FAZLULLAH EMULATES MULLA OMAR
INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM MONITOR---PAPER NO.319
Maulana Fazlullah, the head of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), which had established de facto control over the Swat Valley in the Provincially-Administered Tribal Areas of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), has emulated the tactics adopted by the Taliban in the face of the US-led offensive in Afghanistan after 9/11.
2. Faced with a determined offensive by an estimated 20,000 troops of the Pakistan Army freely using helicopter gunships and heavy artillery, he has advised all but about 300 of his hard-core fighters to stop fighting, peel off, go back to their villages and lie low till he calls them again. He and 300 of his hard-core fighters---who include his security guards and senior aides, have dispersed into the mountains, where they will be still vulnerable to air strikes, but not ground strikes in the same manner as at present. His FM radio station continues to be on the air from his new location and his broadcasts to the people of the Valley continue with occasional interruptions. In one of his broadcasts on the night of December 7,2007, he admitted that he and one of his senior commanders ( Shah Dawran) were injured by Pakistan Army fire, but not in danger. There is no information on the seriousness of his injuries.
3. The members of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM), who had come from Pakistani Punjab to fight along with Fazlullah's forces, have also stopped fighting and withdrawn to their villages/towns in Punjab.Taking advantage of the withdrawals of the volunteers of the TNSM and the JEM, the Army has spread out in the Valley and re-taken control of the towns and villages, which were previously under the occupation of the TNSM. It is now engaged in destroying the religious and training infrastructure of the TNSM such as madrasas, training camps etc. It has already destroyed the headquarter buildings of the TNSM in Imam Dheri, from where Fazlullah used to operate. Due to disruption of communications and supplies during the last two weeks, there is an acute shortage of essential food articles and medicines in the area. The Army is now trying to rush supplies to meet the essential needs of the people.
4. The civil administration in the Swat Valley had almost completely collapsed for over six months, with pratically all senior officials of the administration, who were from outside the Valley, running away after deserting their posts. Re-induction of the civilian officials and restoring the administration is likely to take time. The Army, therefore, envisages that the area will continue to be under military governance for some months.
5. The Army's immediate priorities are to restore normalcy in the areas vacated by the TNSM, set up once again a strong para-military presence in the area to prevent a re-takeover of the Valley by the jihadis and ensure the smooth holding of the elections. Till then, it may not undertake any major ground operations in the mountainous areas into which the hard-core volunteers have withdrawn, but attacks from helicopter gunships and artillery will continue.
6. Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, the Chief of the Army Staff, is avoiding any premature note of triumphalism since he reportedly realises that the TNSM forces have been beaten, but not defeated beyond recovery. Till Fazlullah and his hard-core are effectively neutralised, the danger of a come-back by them will remain.
7. For the first time since the military operations began, the Army had taken a party of Pakistani and foreign journalists to the area on December 8,2007, for an on the spot briefing by Major General Nasser Janjua, who co-ordinated the operations, and his officers. They made the following salient points in their briefing:
(a)The Army has cleared almost all the militants from the Swat Valley after killing 290 militants and arresting another 143.
(b).“Fazlullah is still on the run with hardcore militants estimated to be between 200 to 400, including some foreigners.
(c).The militants have retreated to two places in the mountains in the northwest of the valley and we will chase them there."
(d).Five soldiers and six civilians had been killed in the operation and around 20 civilians had also been wounded.
(e).It would take up to four months to stabilise the region and at least 12 months to reopen the region to tourists.
(f).bin Laden’s Al Qaeda terror network had played a role in the unrest in the Valley.“The Taliban and Al Qaeda are looking for safe havens and trying to recruit the youth here.”
(g).An estimated 5,000 supporters and fighters had been with Fazlullah at the start of the operation, but a majority of them were youth recruited by the cleric on payment of Rs 200 per day.
(h).The militants remain dangerous and it is likely that they will try to regroup for at least one major counter-attack. (9-12-07)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )