In Swat, Pakistan Army adamant on fighting 'other Taliban'

Published: July 10, 2013

Military leaders at pains to distinguish between the Afghan Taliban and its local imitators - the TTP. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE

KALAM: In the past few years, Swat valley has been occupied by insurgents, undergone a bruising counter-offensive by the army and then flooded by waters that washed away acres of fruit orchards and steeply terraced fields.

In October last year, the valley which lies about 250 km north of Islamabad was again in the global spotlight when gunmen shot schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai.

Now, as villagers try to piece together shattered lives, the military is coming under pressure to talk peace with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Leaders elected in May want to open a dialogue with the homegrown militants set on overthrowing the nuclear-armed state. They say the local people are fed up with the violence and that any talks will be legitimised by US efforts to promote peace with the Afghan Taliban.

But the powerful military, which has spent years chasing the TTP into ever-more remote hideouts, is in no mood to negotiate with militants who have killed thousands of soldiers and who they say cannot be trusted. Some villagers back that stand.

“(The Taliban) doesn’t accept the government’s writ, they are not faithful to the constitution, how can a political party talk to them?” said Abdul Rehman, an elder in the village of Kalam, a former tourist hotspot high in the Swat valley and ringed by snow-capped peaks of the Hindu Khush.

The village is famous for repelling TTP attacks.

“We forced them away, first on our own, then with the help of the army,” Rehman told Reuters during a visit organised by a UN organisation funding flood relief work in his village, which is set among pine forests and walnut orchards.

The debate over whether to open peace talks with the TTP has taken centrestage in the country as US troops withdraw from Afghanistan after a 12-year war against the Afghan Taliban.

The military leaders are at pains to distinguish between the Afghan Taliban, to which Pakistan maintains ties and which they argue can be seen as fighting against occupation, and its local imitators who they see as domestic terrorists.

The TTP pledges allegiance to Mullah Mohammad Omar, the reclusive leader of the Afghan Taliban but Omar is careful not to be seen to attack the Pakistani state. The TTP suddenly sacked its spokesman on Tuesday amid signs of strained ties between the groups.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his prominent rival Imran Khan both offered to talk to the militants while campaigning for May’s federal and provincial elections. While Nawaz won the federal elections, Imran’s party emerged victorious in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the province that includes Swat Valley and remains a hotbed of TTP activity.

The information minister in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa told Reuters that the provincial government had called a meeting of other political parties and stakeholders to prepare for peace talks.

“Time for politicians”

“The United States has opened up a Taliban office in Qatar and is holding negotiations with them, and we are being told to continue to fight and die,” Imran said last month during a visit to Peshawar.

“For the last nine years we have relied on the army to bring peace, but instead the situation got worse,” he said. “It’s now time for politicians to resolve the issue.”

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) says the violence in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is a reaction to US drone strikes and pro-Washington policies by the army, and that talks are the only answer.

But there is no easy solution.

Most of the militants seek refuge in the neighbouring Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) – districts strung along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan and run by central writ – and the provincial government cannot control the process.

Fata is used as a base by the TTP, members of the Afghan Taliban and groups linked to al Qaeda.

Nawaz’s federal government can only do so much. The military largely has a free hand regarding internal security, and influences foreign policy, especially relations with neighbours.

It is the army, its intelligence agencies and the Taliban itself who will decide whether to talk or fight.

The TTP has shown interest in talks, but has stepped up attacks after a series of drone strikes on its leaders and also because it doubts the ability of the civilian leadership to convince the military to allow negotiations.

“If we felt that the PTI government or the Nawaz Sharif government were in a position to take a serious step towards peace talks and can oppose the intelligence agencies, then we can seriously think about peace talks,” the group’s then spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said in a video released in June.

So far, the military has shown no inclination to relax an offensive many officers feel they can win.

“We have to take the fight to them,” said a regional commander flying a helicopter over Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Just before the elections, Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani made it clear he would not talk to the militants unless they lay down arms and accept Pakistan’s laws.

“There is no room for doubts when it comes to dealing with rebellion against the state,” he said in an April 30 speech.

Post-war hunger

Locals in Swat said there was good reason to mistrust the militants.

