Analysis: Pakistani TNSM serves as Taliban front


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Sufi Mohammad.

As the Pakistani government seeks to re-establish the 'peace accord' with the Swat Taliban after Sufi Mohammed walked out on the agreement, senior officials are defending the negotiations as legitimate talks with an influential local group. But the group the government is negotiating with, the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammed [TNSM or the Movement for the Enforcement of Mohammed's Law], is far from an impartial broker. Recent statements from the TNSM's leader and its spokesman show the group sides with the Taliban and has the ability to direct the Taliban to conduct attacks.

The agreement, known as the Malakand Accord, calls for the withdrawal of the Pakistani Army from Swat, the release all Taliban prisoners, the withdrawal of any criminal cases against Taliban leaders and fighters, and the imposition of sharia in the Malakand Division, a region that encompasses more than one-third of the Northwest Frontier Province.

The Pakistani government has denied that the Swat negotiations are with the Taliban and instead notes the government is negotiating with the TNSM. At an April 9 forum in Washington, Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States, insisted the government is dealing with the TNSM and not the Taliban.

"Pakistan has not done a peace deal with the Taliban in Swat Valley. Period," Haqqani told the Washington forum. "Pakistan has negotiated an arrangement, locally, with the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammedi of Swat."

Haqqani echoed statements made by President Asif Ali Zardari in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in the beginning of March.

"In the highly volatile Swat Valley, our strategy has been to enter into talks with traditional local clerics to help restore peace to the area, and return the writ of the state," Zardari wrote. "We have not and will not negotiate with extremist Taliban and terrorists. The clerics with whom we have engaged are not Taliban. Indeed, in our dialogue we'd made it clear that it is their responsibility to rein in and neutralize Taliban and other insurgents."

TNSM is in the Taliban camp

Zardari and Haqqani's statements about negotiations with the TNSM vice the Taliban are technically correct. But both Zardari and Haqqani have obscured the real nature of the TNSM and its relationship with the Taliban. The TNSM is essentially a front group for the Swat Taliban.

In the early 1990s, the TNSM provided the ideological inspiration for the Afghan Taliban. The TNSM seeks to install a Taliban-like government, complete with sharia, or Islamic Law, throughout northwestern Pakistan.

The group is allied with Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar. In an interview in mid-February, Sufi Mohammed, the leader of the TNSM, admitted his fondness for the Afghan Taliban and described the Taliban government that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 as "ideal."

"I believe the Taliban government formed a complete Islamic state, which was an ideal example for other Muslim countries," Sufi told Deutsche Presse-Agentur just days before the Malakand Accord was signed.

Sufi and the TNSM are not merely local Islamists who advocate for sharia in the Swat valley. He and his group have called for Islamist domination of the world.

"We hate democracy," Sufi told a crowd of thousands of followers in Mingora after the ratification of the Malakand Accord was announced in mid-February. "We want the occupation of Islam in the entire world. Islam does not permit democracy or election.''

Sufi and the TNSM actively fought the US in Afghanistan. Sufi sent more than 10,000 fighters into the country to battle US and Northern Alliance forces in Afghanistan.

The TNSM's activities were deemed so radical that the Pakistani government banned the group and labeled it a terrorist organization. Sufi was arrested and placed in jail, where he remained until 2007. The government needed someone to negotiate a peace deal with the Swat Taliban, and Sufi fit the bill. After his release, Sufi claimed to eschew violence. The TNSM is still listed as a banned group inside Pakistan, yet the government continues to negotiate with this group.

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Mullah Fazlullah. Click image to view the slideshow of the Taliban Leadership in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Another direct link between the TNSM and the Taliban is the relationship between Sufi and Mullah Fazlullah, the leader of the Swat Taliban. Sufi is Fazlullah's father-in-law.

Fazlullah has sponsored numerous suicide attacks, beheadings, and other acts of terror. The targets have been local political leaders, policemen, soldiers, and tribal leaders. Fazlullah actively opposes polio vaccinations for children, claiming the shots are designed to sterilize the Muslim people. Fazlullah is also a senior deputy in Baitullah Mehsud's unified Pakistani Taliban movement.

