WELL-TRAINED INSURGENT FORCE IN SWAT
INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM MONITOR---PAPER NO. 317
Despite optimistic claims put out by the Pakistan Army every day with inflated body counts of hostiles killed or captured, it is apparent its ground operations against the forces of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) in the Swat Valley of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) continue to face difficulties. The TNSM volunteers, many of whom lost their daughters during the Army's commando action in the Lal Masjid of Islamabad from July 10 to 13,2007, have proved themselves to be not just a small group of desperate suicide terrorists, but a small, well-trained, well-motivated, well-organised insurgent army capable of fighting small-scale conventional battles on the ground.
2. The guerilla tactics----reminiscent of those of the Neo Taliban in Afghanistan--- adopted by them to harass the Army and para-military forces continue to disrupt movement of reinforcements and supplies in the area of operations. The insurgents have been able to stand and fight an army far superior in training and in the arms and ammunition in its possession. Despite their lack of anti-air capability, they have not been frightened by the frequent use of helicopter gunships by the army against the positions controlled by the insurgents. Well-informed police sources in the NWFP say that many of the volunteers of the TNSM are well-trained Pashtun ex-servicemen.
3.Embarrassed by the long time taken (three weeks) by the Army to prevail over the volunteers of the TNSM, military spokesmen are now putting out stories that even though the Army had been deployed in the Swat Valley, the ground operations are still being conducted by the para-military forces---namely the Frontier Corps and the Frontier Constabulary.
4. The Army's efforts to persuade Maulana Sufi Mohammad, the founder of the TNSM, who has been under arrest since 2002, to appeal to Maulana Fazlullah, his son-in-law, and his force to give up fighting have not succeeded. Sufi Mohammad has not said no, but he has reportedly been demanding that he should be released so that he could go back to his people and talk to them. The Army does not want to accept this demand lest he take over the leadership of the insurgent force and continue fighting against the Army.
5.Both Maulana Fazlullah, to whom informal approaches were made through pro-Government tribal intermediaries, and Maulana Sufi Mohammad, presently in a hospital in Dera Ismail Khan for a medical check-up, have reportedly been saying that they were fighting against the American forces in Afghanistan, but not against the Pakistan Army and alleging that it was the Pakistan Army that forced them to fight against it by killing a large number of tribal girls in the Lal Masjid.
6.Fazlullah and Sufi Mohammad have also reportedly told the Army that they would be prepared to call off the fighting if President Musharraf apologises for the commando action in the Lal Masjid, proclaims the Shariat law in the entire Malakand Division and allows the TNSM volunteers to go back into Afghanistan and re-join the Neo Taliban in its operations against the Americans. They have been denying any links with Al Qaeda.
7. Contrary to the claims of the Army that it has silenced the FM radio station operated by Fazlullah, he continues to boadcast to his followers from unidentified locations. The Army, which has brought in more reinforcements to the Valley, has realised that it may not be able to defeat the insurgents quickly. Its present strategy is to push them into the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and keep them confined there so that normalcy can be restored in the Swat Valley before the forthcoming elections. According to these police sources, the insurgents have till now been refusing to accept an Army offer of safe passage into the FATA in return for their vacating the areas controlled by them. (3-12-07)
(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 )