Taliban flex muscles in Malakand Division
Just one week after the Pakistani government agreed to implement sharia, or Islamic law, in the vast Malakand Division, the Taliban are flaunting the peace agreement with the government and pushing into neighboring regions.
President Zardari signed the sharia legislation into law on April 13 as part of an effort to quell the brutal Taliban insurgency in Swat, which has been ongoing since the summer of 2007. The Pakistani military was defeated in its three offensives designed to oust the Taliban, led by Mullah Fazlullah, which prompted the government to promise the implementation of sharia and an end to military operations in exchange for peace.
But the Taliban have violated the peace agreement multiple times since the initial ceasefire was instituted in mid-February, and have continued to do so since Zardari signed the sharia legislation into law. And the Taliban are forcefully expanding their influence in neighboring regions.
The Taliban have reestablished checkpoints in Swat and have started to conduct patrols. Yesterday, the Taliban kidnapped six soldiers and a driver in Swat. Today four civilians were kidnapped while four of the captured soldiers were placed in front of the hastily established sharia courts.
In the neighboring district of Buner, a region the Taliban overran in just eight short days with minimal resistance, the Taliban are sending in more troops. The Taliban are patrolling and manning checkpoints in Buner, while their followers are preaching in mosques and openly recruiting young men to fight. Local courts have closed and judges have gone 'on leave,' while a local TNSM official said his group fully backs the Taliban.
In Shangla, more than 70 Taliban fighters occupied a hospital while others fanned out and took over control of government buildings. In Swat, Buner, and Shangla, the local administration and the police did not protest the Taliban moves.
The Taliban are also signaling their intent to moving into the districts of Swabi, Malakand, and Mardan. Last week, the Taliban conducted a victory road march through the three districts after conquering Buner. The Taliban have now begun to establish armed checkpoints in Swat and Buner along the roads that border Swabi, Malakand, and Mardan.
The Swat Taliban are also flaunting their control of the region. Muslim Khan, a spokesman for Fazlullah, hit the media circuit and bragged that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and other associates were welcome to shelter in Swat.
"Osama can come here," Khan told The Associated Press on April 20. "Sure, like a brother they can stay anywhere they want. Yes, we will help them and protect them."
Khan also said the Taliban would not lay down their weapons, nor would they stop fighting until sharia was enforced throughout all of Pakistan. Jihad "will continue till the Day of Judgment," Khan told Dawn. He demanded Pakistan shut down traditional courts and threatened lawyers that they would be punished if they tried to practice law in Swat.
Khan's statements echoed those of Sufi Mohammed, the leader of the banned pro-Taliban movement that negotiated the peace agreement with the government. During a rally in Swat on April 19, Sufi said has followers would not rest until sharia is enforced through all of Pakistan.
Sufi demanded the Pakistani government halt all activities by the secular courts in Swat and decreed that decisions made by his Islamic courts cannot be challenged by Pakistan's Supreme Court. Sufi said that if his demands were not met within four days, "The government will be responsible for all the consequences if our demands are not implemented." Sufi also described Pakistan's democracy as a "system of infidels."
Pakistan's government has been virtually silent on the Taliban's flaunting of the peace agreement and the Taliban's promises to shelter international terrorist leaders. Other than the secular Muttahida Qaumi Movement, the MQM or the United National Movement, no political party has raised an objection to the Taliban's actions.
The MQM walked out of the parliament session that voted in favor of the sharia law. Pakistan's remaining members of parliament unanimously voted in favor of the legislation after Sufi said anyone who voted against the bill was a "non-Muslim."
Political leaders such as President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, and opposition party leader Nawaz Sharif have expressed "concerns" over the situation in Swat, but have continued to support the agreement with the Taliban. Gilani even went so far as to say recently that the situation in Swat is "returning to normal."