Swat is not Bangladesh (May 29, 2009)

As expected Swat deal was a still-born deformed baby. It was clear even before the deal was signed that this deal is not going to bring peace to the people of Swat. While the TNSM and its militant wing led by Mullah Fazlullah had taken it as a surrender of Malakand Division by the government of Pakistan to them, the government view was that they have only agreed to revamp the justice dispensation system.

The TNSM took the government’s weakness as a blank cheque to appoint Qazis of its own choice and then administer justice in accordance to their extremist brand of Shariah. The government wanted to create the new system within the framework of the constitution of Pakistan. Euphoriant Sufi Mohammed then dismissed the constitution, judicial system and democracy as unIslamic.

All citizens of Pakistan are supposed to abide by the constitution of the country. They are of course free to demand amendments to it, but that has to be done through the process provided in the constitution. And definitely not at gun point. According to Dr. Manzoor Ahmed who is a learned scholar on Islam the constitution of Pakistan has nothing against the Quran and Sunnah as maintained in its preamble. He told me that the laws laid under constitution were vetted by the scholars and a few changes were suggested which have been incorporated by the subsequent governments. So the issue of Sufi Mohammed’s version of Shariah does not arise. In any case there are many differences regarding the interpretation of Shariah. Once Sufi and his Taliban started showing the true colours of their brand of Shariah most Ulemas representing various sects have come out on the streets rejecting his interpretation. It is here that one has to understand why secular democracy is important for any country. Secularism does not stop people from following any sect or religion; it only ensures that one sect does not impose its views on others.

All this has finally forced the government and the army to launch an operation in Swat. Many independent analysts had forecast what followed the deal. I had opposed this deal in a column before the deal and had strongly criticized ANP for giving in to the Taliban, but now it seems their tactics were right because it exposed the designs of Sufi and his Taliban to the rest of the country and has isolated them. So owe it to ANP that I stand corrected.

However, now as usual the extreme right and left has joined hands and are criticising the operation. Rightist Imran Khan and some leftist groups are equating this operation with the Army operation in East Pakistan which was liberated in 1971 to become Bangladesh. They fail to acknowledge a number of factors which makes the two operations different. The major difference between Bangladesh liberation war and Swat Taliban insurgency is that in the case of the former, Bengalis had swept the polls and were denied their legitimate right to rule the country. They could have easily made the government in coalition with NAP in NWFP and Balochistan and may be also in Sindh because PPP was short of majority in this province. All opportunities of negotiations were exhausted and the military government launched an operation against the people in Bangladesh. That pushed the Bengalis to separation. Their democratic rights were trampled by the government of Pakistan. All the sensible leaders and intellectuals had pleaded that Awami League should be given the power. The issue of six points which the establishment thought would weaken the center could have been resolved in the parliament, but the establishment was not willing to budge an inch to save Pakistan. I remember that when we held a joint meeting of students, workers and progressive political workers demanding that the session of the Constituent Assembly should be held and the people’s verdict should be accepted we were labeled as anti-state elements. And now after many years it is accepted that the military operation was a mistake.

On the other hand the people of Swat had elected ANP which is a secular party and a handful of Islamic militants tried to defeat the ballot with bullets. What the advocates of Taliban tend to forget is that all armed struggles against the government are not revolutionary wars. Each political struggle has to be analysed independently and by the basic litmus test that whether it is pro or anti-people. Meaning, would it bring progress to the people or it would be retrogressive. This is the fundamental question which is deliberately undermined by the Taliban apologists. There is no doubt that Taliban are reactionary forces which are bent on arresting human progress and undo what has been achieved so far.

A question can be raised that why the democratic forces then oppose the military operation in Balochistan? For this one has to again acknowledge the fact that the Balochis have been asking for more provincial autonomy and control over their resources within the structure of Pakistan. But they have been exploited, made to fight each other and denied their rightful share of resources by the establishment. They have been suppressed by the military operation and nobody is even talking about the thousands of Baloch IDPs who live in inhuman conditions. It has been accepted by successive governments that the quantum of provincial autonomy as given in the constitution needs to be expanded. But there has been hardly any progress on this subject. Even what is given in the constitution has not been fulfilled. Over-centralisation of powers has strengthened the centrifugal forces as a reaction. Any keen student of political science and history knows that decentralization of power is the norm of the day in all countries of the world. Thus the demand for provincial autonomy by the people of smaller provinces, within the constitution and its expansion through amendments, is genuine and democratic. If these demands are accepted militancy of Baloch groups will melt down. Baloch militants are frustrated people who have seen that their democratic struggle has not borne fruit, so they cannot be equated with a few thousand Taliban who want to impose their primitive way of life negating all the principles of democracy. Even the primitive tribal system is not to be condoned because it is antiquated and repressive in character.

Military operation in Malakand has undoubtedly brought in human misery for the people as over two million have been displaced. But were they any better off living under the Taliban’s fascist rule? Most of the Swatis and tribal area people I have talked to admit that they did not like the arbitrary rule of Taliban. But this does not mean they support the military operation whole-heartedly. As they have suffered both because of Taliban and the military operation they are confused. So now is the time for the nation to stand with all the IDPs and make their life easier in these tough times. We have to support them in kind and deliver the clear message that they are suffering because of extremist policies of Taliban. Any wavering on this message, any ifs and buts would only add to their confusion and that’s not what they need right now. (ayazbabar@gmail.com)

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  1. #1 by rubana on June 10, 2009 - 4:26 pm

    Dear Babar sb

    It was a pleasure reading your blog.
    I have requested AAJ TV’s Sameera Ehteram to send you a couple of our DVDs.
    Meanwhile, you can do webstreaming on http://www.tvsouthasia.com and can watch us live as well.

    And, last but not the least, Mr.Zuberi has just told us that TVSA has started to be viewed in Pakistan.
    Do tell me if you are receiving it at your end.

    We are really looking forward to you becoming part of TVSA family in no time. We’ll surely benefit with any suggestion coming from your end

    Best
    Rubana

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