Around 3,000 people gathered for a rally in the Swat Valley of Pakistan on April 10 in support of the bill paving way for the implementation of Islamic law there
Rashid Iqbal/European Pressphoto Agency
Supporters of Islamic law on Thursday in the Swat Valley, a Pakistani region where the Taliban exploited class rifts to gain control.
PESHAWAR, Pakistan — The Taliban have advanced deeper into Pakistan by engineering a class revolt that exploits profound fissures between a small group of wealthy landlords and their landless tenants, according to government officials and analysts here.
The strategy cleared a path to power for the Taliban in the Swat Valley, where the government allowed Islamic law to be imposed this week, and it carries broad dangers for the rest of Pakistan, particularly the militants’ main goal, the populous heartland of Punjab Province.
In Swat, accounts from those who have fled now make clear that the Taliban seized control by pushing out about four dozen landlords who held the most power.
To do so, the militants organized peasants into armed gangs that became their shock troops, the residents, government officials and analysts said.
The approach allowed the Taliban to offer economic spoils to people frustrated with lax and corrupt government even as the militants imposed a strict form of Islam through terror and intimidation.
“This was a bloody revolution in Swat,” said a senior Pakistani official who oversees Swat, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation by the Taliban. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it sweeps the established order of Pakistan.”
The Taliban’s ability to exploit class divisions adds a new dimension to the insurgency and is raising alarm about the risks to Pakistan, which remains largely feudal.
Unlike India after independence in 1947, Pakistan maintained a narrow landed upper class that kept its vast holdings while its workers remained subservient, the officials and analysts said. Successive Pakistani governments have since failed to provide land reform and
even the most basic forms of education and health care. Avenues to advancement for the vast majority of rural poor do not exist.
Analysts and other government officials warn that the strategy executed in Swat is easily transferable to Punjab, saying that the province, where militant groups are already showing strength, is ripe for the same social upheavals that have convulsed Swat and the tribal areas.
Mahboob Mahmood, a Pakistani-American lawyer and former classmate of President Obama’s, said, “The people of Pakistan are psychologically ready for a revolution.”
Sunni militancy is taking advantage of deep class divisions that have long festered in Pakistan, he said. “The militants, for their part, are promising more than just proscriptions on music and schooling,” he said. “They are also promising Islamic justice, effective government and economic redistribution.”
The Taliban strategy in Swat, an area of 1.3 million people with fertile orchards, vast plots of timber and valuable emerald mines, unfolded in stages over five years, analysts said.
The momentum of the insurgency built in the past two years, when the Taliban, reinforced by seasoned fighters from the tribal areas with links to Al Qaeda, fought the Pakistani Army to a standstill, said a Pakistani intelligence agent who works in the Swat region.
The insurgents struck at any competing point of power: landlords and elected leaders — who were usually the same people — and an underpaid and unmotivated police force, said Khadim Hussain, a linguistics and communications professor at Bahria University in Islamabad, the capital.
At the same time, the Taliban exploited the resentments of the landless tenants, particularly the fact that they had many unresolved cases against their bosses in a slow-moving and corrupt justice system, Mr. Hussain and residents who fled the area said.
Their grievances were stoked by a young militant, Maulana Fazlullah, who set up an FM radio station in 2004 to appeal to the disenfranchised. The broadcasts featured easy-to-understand examples using goats, cows, milk and grass. By 2006, Mr. Fazlullah had formed a ragtag force of landless peasants armed by the Taliban, said Mr. Hussain and former residents of Swat.
At first, the pressure on the landlords was subtle. One landowner was pressed to take his son out of an English-speaking school offensive to the Taliban. Others were forced to make donations to the Taliban.
Then, in late 2007, Shujaat Ali Khan, the richest of the landowners, his brothers and his son, Jamal Nasir, the mayor of Swat, became targets.
After Shujaat Ali Khan, a senior politician in the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, narrowly missed being killed by a roadside bomb, he fled to London. A brother, Fateh Ali Mohammed, a former senator, left, too, and now lives in Islamabad. Mr. Nasir also fled.
