Taliban rampage in Pakistan’s Swat district

Map of Swat. Click map to view.

The Taliban has launched a series of attacks against political opponents and the infrastructure in the scenic northern district of Swat in Pakistan. The attacks occurred as the government and the Taliban are committing to abiding by the terms of last month’s peace agreement.

The fighting began on Thursday after the Taliban attacked the home of the brother of the vice president of Swat’s Pakistan People Party. The brother, his wife, and son were murdered by the Taliban, and their home was set on fire. The Taliban also killed another brother of the Swat PPP official, and torched the home of a third brother. Seven people in total were killed in the attack.

The Taliban attacked police outposts and checkpoints maintained by the paramilitary Frontier Corps. One member of the Frontier Corps was killed.

The Taliban burned down the nation’s only ski resort in Malam Jabba and damaged a chairlift during the fighting. Eleven girls’ schools were also burned down in Swat. “District police chief Waqif Khan said the administration had lost its writ over Malam Jabba and it had not been able to assess the damage,” Dawn reported.

Swat was once Pakistan’s most popular tourist destination. The mountainous district is known for skiing, hiking, fishing, a golf course, and ancient statues of Buddha. The rise of the Taliban, led by radical cleric Mullah Fazlullah, has brought tourism in the region to a halt.

As the Taliban attack in Swat, the government of the Northwest Frontier Province and the Taliban has vowed to maintain the peace agreement signed last month. The government is modifying the terms of the agreement to appease the Taliban.

“There were some irritants in the peace deal that have been removed,” said Senior Minister Bashir Ahmad Bilour. The Taliban are unhappy that some prisoners still remain in custody and believe the government is delaying the imposition of sharia, or Islamic law. The Taliban also wants the military to withdraw and demands compensation from the government.

But the Taliban threatened to continue the attacks that occurred over the past several days. “As long as the government delays implementation of the peace agreement, such incidents will occur,” said Muslim Khan, a Taliban delegate negotiating with the government.

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

Background on Fazlullah and the Swat Taliban

The Pakistani government signed a peace agreement with Fazlullah in May 2007 with terms similar to the current agreement. The nine-point peace deal signed in 2007 required Fazlullah to support the polio vaccination campaign and education for girls, as well as government efforts to establish law and order. He also agreed to shut down training facilities for terrorists, stop manufacturing weapons, and support the district administration in any operation against anti-state elements. Fazlullah’s followers were also to stop carrying weapons in the open. In return, Fazlullah was permitted to continue broadcasting his illegal FM radio programs and the government dropped criminal cases lodged against him.

The Taliban promptly disobeyed the terms of the deal, and began to overrun police stations and enforce sharia law in the district. The Taliban used the government’s siege and assault on the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, as their reason to violate the peace agreement. But Fazlullah and his fighters began violating the agreement long before the Red Mosque incident.

Fazlullah’s forces overran much of Swat and neighboring Shangla. The government launched an operation to dislodge the Taliban from Swat in November and vowed to oust them by December. But the military has fought a grinding campaign that has failed to defeat the Taliban. The Pakistani security forces operating in the small district lost 195 soldiers, policemen, and Frontier Constabulary paramilitaries during a year of fighting.

Fazlullah is the son-in-law of Maulana Sufi Muhammad, the leader of the outlawed Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM – the Movement for the Implementation of Mohammad’s Sharia Law). He had close links with the administration of the Lal Masjid. Fazlullah has successfully organized anti-polio and anti-girls schools campaigns throughout the region. The Swat region has been a safe haven and training ground for the Pakistani Taliban.

Red agencies/ districts controlled by the Taliban; purple is de facto control; yellow is under threat.

The TNSM is known as the “Pakistani Taliban” and is the group behind the ideological inspiration for the Afghan Taliban. The TNSM sent more than 10,000 fighters into Afghanistan to fight US forces during Operation Enduring Freedom in October 2001. Faqir Mohammed, a senior leader of the TNSM in neighboring Bajaur agency who is wanted by the Pakistani government, kicked off a suicide campaign after a US air strike on the Chingai madrassa in October 2006. Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s second in command, was thought to be at the madrassa in Chingai.

Despite the TNSM’s involvement with al Qaeda and attacks in Afghanistan, the Pakistani government re-initiated the peace process and signed an agreement with the group on April 21, 2008. The government freed Sufi Mohammed as part of the deal.

The government is also close to signing a peace deal with Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban behind a brutal suicide and conventional military campaign in the tribal areas and in greater Pakistan.

The terms of Swat and TNSM peace deals and the proposed South Waziristan agreement are similar. None of the agreements calls for the Taliban to halt cross-border attacks inside Afghanistan or eject al Qaeda from the region.

This year, the government signed peace deals in North Waziristan, Swat, Bajaur, Malakand, and Mohmand. Negotiations are under way in Kohat and Mardan.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Old Sailor says:

    When are the Pakistanis going to learn? You can’t make peace deals with megalomaniacs who only want to kill and destroy.

  • TS Alfabet says:

    You know, let the Pak govt cave in to the Taliban. It just makes it easier for us to justify cross-border actions because the Pakistanis are not maintaining contol of their borders.
    The Pakistanis are in the same death spiral that Afghanistan was in after the retreat of the Soviets. We are witnessing the Afghanization of Pakistan. We had better be sure to secure those nukes. The Pakistani people have a choice to make, just like the German people in the 1930’s: are they going to opt for an evil regime or are they going to fight against it?

  • Alex says:

    So, what to do about this? How strong is the Pakistani military in actuality and not just on paper, especially in terms of loyalty?
    I REALLY hope those nukes are under good control if Pakistan continues to slide into failed state status.

