Monday, February 16, 2009




The Tehrik-e-Nifaz-a-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM---- the Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Laws), founded by Sufi Mohammad, aresident of the Malakand Division of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan, came into existence in 1992 two years before thebirth of the Taliban of Afghanistan, headed by Mulla Mohammad Omar. Sufi Mohammad used to be a member of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI)before he left it and founded the TNSM to fight for the enforcement of the Islamic laws in the entire Malakand Division, of which Swat is apart.

2. Benazir Bhutto was the Prime Minister of Pakistan in her second term (1993-96) during the period when both these organisations cameinto existence. Whereas the Taliban was brought into existence by Pakistan's intelligence agencies to replace the different warringMujahideen groups of the 1980s vintage, they played little role in the birth of the TNSM. During Benazir's prime ministership, Sufi Mohammadorganised huge road blocades in the Malakand Division to demand the enforcement of the Islamic laws in the area. Benazir bought peace byaccepting all his demands except one. Sufi Mohammad wanted that the Islamic courts to be set up in the Malakand Division should betotally autonomous with the appellate courts in Peshawar, the capital of the NWFP, and Islamabad having no jurisdiction over them. She didnot accept this demand. Her acceptance of the other demands of the TNSM was not reversed by her successor Nawaz Sharif or by PervezMusharraf, who seized power in 1999.

3. There were allegations by Sufi Mohammad that even the demands accepted by Benazir were not properly implemented. Till 9/11, theTNSM remained essentially a religious fundamentalist organisation with close links to the Afghan Taliban, but with no pronounced anti-US oranti-Army feelings. The US military strikes in Afghanistan under Operation Enduring Freedom turned it into an anti-US and anti-Armyorganisation. Sufi Mohammad issued a fatwa calling upon his followers to go to Afghanistan to fight against the US troops along with theAfghan Taliban. A large number of his followers led personally by him crossed over into Afghanistan. Many of them were mowed down by USair strikes. The survivors, including Sufi Mohammad, fled back into the Pakistani territory.

4. Musharraf had Sufi Mohammad arrested and kept in preventive detention and banned the TNSM as a terrorist organisation on January15,2002. Maulana Fazlullah, a son-in-law of Sufi Mohammad, assumed the leadership of the TNSM and resumed the struggle for theimplementation of the promises made by Benazir and for abolishing the appellate jurisdiction of the courts in Peshawar and Islamabad overthe Islamic courts in the Malakand Division.

5. In the elections held towards the end of 2002, Musharraf had the polls manipulated in order to have the Awami National Party (ANP), aprogressive Pashtun party, which used to be led by Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, known as the Frontier Gandhi, and the Pakistan People's Party(PPP) of Benazir Bhutto defeated. A coalition of six religious fundamentalist parties known as the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) came topower in Peshawar after the elections.

6. The MMA Government closed its eyes to the activities of the TNSM and Fazlullah. From a purely religious organisation, the TNSM grewinto a qasi political organisation and expanded its agenda to include not only an autonomous Islamic criminal justice system, but also anIslamic system of education with girls barred from higher education and with a strict code of conduct for all Muslims. Its agenda becamelargely a carbon copy of the agenda of the Taliban of Afghanistan. It extended its full support to the Afghan Taliban leaders, who had takensanctuary in Balochistan, in their preparations to strike back at the Americans in Afghanistan.

7. As a result of the inaction of the MMA Government in Peshawar and the federal Government headed by Musharraf, the TNSM became thede facto ruling power of the Swat Valley. However, despite its periodic oral condemnation of what it saw as the pro-US policies of Musharraf,it avoided any confrontation with the Pakistani Army and the para-military forces such as the Frontier Corps (FC). By the beginning of 2007, ade facto diarchy came into existence in the Swat Valley---- with Maulana Fazlullah and his Mullas running the civil administration and thecriminal justice system and the army and the FC remaining in charge of internal security. The Army avoided stepping on the toes ofFazlullah.

8. This position of an uneasy co-existence between the Mulla rule of the TNSM and a limited administrative power still taking orders fromPeshawar and Islamabad changed after the Army commando raid in the Lal Masjid in Islamabad in July,2007, ordered by Musharraf. The LalMasjid had two madrasas---one for boys and the other for girls. The madrasa for boys was located outside the masjid campus and themadrasa for girls inside the campus. While the boys surrendered to the commandoes without much resistance, the girls egged on by theMullas of the Masjid resisted the commandoes ferociously. A large number of them were killed. Many of those killed came from tribalfamilies of the Swat Valley.

9. Angered by the alleged massacre of the girls by the commandoes, Fazlullah issued a fatwa calling for a jihad against the Army.Simultaneously, similar calls for a jihad against the Army were issued by different tribal leaders and Mullas of the Federally-AdministeredTribal Areas (FATA). Among those killed in the girls' madrasa of the Lal Masjid were also children of some of the tribal families of the FATA.All these tribal leaders and Mullas decided to form the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Mehsud tribe inSouth Waziristan, was designated the Amir of the TTP. The constituent units of the TTP in different areas selected their own Amirs to workunder the over-all co-ordination of Baitullah. The TNSM joined the TTP.Many in Pakistan believe that the assassination of Benazir atRawalpindi on December 27,2007, was carried out by the followers of Baitullah Mehsud in revenge for her alleged support to the commandoraid in the Lal Masjid.