Later, the Taliban published a “most wanted” list of 43 prominent names, said Muhammad Sher Khan, a landlord who is a politician with the Pakistan Peoples Party, and whose name was on the list. All those named were ordered to present themselves to the Taliban courts or risk being killed, he said. “When you know that they will hang and kill you, how will you dare go back there?” Mr. Khan, hiding in Punjab, said in a telephone interview. “Being on the list meant ‘Don’t come back to Swat.’ ”
One of the main enforcers of the new order was Ibn-e-Amin, a Taliban commander from the same area as the landowners, called Matta. The fact that Mr. Amin came from Matta, and knew who was who there, put even more pressure on the landowners, Mr. Hussain said.
According to Pakistani news reports, Mr. Amin was arrested in August 2004 on suspicion of having links to Al Qaeda and was released in November 2006. Another Pakistani intelligence agent said Mr. Amin often visited a madrasa in North Waziristan, the stronghold of Al Qaeda in the tribal areas, where he apparently received guidance.
Each time the landlords fled, their tenants were rewarded. They were encouraged to cut down the orchard trees and sell the wood for their own profit, the former residents said. Or they were told to pay the rent to the Taliban instead of their now absentee bosses.
Two dormant emerald mines have reopened under Taliban control. The militants have announced that they will receive one-third of the revenues.
Since the Taliban fought the military to a truce in Swat in February, the militants have deepened their approach and made clear who is in charge.
When provincial bureaucrats visit Mingora, Swat’s capital, they must now follow the Taliban’s orders and sit on the floor, surrounded by Taliban bearing weapons, and in some cases wearing suicide bomber vests, the senior provincial official said.
In many areas of Swat the Taliban have demanded that each family give up one son for training as a Taliban fighter, said Mohammad Amad, executive director of a nongovernmental group, the Initiative for Development and Empowerment Axis.
A landlord who fled with his family last year said he received a chilling message last week. His tenants called him in Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier Province, which includes Swat, to tell him his huge house was being demolished, he said in an interview here.
The most crushing news was about his finances. He had sold his fruit crop in advance, though at a quarter of last year’s price. But even that smaller yield would not be his, his tenants said, relaying the Taliban message. The buyer had been ordered to give the money to the Taliban instead.
One man finds corruption in a part of Somalia like Puntland:
Not surprisingly, the official line among Puntland´s government ministers was that “piracy is a global problem that found headway in Somalia´s porous waters in recent years.” One after another, they told me that Puntland isn´t tooled to combat this problem, because pirates are well-armed, well-financed and multi-jurisdictional. (That´s to say that pirates operate in places like Haradheere in central Somalia).
But surprisingly, and below the official line, there´s a wide belief among Puntlanders that “pirates [they don´t even use this word!] are heroes, because they are protecting Somalia´s unguarded resources, looted by international companies.”
Quite the contrary, so many people, including former government officials and journalists told me that pirates have deep connections in the highest ranks in Puntland´s regime. In fact, people could list names of government ministers whose own militia are the pirates.
Few weeks ago, when pirates kidnapped a Japanese vessel outside Somalia´s international waters (which is quite routine, and, remarkably, counter-argument to those who say that pirates are “guarding” our resources), U.S. and French naval ships cornered the pirates near Boosaaso, the business capital of Puntland. The pirates, I was told, were able to disembark from the kidnapped ship every night to chew Khat and hang out with friends and family members, while other “substitute” pirates replaced them!
Eventually, the ordeal ended with the Japanese tanker being released unharmed, and pirates getting away with an undisclosed amount of ransom. The pirates´ front-men are senior government officials, who typically convince kidnapped ships to pay ransom (usually less then than pirates originally demanded). I found that this scenario occurred no less than three dozen times in the last few years.
n addition to piracy, human trafficking is pandemic in Puntland. More than 35,000 people have perished since 1991 trying to cross the short, but dangerous distance between Boosaaso and Yemen, using makeshift rafts.