  • remoteman says:

    Well that’s it. These guys have shown just how barbaric they truly are. They burned down a ski resort!!! Savages!
    All kidding aside, the evidence mounts daily that Pakistan is losing whatever control it had of its frontier provinces. It strains credibility to consider these areas part of Pakistan, since the central government has virtually no writ there.
    But our options in this area are few, save wanton and widespread destruction, which is politically untenable at this point. It seems these people are several generations removed from the modern world (save their love for modern weaponry). It is a head scratcher that sadly is extremely consequential. I do not have a good answer.

  • JusCruzn says:

    I believe President Bush said it right after 9/11. You are either with us or you are with the terrorists. Sure sounds to me like the Pak’s are with the terrorists. Ditto old sailor you can’t make deals with meglomaniacs. They keep making deals with the T-ban/AQ and they aren’t worth anything. The hirabi’s resort to killing whoever they want. Somebody better make sure the nukes are safeguarded before the hirabi’s get their hands on them next. They have been after WMD’s for a long time. Somebody in the free world better do something before it’s too late!!!

  • Liberterian says:

    I expect the Taliban conquest of Swat is w/the consent of the Pakistani military.
    Once the conquest is complete the terrified population in the big cities, especially the merchant and professional class, will turn to the military for protection. The military will then dissolve the civilian government to popular acclaim, take control of the instruments of civil power and then drive the Talban back into the mountains. Remember Pakistan is not a nation: it is a collection of mutually antagonistic ethnic polities and tribes. It is a corrupt and feudalistic culture that may have to go thru at least one violent convulsion before democracy can take root.
    As for the nuclear weapons, India has more to fear than anyone else , so the Indian Airforce, Special Ops etc(with the tacit approval of China) will act if things become desperate enough.

  • Batman says:

    Hopefully, there could be a silver lining to all this IF allowing the Taliban enough free reign is what is needed to make the Pakistani people firmly choose sides in the WOT, and between Sharia and modernity, on the Anbar model. Separate the real bad guys from the wannabes, like we did with the Mahdi Army, as well.
    I think it has been said here several times before that the extremists are their own worst enemy when it comes to winning hearts and minds. They win more support in opposition than in actual power.
    They also have to come out of their caves to actually administer their new territory, making them an open target when the time is right to crush them.
    Let’s hope we haven’t totally shot our wad in Afghanistan and Iraq, because there is going to be a lot more heavy lifting to be done.

  • Batm says:

    And seriously, why can’t we have a more open military alliance with India since we are no longer getting any payback from cozying up to Musharraf. What has he done for us lately?

  • Liberterian says:

    To: Batman
    1. A more explicit alliance w/India is not possible because the Indian Communists, on whose support the present Indian Govt. depends, will not allow it….in another 10 years it is likely that an Asian version of the NATO(the effective onethat existed during the Cold War) will emerge led by India to contain China. Right now the Indians are both too insecure in their place in the world and, paradoxically too smug about their economic growth for the military alliance to be strong and open.
    2. If you believe in The Long War, you may wish to consider the idea of the Really Long War, which started with the French Revolution, then World Wars1and 2, the Hot/cold war w/Communism and now the Islamic War. America has been at war since its birth……how long we still have to fight, i have no way to guess. The US Military is the greatest human force for good the earth has seen for a long time.

  • cjr says:

    What has he done for us lately? One extremely critical thing. Pakistan has been and still is providing 60,000 US and NATO troops a main supply route into Afghanistan. (Karachi to Islamabad to Pashawar to Jalalabad to Kabul). Half of all supplies to Afghanistan go this route. Air transport alone cannot replace it and all other land routes are poor in comparision.
    IMO, without that route, the entire mission in Afghanistan is….. still sustainable but precarious. Any significant increases forces in Afghanstan then becomes very difficult.

  • cjr says:

    ……This mean, no matter what happens or what they do, we must remain on reasonably good terms with the Pakistani government. There is no good alternative.

  • KW64 says:

    Story in News Section on the right: “At the State Department, deputy spokesman Tom Casey noted that Pakistan’s new strategy for dealing with terrorism brings together political parties, the military, and some of the traditional leaders in Fata to “reiterate their opposition to extremism and their desire and willingness to combat it.”

  • Neo says:

    So how often does the Taliban clash with PML-N.
    Seldom  Never 

  • Marlin says:

    The Paksitani government takes a tentative step.

    Pakistani security forces launched an offensive against Taliban fighters near the northwestern city of Peshawar on Saturday, prompting a militant commander to suspend peace talks and threaten country-wide retaliation.
    A security official said the operation was focused on Bara town, around 5 kilometres west of Peshawar, and a resident told Reuters that paramilitary troops had fired at least three mortar rounds into the surrounding hills.
    “The Frontier Corps has destroyed eight bases of the miscreants in Bara,” the official said, adding that he had no reports of casualties so far.

    Reuters: Pakistan launches anti-Taliban crackdown near Peshawar

  • Marlin says:

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the location of a major base in Peshawar, the Pakistani Army is at least providing moral support to the Frontier Corps.

    Fighter helicopters of Pakistan army made low flights over the area on Saturday morning.

    The News: Operation against miscreants begins in Khyber Agency

  • jeandon says:

    The “border” lines between Afghanistan and the Taliban-controlled flyspeckistans that the Paks can’t, or won’t, control should be erased from all coalition maps. The doctrine that siezed Afghanistan from the Taliban in months should be continued there, in cooperation with the Afghans and local tribal allies in the agencies. This will defuse the threat to both the Paks, their nukes, and the Afghans from the Taliban. The Afghans and the Paks can then negotiate the status of the “occupied” agencies. Karzai should like that, and who cares what the perfidious Paks think?


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