10. The intense anger across the Pashtin tribal belt in the FATA and in the Swat Valley over the Lal Masjid incidents led to a wave of suicideterrorism not only in the tribal areas, but also in non-tribal areas, including Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Lahore. The suicide terrorism of theTNSM was directed not only against the security forces deployed in the Swat Valley, but also against the establishments and personnel ofthe Armed Forces and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in the non-tribal areas of the country. Faced with this anger, Musharraf orderedthe Army and the Frontier Corps to go into action against the TNSM in the Swat Valley in October,2007. The military operations initiallysucceeded in pushing back the TNSM cadres from the areas controlled by them.

11. The TNSM followed the same tactics as the Taliban in Afghanistan. Faced with the might of the Pakistan Army and the FC, it avoided afrontal confrontation with them. On Fazlullah's orders, his followers dispersed and went back to their villages. After the electedGovernment led by the PPP came to power in Islamabad in March,2008, the TNSM re-grouped and staged a spectacular come-back, pushedthe army and Frontier Corps out of the areas recovered by them and re-established its control over nearly 80 per cent of the territory of Swat.

12. In the elections of February,2008, the constituent parties of the MMA did badly. The ANP and the PPP, which had been marginalised byMusharraf in 2002, recovered their lost position in the electoral map of the NWFP. The ANP, which emerged as the largest single party in theNWFP, formed a coalition Government in Peshawar along with the PPP and other like-minded groups. The ANP was, in turn, accommodatedby Asif Ali Zardari in the federal coalition at Islamabad led by the PPP.

13. Even though the ANP has joined the PPP-led coalition, its views on the so-called war against terrorism have more in common with theviews of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) of Nawaz Sharif than with those of Zardari. The ANP believes, like the PML does, that the surgein terrorism in the Pashtun tribal belt was mainly due to the pro-US policies of Musharraf and that there has to be political accommodationwith various units of the TTP in different tribal areas in order to restore the writ of the Government in the Swat Valley and the FATA. The ANPadvocates marking a distance from the US operations in Afghanistan and entering into a dialogue with elements in the TNSM and the TTPwith which, it feels, the Government can do business.

14. Zardari was hesitant to openly support the moves of the ANP lest there be any misunderstanding with the US, but did not rise anyobjections to the ANP entering into a dialogue not with Fazlullah, who had taken to arms against the Army, but with Sufi Mohammad, whohad been released from detention in April, 2008, even when Musharraf was still the President in the hope of using him to create a split in theTNSM and undermine the position of Fazlullah.Following intense negotiations with Sufi Mohammad lasting over several weeks, the ANP-ledGovernment in Peshawar, with a reported nod of approval from Zardari, has signed an agreement with him on February 16,2009, under whichit has conceded all the demands of the TNSM relating to an autonomous Islamic criminal justice system in the Malakand Division as a wholenot subject to the appellate jurisdiction of the courts in Peshawar and Islamabad. The Government is hoping that in return for its acceptingthe primacy of the Mullas of the TNSM in matters pertaining to criminal justice, Sufi Mohammad will be able to persuade Fazlullah and hisadvisers to stop confronting the security forces and withdraw into their masjids, thereby allowing the writ of the civil administration andthe army in all other matters to be re-established.

15.Fazlullah has announced a 10-day ceasefire and ordered the release of a Chinese engineer, who had been kidnapped by the TNSM lastyear, as goodwil gesture towards the Government. It has been reported that the release of the Chinese engineer followed the release by theGovernment of some TNSM activists, who had been arrested under the Anti-Terrorism Act. The release of the Chinese engineer came a fewdays before the planned departure of Zardari to China on February 20,2009, on an official visit.

16. Whether the temporary ceasefire becomes permanent and whether Fazlullah agrees to the re-establishment of the Government writ inthe Swat Valley would depend on the success of Sufi Mohammad in persuading Fazlullah to accept the agreement reached by him with theANP-led Government and call off the fighting.

17. As mentioned earlier, the TNSM, under Sufi Mohammad, had originally a single-point agenda of enforcing the Islamic criminal justicesystem. Under Fazlullah's leadership, it has acquired a multi-point agenda--- enforcing an autonomous criminal justice system in theMalakand Division of the NWFP as a whole, releasing all those arrested during the commando raid in the Lal Masjid, restoring the authority ofthe Mullas of the masjid, re-establishment of the madrasas of the masjid, action against those responsible for the alleged massacre in thegirls madrasa, recognition of the right of the Pashtuns of Pakistan to go to Afghanistan to help the Afghan Pashtuns in their fight against theUS-led coalition, the discontinuance of the US Predator (unamanned aircraft) strikes in the Pakistani territory and withdrawal of the Army from the Swat Valley making the Frontier Corps , which consists largely of Pashtuns, exclusively responsible for internal security.

18. Will Fazlullah give up the other demands in return for the Government accepting the demands relating to the Islamic criminal justice system? The likelihood of the restoration of peace in the Swat Valley with the Government once again in command and control will dependupon the answer to this question. (17-2-09)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For TopicalStudies, Chennai. E-mail: )