Even back in the days when President Yusuf was the president of Puntland, the administration there made a noise that it will crack down on traffickers, whenever the international attention was zeroing on the issue.
However, hardly anything has been done. In fact, human traffickers, who like pirates have deep connections to the corridors of power, have flourished. In Boosaaso and nearby towns, journalists and other sources sent me the photos of the homes of well-known human traffickers and pirates, whose villas and latest-model Land Cruisers have dazzled me.
Last week, when Gwen Le Gouil, a French journalist tried to do an investigative report on human trafficking, he was kidnapped for nine grueling days. Remarkably, he was seized on his way to Shimbiraale, the infamous village known for its human and weapons traffickers. Insiders told me that his kidnappers were Puntland intelligence officers associated with both human traffickers and pirates.
A Taste of AFRICOM: Somalia did find peace and tried to stop piracy until the US bombed the shit out of it in 2006
There has been a lot of talk lately about Somali pirates, so it’s probably a good time for a little summary.
In 2006 “the CIA propagated that Al-Qaeda had made its base in Somalia where three senior leaders were residing. CIA then encouraged Ethiopia to invade Somalia in support of weak TFG forces (Transitional Federal Government) against UIC fighters (Union of Islamic Courts) and promised to provide intelligence and air cover. Ethiopian troops backed by USA invaded Somalia on 28 December 2006. The UIC was quickly defeated in a sweeping offensive and the six-month peace period was shattered. It was believed that the UIC leadership fled into Kenya or to Yemen and the hard-line fighters cached their arms and melded back into their clans leaving the mostly untrained, new recruits to face the Ethiopian troops. Soon after the UIC rout, two US air strikes targeted alleged Al-Qaeda bases in southern Somalia on 13 January 2007 but only innocent civilians got killed.”
“‘My four-year-old boy was killed in the strike,’ Mohamed Mahmud Burale said. ‘The plane was firing at other areas in Ras Kamboni. We could see smoke from the area. We also heard 14 massive explosions.’”
“The air strikes came 16 days after Ethiopian forces entered Somalia to back pro-government troops driving out an Islamist movement that had taken control of much of the country from the weak transitional administration.”
click to enlarge – source
The Islamist movement that US and Ethiopian forces were attacking were the same people that had been trying to prevent Somali pirates from seizing ships:
In 2008 “the Islamist fighters attacked the pirates in Hobyo, 450 kilometres (270 miles) north of the capital Mogadishu … just after they had released a Jordanian-flagged cargo ship seized nearly a week earlier. ‘Two Islamists and several pirates died in the fighting which lasted more than an hour,’ one of the elders, Abdinasir Diriye, told AFP by telephone. An Islamist leader said four pirates and two Islamists had been killed in the shoot-out, adding that they had also arrested several of the pirates… Local elders had said Islamist fighters had threatened to attack the pirates if they did not release the ship.”
click to enlarge – source
“Due to the tribal organization of Somalia and the lack of a central government, combined with Somalia’s location at the Horn of Africa, conditions were ripe for the growth of piracy in the early 1990s. Since the collapse of the state, boats illegally fishing in Somali waters were a common sight. Pirates at first were interested in securing the waters before businessmen and militias became involved. Acts of piracy temporarily subsided following the rise of the Islamic Courts Union in 2006. However, pirate activity began to increase after Ethiopia invaded Somalia in December 2006.”
It’s important to point out that “the radical Islamists in Somalia never had much following until the Somali people became aware that an outside power was supporting the corrupt and thuggish military chieftains. The popularity of the Islamist movement then surged, allowing the Islamists to take over much of the country. In sum, where no problem with radical Islamists previously existed, the U.S. government helped create one.”
“For the Somali people, the Ethiopian invasion of December 2006 could not have started at a worse time. Defeating the Union of Islamic Courts and propping up the Transitional Federal Government was Ethiopia’s immediate rationale for invading Somalia. The larger goal was to forge a partnership between Washington and Addis Ababa in order to execute the ‘war on terror.’”:
“To keep the invasion and Africa’s worst humanitarian catastrophe going, heavy and modern weapons, including airplanes were used. One was a United States Air Force AC-130 gunship that attacked and killed Somali villagers and countless livestock in the hunt for three foreign men suspected for the 1998 bombing of American embassies in Africa, who yet remain at large.”
