government as has been done with Sufi Muhammad. So how on earth does she expect that by legitimizing the TNSM yet again (following in the shameful footsteps of various governments since 1994), that they will ultimately be discredited? especially given the fact that absolutely no concrete concessions have been accepted by ANP from the Swati Taliban. This is so wrong-headed and so disastrous, that it would be laughable if the future of my country didn't hang in the balance.

Mr. Ahmed, it's pretty telling that both yours and Ms. Zakaria's articles start with a discussion of the reception of these peace deals in the US. It seems that both of you are so concerned with the perception of Pakistan in the US that you are unable to understand the disaster that this deal is going to be from a liberal Pakistani perspective.

Anonymous said...

What analysts rarely seem capable of understanding or describing is that Barack Obama has repeatedly shown a sense that Pakistan and Afghanistan are American protectorates and will remain so, and that we have the right to any military engagement in either country we choose to have.

Democratic and Republican leaders seem completely in agreement. Pakistan and Afghanistan are our militarily under Obama.

Anonymous said...

Listen to the thuggish sounding Richard Holbrooke for a few minutes and understand that Obama is more militant about controlling Pakistan and Afghanistan than Bush was.

Anonymous said...

U.S. Unit Secretly in Pakistan Lends Ally Support

American military advisers are working in Pakistan to help its armed forces battle Al Qaeda and the Taliban in lawless tribal areas.

[All Obama cares about, possibly more than Bush cared about is controlling Pakistan. and Afghanistan.]

Anand said...

Why do so many Pakistani civilians back attacks against the GoA (Gov of Afghanistan), the ANA (Afghan National Army) and ANP (Afghan National Police)?

Pakistan needs a plan to stop Pakistanis from crossing the Durand line to kill the ANA and ANP. In the most recent Afghan poll, 91% of Afghans had a negative view of the Taliban and 91% of Afghans had a negative view of Pakistan. By far the most pro Pakistan and pro Taliban section of Afghanistan is the South. But even in the South most Afghans dislike the Taliban and Pakistan.

The ANA was by far the most popular and respected institution among Afghans, with 87% of Afghans favorably disposed towards it.

The Pakistanis know that ANA + ANP casualties are about 4 times more than combined ISAF/OEF casualties, and that this is causing great anger against Pakistan on the part of Afghan civilians. Why do so many support on the Pakistani street support attacks against the ANA and ANP? Unless Pakistani policy is radically transformed, Pakistan is doomed to an endless and very bloody war with the Afghans. The ANA will never give up. They cannot be defeated. Many of them are highly motivated Pathan Pasthus (many are from East Afghanistan.) The Pakistanis must know this in their bones.

Do the Pakistanis think that indefinite Pashtu civil war is inevitable? Do they see staying the course as the only possible option?

Anonymous said...

The Western media has been sensationalist about Swat. They didn't know where it was on Sunday, and then on Monday, they began crying that the Taliban are near the gates of Islamabad.

I am glad you quoted a Swati journalist. Ultimately, this is about the people of Swat. They deserve peace and stability. Excuse my french, but I don't give a fuck what an American journalist who doesn't speak the language and isn't from the area thinks about the consequences of a peace deal.

They don't speak with precision. They don't have a master of facts and detail. They speak with the same talking heads. No one really knows what's going on. That's the problem. White people just nod and never listen!

Anand said...

"I don't give a fuck what an American journalist who doesn't speak the language and isn't from the area thinks about the consequences of a peace deal.

They don't speak with precision. They don't have a master of facts and detail. They speak with the same talking heads. No one really knows what's going on. That's the problem. White people just nod and never listen!"

I appreciate your sentiments. I would only add Punjabi, Balochi, Pharsi, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Sindhi, Urdu speaking, Latin American, and all other "journalists" to the mix. Unfortunately the journalist profession leaves much to be desired. Much of the fault for this goes back to defective westernized university programs that train journalists.

Anonymous said...


Out of the other ethnicities, the Baloch people have suffered the most under an administration dominated by Punjabis.

The region of Balochistan is mostly waste land covered by deserts and uncultivable land. However this area is also rich in mineral reserves such as natural gas and petroleum.

