The Pakistani government has detained the senior-most leader of the pro-Taliban group that was behind the Malakand Accord, the agreement that put the Taliban in control over a wide region of Pakistan’s northwest.
Sufi Mohammed, the leader of the banned pro-Taliban Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammed [TNSM or the Movement for the Enforcement of Mohammed’s Law], and his wife were reportedly detained some time ago. The government kept the arrest secret “until it decides on role for Mohammed,” according to a report in Adnkronos International.
Sufi may be used for future negotiations in Swat and the wider Malakand Division, where an operation to oust the Taliban is winding down after nearly eight weeks of fighting. The military claims that more than 1,500 Taliban fighters and 100 soldiers have been killed during fighting in Swat, Dir, and Buner.
“This could be the beginning of a new round of a dialogue as the military operation so far failed to get the government any place,” AKI reported.
While Sufi’s arrest has not been confirmed, the government has sought to round up the senior leadership of the TNSM. Four of the senior-most members of the group have been detained since early June.
Muhammad Alam, the deputy leader of the TNSM, Maulana Said Wahab, a member of the group’s ruling shura, and spokesman Ameer Izzat Khan were detained in Dir on June 4. Sufi and two of his sons were reportedly arrested with these TNSM leaders, but the government denied the reports.
Two days later Alam and Khan were killed during a Taliban ambush on a police column that was transporting the men to Peshawar. On June 9, Iqbal Khan, the leader of the TNSM in Swat, was arrested in Peshawar.
While security forces have had success in rounding up the TNSM’s senior leadership, the senior leaders for the Taliban continue to elude them. Of the 21 senior Swat Taliban leaders identified by the Pakistani government as wanted, none have been killed or captured. The military claims the second and third tier leaders of the Swat Taliban have suffered significant losses.
TNSM responsible for the failed peace agreement
Sufi Mohammed and the TNSM are responsible for the failed peace agreement under which the Pakistani government ceded control of a large swath of northwestern Pakistan to the Taliban, but which resulted ultimately in the ongoing military operation that has displaced more than 2 million people.
The agreement, known as the Malakand Accord, called 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, including Swat, Dir, Buner, Chitral, and Malakand.
The TNSM is a front group for the Taliban. Mullah Fazlullah, the leader of the Swat Taliban, is Sufi’s son-in-law, and the TNSM has fought US forces inside Afghanistan. The Musharraf government banned the TNSM and put Sufi under arrest. Sufi was released in late 2007 to negotiate a peace agreement with Taliban.
In April, the TNSM spokesman admitted that the group can control the Taliban’s actions. “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 the peace negotiations.
Sufi, who is supposed to be the impartial arbiter of the peace agreement, shed the façade 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.”
The government continued to negotiate with Sufi and the Taliban, and unilaterally implemented legislation that allowed for the imposition of sharia, despite the Taliban’s repeated violations of the ceasefire.