The shear madness of firing artillery from navy destroyers and gunships to try and kill two or three people in a town occupied by thousands of civilians, is only surpassed by the indifference displayed by the US military, the US media, and the US citizenry as to the number of innocent civilians being killed and displaced. How many civilians did the United States kill in these bombardments?
In January 2007 more than 100 people were killed in US bombings in just one week, and in April, just three short months later, four days of fierce fighting between Ethiopian-backed government forces and Islamic insurgents killed 381 people.
It is beyond my understanding how killing nomads and displacing hundreds of thousands of civilians was going to make Somalia, Ethiopia or the United States any safer. Of course according to many analysts, this US led war in Somalia was really just about oil and resources, not about Islamic extremists.
“Although Africa has long been known to be rich in oil, extracting it hadn’t seemed worth the effort and risk until recently. But with the price of Middle Eastern crude skyrocketing, and advancing technology making reserves easier to tap, the region has become the scene of a competition between major powers that recalls the 19th-century scramble for colonization. Already, the United States imports more of its oil from Africa than from Saudi Arabia, and China, too, looks to the continent for its energy security.”
Since it was formed two years ago, the US African Command (AFRICOM) has been very busy creating death and destruction in Africa in an attempt to obtain control of precious resources, which is why the war in Somalia is expanding to the rest of Africa.
Even though “Africa is united in rejecting US requests for a military headquarters” inside Africa, there are reports that “from oil rich northern Angola up to Nigeria, from the Gulf of Guinea to Morocco and Algeria, from the Horn of Africa down to Kenya and Uganda, and over the pipeline routes from Chad to Cameroon in the west, and from Sudan to the Red Sea in the east, US admirals and generals have been landing and taking off, meeting with local officials. They’ve conducted feasibility studies, concluded secret agreements, and spent billions from their secret budgets.” This is the future that awaits Africa with AFRICOM and the agenda to control the “oil, and the diamonds, and the uranium, and the coltan.”
If you find the idea that Africa can become bloodier than it is inaccessible, then consider this: Contrary to popular belief, the worst humanitarian crisis in Africa is not Darfur, it’s Somalia, and it all started in 2006, when the United States and Ethiopia started a war with Somalia, ending six months of the only peaceful period Somalis had known for years. The end result has been the same as all other wars that the United States has started this century. Not only is Somalia devastated but the war is spreading.
So while our Western Mainstream Media continues to feed us government sanctioned news, we should remember why and how Somalia became a failed State, some of the reasons as to why Somali pirates have become so active in the region, and we should never forget that it was the Union of Islamic Court fighters, the same organization that the United States bombed the shit out of in 2006 all the way up to 2008, that initially tried to prevent Somali pirates from seizing ships off the coast of Africa.
Note: A lot more discussion on AFRICOM will follow in the future.
IN this wretched, unfortunate land, anger and despair have been wasted emotions. After all, while we may never have known how to fix things, at least we could be relatively sure that they wouldn’t get much worse.
But as things begin to fall apart, the assumptions of yore are crumbling before our eyes. And the good and the great – the few that there are – are on the retreat. Many have written of their horror at the pact with the butchers of Swat, the grotesqueness of signing a Sharia deal with men who stand outside the pale of any religion. But it’s something else that has horrified me: the absence of unqualified rejections.
Listen carefully to what the critics are saying. The butchers of Swat are not men of religion. You can’t trust them. You can’t force them to give up their ways. They will only grow stronger.
It’s all very carefully calibrated. Cause minimal offence, upset no sensibilities, avoid stepping on toes. Can no one in this country stand up and say this: we do not want to live in a society where a man, woman or animal is flogged, where anyone’s limb is hacked off, where anyone is stoned. Period.
It doesn’t matter who is demanding it or why. Be it the purest of hearts or the most evil of men; be it with the best of intentions or the worst.