A previous peace deal gave the TTP the breathing space it needed to take power in the valley and then extend influence into neighbouring districts just 100 km from Islamabad in 2009.

That summer, worried by the creeping proximity of Taliban territory to Islamabad, the army launched a full air and ground assault and government forces regained control in a month. But the operation displaced 2 million people, and later, many returned to nothing but dead livestock and flattened orchards.

Floods that ripped through Swat the next year made things worse, destroying many of the tightly packed terraces where corn and wheat grow along steep mountainsides. Acute malnutrition among children has jumped by more than a third.

Saifullah Khan Mahsud, an expert on the situation in Fata, says the army believes it has the TTP on the back foot and is biding time for a fatal blow in border areas like North Waziristan, where the militants and other global groups are holed up.

“At the end of the day it is the military stance that is going to prevail,” he said.

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Reader Comments (22)

  • Toba Alu
    Jul 10, 2013 - 11:50AM

    One must come from another planet if you think you can negotiate with the TTP or the Taliban. What is there to negotiate anyway

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  • Indian
    Jul 10, 2013 - 11:54AM

    The root of the problem is

    Pakistan’s state policy to engage & support militants in a proxy war with hostile neighbours or to gain a strategic depth in a country. If you play with fire, you will get burned by some of the flames as well.
    Pakistan’s Army control over security policy would undermine the empathy towards the people who suffer because of the war & will focus on winning & loosing it. It only discounted the efforts to find peaceful solution which only a civilian govt. can manage.
    Recommend

  • ali khan
    Jul 10, 2013 - 12:26PM

    its lovely how this article has been sourced as from reuters when the actual source is the indian express!! please check ur sources…

    Recommend

  • Waqas
    Jul 10, 2013 - 1:04PM

    All hail our new government, 32 attacks in 30 days and we don’t have a policy yet. When a provincial assembly can’t produce a condemnation resolution in parliament against terrorist attacks then how can u expect the IG to act against terrorists.

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  • Moved On
    Jul 10, 2013 - 1:07PM

    Just before the elections, Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani made it clear he would not talk to the militants unless they lay down arms and accept Pakistan’s laws.
    “There is no room for doubts when it comes to dealing with rebellion against the state,” he said in an April 30 speech.

    But when it comes to dealing with kashmir, the pakistani army and intelligence has been encouragingly, for long, creating militants and sending them across the border, equipped with arms and ammunations, to provoke rebellion against the indian state…

    The whole thought process on which pakistan exists, unfortunately is against the peaceful existence of the world as a whole.A proxy war by supporting militant groups to spill blood on streets is no longer going to help any cause…the only solution possible in today’s world, is through talks…if it can talk, then its good, if not, then unfortunately one can only see pakistan self destructing in the near future…It has a serious possibility of breaking up further in the near future..

    Recommend

  • Bhatti
    Jul 10, 2013 - 1:26PM

    Army Rocks!

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  • Muhammad Bilal Anjum
    Jul 10, 2013 - 1:40PM

    Taliban want to negotiate so that they can get time to assemble again and regain their lost power.Yes they are conducting attacks throughout Pakistan but still they don’t have the might which they had in pre-operation time in SWAT.There in SWAT they negotiated with the politicians and they tried to create a state within state and ultimately political leaders failed in controlling them and ARMY had to intervene in that situation.

    Now,they again want that kind of space which they had in SWAT so that they can threaten Pakistan in ever mightier way.What Imran Khan should realize is that TTP is different from afghan taliban,they both have different objectives.TTP is foreighn sponsored kind of thing.

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  • Rex Minor
    Jul 10, 2013 - 1:46PM

    @Moved On:

    The non pashtun kyani and his outfit has no function to be in swat. They have robbed the people of their precious EMERALD mines over years, and the the dignity of the indigenous population and provied military support to non Pashtun residents. For the sake of peace and the unity of the country they must vacate and return to their barracks in the Punjab heat where not only pepper but mangoes also grow! Their time is up!!

    Rex Minor

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  • A J Khan
    Jul 10, 2013 - 3:02PM

    This is not Army’s war. It is a national war. Either political Government should take responsibility or get out of way. Courts should also stop playing politics on serious national issues.