TNSM leader admits the group controls Taliban violence

The TNSM has made little effort to hide its relationship with the Taliban. Statements made by senior leaders show the TNSM openly sides with the Swat Taliban and the group has the ability to control the violence.

On April 11, TNSM spokesman Amir Izzat admitted the TNSM has the capacity to order the Taliban to conduct attacks. "We have not asked the Taliban to take up arms, but the government would be held responsible for any resurgence of violence in Swat," Izzat said while discussing negotiations to restore the agreement.

Sufi, who is supposed to be the impartial arbiter of the peace agreement, shed the faƧade of impartiality after defending the Taliban following a series of Taliban attacks and kidnappings on government security forces and government officials.

"The Taliban are doing nothing wrong," Sufi said after the Taliban killed two soldiers in March. "The government is responsible for violations."

Why does Pakistan negotiate with the TNSM?

With the TNSM clearly linked to the Taliban, the inevitable question arises: why would the Pakistani government negotiate with this group?

The government's willingness to negotiate with the TNSM highlights how poorly the government and military have handled the situation in Swat and the Northwest Frontier Province in general, and just how strong the Taliban has become.

In Swat, the military has been defeated three times since the summer of 2007. By the time the last military offensive in Swat ended this February, the government controlled only the district's main town of Mingora. And the control of Mingora was tenuous at best. The Taliban routinely executed civilians and policemen and dumped their bodies in the town square.

The Pakistani government faces several dilemmas in Swat. The military wants an end to the fighting, partly out of ambivalence to the problem, partly out of sympathy to the Taliban, and mainly because it views the fighting in Pakistan's northwest as a distraction from what it perceives to be the real enemy: India.

The Pakistani government also faces internal and external pressures to end the fighting and restore its writ in Swat. Some of the secular political parties and elements in the Pakistani media excoriated the government for allowing Swat to spiral out of control. The US and other Western governments want the Pakistanis to halt the spread of the Taliban, as al Qaeda has re-established its safe havens in existing Taliban territory.

The government needs to put an end to the fighting, but it has been negotiating from a position of weakness. With the Taliban in control of Swat, and the military searching for the exit, the Zardari government needs a partner so it can negotiate the end of the fighting.

The government can't openly admit that it is caving to the Taliban, lest it incur the wrath of the US and domestic opposition. But with no one to negotiate with but the Taliban, the government has promoted the TNSM as a legitimate, popular, local political movement that merely sought to impose sharia. In order to maintain this, the government has willfully and knowingly distorted the TNSM's direct links to the Taliban.



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READER COMMENTS: "Analysis: Pakistani TNSM serves as Taliban front"

Posted by Minnor at April 12, 2009 3:34 AM ET:

TNSM disillusioned that sharia is applied only in Swat district.

Deal was good in the sense that govt got girls' education in return for released 50 taliban fighters. Also major beneficiary were civilians who got peace in return - and people there dont mind minor things like skull cap, beard etc. that are imposed recently by the taliban in Bajaur.

Posted by bard207 at April 12, 2009 5:49 AM ET:

Minnor

Deal was good in the sense that govt got girls' education in return for released 50 taliban fighters. Also major beneficiary were civilians who got peace in return - and people there dont mind minor things like skull cap, beard etc. that are imposed recently by the taliban in Bajaur.

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I was under the impression that they voted for ANP and if they wanted the more restrictive lifestyle (Taliban version of Shariah), they would have voted for MMA


Editorial: The fall of Swat (January 18, 2009)

After a year of military operations in Swat, the territory controlled by the terrorists has reportedly increased from 25 percent to 75 percent. On Friday, the army killed 12 Taliban in different parts, but could not prevent the demolition by them of a rest house owned by the ANP's late leader, Mr Abdul Wali Khan. The party that rules in Peshawar has been systematically decimated in Swat as its allies walk in fear and no longer criticise the Taliban in public, accusing only the army of being "indiscriminate".

Swat had voted last year for ANP as a liberal alternative to the now defunct MMA because they wanted their home territory to be made safe against the vandalism of the Taliban. But what they have got is the systematic destruction of the female educational infrastructure in Swat by the Taliban and loss of protection by the state.


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and people there dont mind minor things like skull cap, beard etc. that are imposed recently by the taliban in Bajaur.