We do not want to live in a society where such punishments have the sanction of the state. Period.
How did we get to this point where it is so difficult for anyone to just say that, and only that? Without qualifications, without apologies, without lowering his voice.
We do not want to live in a society where anyone is flogged, where anyone’s limb is hacked off, where anyone is stoned. Period.
When did it become a radical idea to simply state we don’t want to live in the imagined land of the Taliban? And this is where many get it wrong – that the Taliban are reverting to an ideal. That they are going back to a glorious past. That they are going back to an Islamic past.
Friend Rafia Zakaria writing in The Hindu has laid bare the inherent fakeness of the Taliban project. I can do no better than quote her.
‘It is necessary first to appreciate the imagined Islam of the Taliban as an act of construction rather than reversion. Doing away with hundreds of years of jurisprudence of classical Islamic law, of administrative procedures and methods of reasoning, of sources of law and juristic analysis, the Taliban have redefined Sharia as a performative tableau rather than a jurisprudential exercise.’
‘An entire judicial system thus is reduced to the application of hadd punishments, floggings, beatings and amputations. Thus the qazi, arguably the most integral of those involved in justice provision, is nearly always invisible, while the crowd, the victim and those meting out a punishment play a central role. Justice is redefined as a means to subjugate and punish, with the entire collective crowd partaking in its … enactment.’
After the flogging video sent shock waves around the world, a predictable debate started here. Was the video real or fake? Was it the work of westernised, secular, illegitimate people trying to sabotage peace? Some denounced it as un-Islamic. But here’s what distressed me: otherwise sensible voices decided to take on the Taliban on their terms.
The flogging was wrong because the girl’s guilt wasn’t determined properly. The process was flawed. There was no trial. The punishment wasn’t administered properly. The wrong number of lashes was served.
And then, helpfully, the right process was laid out by these critics. Well, if they had done this or they had done that and followed this particular rule or that particular principle, then the punishment would … would what? Be acceptable?
How about a simple, we won’t accept such a country under any circumstances? Doesn’t matter if the right process or the right whip or the right intention is present.
How did we arrive at this point? Trite answers abound. We’re regressing. We’re uneducated. We have lost our way. Perhaps. But there is an underlying problem, one that isn’t sexy or simple enough to attract much attention.
Ejaz Haider first set me thinking about it a few years ago. We in Pakistan have still not resolved first-order issues of the state. The basic stuff. How is power to be divided between the various institutions of the state; what is the raison d’être of the state; what are society’s grundnorms; what is the social contract on the basis of which the state and its people are to interact. Simply, we haven’t yet figured out the framework within which we are to solve what we consider our real problems.
Ejaz contrasted us with India, which also fails to provide adequate goods and services to many of its people. There are still poor people in India, there is illiteracy, there is hunger, rights are routinely denied. But hardscrabble as life may be in India, the Indians have worked out a consensus on what kind of state – the first-order issue – will address its people’s problems, the second-order issues. In India, a constitutional democracy that embraces fundamental rights is the agreed framework in which to pursue economic and social betterment.
Here in Pakistan we have no such consensus. Sixty-one years of not agreeing on how the state is to be organised has made it impossible to work on the people’s problems. But that failure also always left the door open to anyone who could promise the people a better future at the cost of reorienting the state.
So now that the Taliban are trying to barge in, we have few ripostes. Well, at least they promise peace. At least there will be law and order. At least Green Chowk in Mingora will not see bodies strung up every morning. And if they do all of that in the name of Islam, well, maybe it is time we tried another nizam after all. The current one hasn’t proved any good.
As Rafia put it, the Taliban have slyly latched on to a simple and persuasive line: ‘the more visibly different from the epithets of modernity that the Taliban can be, the more automatically Islamic it becomes.’
Fighting back is difficult because we have never developed a consensus on an alternative. Jinnah’s Pakistan versus Ziaul Haq’s Pakistan – having never quite figured out what we want to be, we now face the very possibility that the Taliban may decide for us.