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  • omer
    Jul 10, 2013 - 3:52PM

    No talk with Talibans….everytime we sign a deal they regroup and attack again…

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  • Hunzai
    Jul 10, 2013 - 4:44PM

    How can you talk with the killer’s of 400000 Pakistani. Funny when Imran Khan says he want to talk with his PASTUN brothers

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  • darbullah
    Jul 10, 2013 - 5:07PM

    How can the Pakistani Army fight against itself?

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  • unbelievable
    Jul 10, 2013 - 5:34PM

    Slice and dice it all you want – but Pakistan’s attempts at trying to distinguish good/bad Taliban is one of the underlying reasons for many of your problems and why you are considered duplicitous by many.

    Recommend

  • goggi (Lahore)
    Jul 10, 2013 - 6:28PM

    USA has shamelessly and bitterly lost its home war against the drug cartels of Mexico once initiated from President Nixon in 1971.

    The Talibans, or more precisely their wirepullers, are similarly a very powerful, unscrupulous and above all a very good organized criminal drug cartel. USA and all the Nato countries could not even pull out a single hair of this drug organisation. And this organisation has never funded its war from charity and alms!

    It is so amazing to find among others, Afghani Charas or Heroin in every city of Germany, especially at Rock concerts with a crowd of 100,000 people one gets stoned without even taking a puff of a cigarette.

    So it becomes obvious, that all important people on their golden routes or channels are their henchmen.

    Pakistani army has lost all sumptuous wars against our neighbours and as well as the honour in the eyes of the poverty and debt ridden Pakistani people. Who knows how many of them, like the police and customs, are the employees of this drug cartel? And these Talibans are merely the front line pawns of this drug cartel!

    Recommend

  • Aik Paki
    Jul 10, 2013 - 9:33PM

    Shame on Express Tribune who get directed articles from Indian Express. Are you also getting also funds from other countries to plant news? Please clarify Express tribune otherwise people like myself will not trust your genuine news/articles.

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  • Sceptic
    Jul 10, 2013 - 9:39PM

    It’s never too late to realize your own mistakes and ERADICATE them!!
    Go Pak Army!! and Kick the beasts where it hits hardest. We, the Nation, are behind you!

    Recommend

  • Muneeb
    Jul 10, 2013 - 9:42PM

    @Waqas, spot on buddy!

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  • Basit
    Jul 11, 2013 - 1:31AM

    This article is from Reuters. I don’t know why Indian Express is being credited by some when they also sourced it from Reuters. It was written by Frank Jack Daniel.

    Recommend

  • Nadeem
    Jul 11, 2013 - 2:43AM

    Afgan taliban and the ttp are two seperate groups, the afgan taliban have no issue with the pakistani state, there war is with america and nato who are occupying there country, the ttp’s war is with the pakistani state who are backed by cia, raw and mossad to destabalize pakistan.

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  • Unbelievable
    Jul 11, 2013 - 4:55AM

    @Aik Paki.

    Shame on Express Tribune who get
    directed articles from Indian Express.
    Are you also getting also funds from
    other countries to plant news? Please
    clarify Express tribune otherwise
    people like myself will not trust your
    genuine news/articles.

    It’s a Reuters article so any news outlet that subscribes to Reuters can print the article – has zip to do with India or any other conspiracy nonsense.

    Recommend

  • numbersnumbers
    Jul 11, 2013 - 8:23AM

    @Nadeem:
    And of course you can provide us with credible references that support your comment that TTP is backed by CIA, RAW and Mossad!!! NOT!

    Recommend

  • Moved On
    Jul 11, 2013 - 10:08AM

    @Nadeem:
    man…you will have to come out of your insecurities… there is absolutely no evidence of ttp being backed by cia, raw or mossad…we may still believe cia or mossad might be involved remotely, but raw??? is raw even competent enough to be helping the ttp without leaving behind any evidence of it?? not at all…ttp is a pakistan generated problem…there are sympathizers of such organisations within pakistan…its important to flush them out before raising fingers on others.

    Recommend

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