Since you consider it minor things, then you are living in a TNSM -- TTP -- Taliban controlled area to be qualified to make that statement?

If you are not living in a TNSM -- TTP -- Taliban controlled area, then what gives you the right - authority - ability to speak for those who do?

Posted by davod at April 12, 2009 8:14 AM ET:

Swat is pretty close to Islamabad


These locations represent my guess as to the location of the central government as they slowly negotiate away their country to the Taliban and their citizens into slavery.

Lahore
Multan
Sukkur
Hyderabad
karachi

Any guesses on timeframe?

Lets not be any doubt that this would not have happened without the agreement of the military. My only caveat to the slide south is if the military stops worrying about India, kicks off the yoke of fundamentalism affecting its officer corps and takes back the streets from the Imams.

Posted by Minnor at April 12, 2009 1:37 PM ET:

@bard207, After victory in strategic Bajaur, ammunition supply to north of Peshawar including Swat should have severed. To consolidate Bajaur, esp IDPs, it was good to buy time and including girl-education in Swat deal. And 50 fellow countrymen who got one time amnesty would realize their bleak prospects. But it would be foolish now to surrender neighbouring districts to TNSM.

People would anyday prefer beard and skull cap over beheadings, it was just an outside view. Taliban is good in mercyless assasinations, let me remind you Massoud.

Posted by bard207 at April 13, 2009 5:05 AM ET:

Minnor

, After victory in strategic Bajaur, ammunition supply to north of Peshawar including Swat should have severed. To consolidate Bajaur, esp IDPs, it was good to buy time and including girl-education in Swat deal. And 50 fellow countrymen who got one time amnesty would realize their bleak prospects. But it would be foolish now to surrender neighbouring districts to TNSM.

People would anyday prefer beard and skull cap over beheadings, it was just an outside view. Taliban is good in mercyless assasinations, let me remind you Massoud.

If the idea is to buy some time so other actions - engagements can be concluded, then it seems that there would be some news about the Army - Government making gains. I haven't seen much in the way of wins - gains for the Army in that area recently.

In regards to:

And 50 fellow countrymen who got one time amnesty would realize their bleak prospects.

I don't see how they have learned any lessons that will modify - change their behavior. If I was to view the situation from their perspective - experiences (Shoes), it woul appear to me that the Army is passive and the government leaders at both the Regional and National levels are meek and ready to cut dealls with the militants.

Posted by Minnor at April 13, 2009 5:45 AM ET:

@bard207, Military did make gains, i had read about 50+ kills in Swat ammunition dump days before peace deal. Military claimed Bajaur and Mohmand, where militants had freedom of vehicular movement unlike "underground" insurgency in Swat. Released fighters find task formidable due to reduced arms cache and supply.

Consolidation required in terms of IDP returns of Bajaur other than consolidation on Afghan side there by NATO. Taliban need not worry IDPs, but if Pak army starts offensive in South of Peshawar, that is Waziristan, it cant accomodate IDPs flow. Pak not in a position to compensate the civilians generously, including corruption there.

Posted by Bill Roggio at April 13, 2009 11:27 AM ET:

Minnor,

The Pakistani military said it made gains in Bajaur and Mohmand. That's right up there with 'the check is in the mail.'

The reality is a sovereign government does cut deals like it has over the past four years because it is operating from a position of strength.

After the drubbing the Pakistan Army took in Waziristan in 2007 & 2008, don't expect it to be eager to jump into the fray there again any time soon. Plus, the government is too busy trying to forestall the collapse of Peshawar.

Posted by KnightHawk at April 13, 2009 7:42 PM ET:

Pretty sure Bill meant "does ^not cut deals...".

Posted by Bill Roggio at April 13, 2009 8:15 PM ET:

You are correct, should read "The reality is a sovereign government doesn't cut deals like it has over the past four years because it is operating from a position of strength."

Posted by Minnor at April 14, 2009 12:01 AM ET:

Drone attacks ceased in Bajaur is more reliable than Pak claim. We can expect gains in Kunar by NATO, with which north of Kabul to Peshawar route will be secured.

I wish to highlight contrast between local insurgency against Afghan taliban and Al Qaida in Pak. Deal with locals fine, at least for now, as long as they dont harbour outsiders. Time to consolidate north, and pacify civilians, IMO.