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.