In fact, 90% of Pakistan’s energy requirements are met by the natural reserves of the province of Balochistan.

But the irony is that this province does not even get 5% of the electricity produced from the land in this region. So much for Islamic/Pakistani brotherhood!

The per capita income of Balochistan is next to zilch when compared to Punjab.

Balochistan has hardly any schools or colleges except in the capital city of Quetta. The Baloch people have to travel great distances even to get basic necessities such as water and food supplies.
There are hardly any roads or major railway links in Balochistan. Most Baloch people have to work as migrant labourers in the more developed cities of Karachi and Islamabad.

The Pakistani Army rape women and young girls, kill non-combatants; in general terms, they spread misery amongst the Baloch population.

It is not as if the Civil or Military Administration is unaware of these facts. On the other hand, the Administration fully supports these cruel techniques used by the Pakistani Army to subdue the Baloch.

This is actually a return gift from the Pakistani Administration for the audacity of asking for the basic human rights by the Baloch.

There are no technical institutions where people from Balochistan can pursue education, which would enable them to achieve a respectable status. All the work in the various military or civilians are assigned to non-local labour.

This is not done because the Baloch people are lazy or unable to do work. Rather this is being done to add to the depravity of the already suffering people of Balochistan.

The Baloch people who are not so religious, but are however fiercely independent in spirit were ultimately fed up with the Punjabi-led administration decided to rebel against it.

Even though there is a long history of rebellion of the Baloch people against the evil Pakistani Administration, I will confine myself to a recent event that has become epoch in the history of Balochistan.

I will tell you the short story of Nawab Akbar Bughti. He was a man who once believed in the nation of Pakistan and even occupied several important positions in the Pakistani administration unlike most of his Baloch brothers who were not so lucky.

When he came back to his native place, he was really appalled to see the barbarity with which the Pakistani army treated the Baloch people. He could no longer tolerate the injustice and decided to fight the oppression.

He fought, to secure basic Human rights for his people. The Pakistani Administration decided that this impudent Baloch, who had the guts to ask for equal rights, should also be given a return gift. He was bombed in his house, which was actually a cave, in the middle of night.

This was a warning for the rest of the Baloch people to shut up or suffer similar consequences.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Now the Pakistani administration has found a new way of subduing the Baloch. They have started colonising the Baloch land in bits and pieces to establish colonies of Punjabi ex-army men in order to destabilize the ethnic balance of the area.

To add to the woes of the Baloch, Afghan refugees have also been provided habitations in the Baloch land. This was hardly done out of compassion for the refugees, why not house them in Punjab?

The real reason was to turn the native population of Balochistan into minorities. This way, they are being gradually subdued with ease.

While the Western Media chooses to cherry pick the events in Pakistan, we seldom get to hear the moans and cries of these unfortunate people, caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.

As I write this article, there might be a Baloch woman being molested by the Army of Pakistan, a child being beaten up for being who he is.

Nobody will ever be able to assess the exact extent of the atrocities the Pakistani Administration has committed upon the Baloch people.

I really don’t understand why the media of the free world chooses to ignore a Human tragedy which occurs everyday in a country as well known as Pakistan.

I also wonder why the Western leaders don’t ask the Pakistani administration as to why these people are suffering so much even after the billions of dollars in Aid.

I.:.S.:. said...

Anand said: "I would only add Punjabi, Balochi, Pharsi, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Sindhi, Urdu speaking, Latin American, and all other "journalists" to the mix. Unfortunately the journalist profession leaves much to be desired."

"Journalism" and in-depth language, cultural and historical knowledge of a specific place are mutually exclusive. Most "journalism" demands a buttefly-minded ability to flit from subject to subject. If you know your thing intimately, spent years there, speak the language - no one wants to know. You'll just make things too complicated and nuanced.

"Much of the fault for this goes back to defective westernized university programs that train journalists."

You can't blame a university for not being able to give someone immediate insight and deep familiarity with a place and its history. The problem is with all the people who buy into the idea that you can teach the qualities necessary for good journalism in a journalism department. I studied journalism and I want my money back.

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