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Swat, military operation and the rise of religious fundamentalism

Labour Party Pakistan - May 15, 2009

By Farooq Ahmad, member National Committee Labour Party Pakistan

[This is based on his talk at LPP National Committee meeting held in Toba Tek Singh on 8 May 2009; Farooq Ahmad hails from Murdan and is a long standing activist of LPP. He has played a pivotal role in building the labour and Left movement in the province. LPP has over 2000 members in the province dominated by religious fundamentalists). Seven comrades traveled from different parts of Pukhtoonkhawa province to attend the National Committee meeting, three members of NC and four observers. They also participated in this discussion led by Farooq Ahmad.]

The Swat situation has brought the whole Pakistan in fear. It is complicated and complex situation and circumstances. There is a lot of confusion about the role of different actors playing a role in the province. It is like a chess game where you do not know about your next step when in problem. Then you just risk and move forward. It is very confusing situation. That is why the both sides, the religious fanatics and the government signed the Nizam Adl and now military operation. They are trying different tactics and are not sure which one will work. However, the prices of these blunders are paid by ordinary people of the area.

The Taliban came from Afghanistan. They settled in Swat long ago and were integrated in the area. It was not a hidden fact but open to all. They came from other areas and they have married with local girls, some tie forcefully and some time with agreements and have settled down.

During 1994-95, there was a religious movement of Tehreek Nifazi Shariat Mohammdi (TNSM), of Sufi Mohammed for the implementation of "Islam". During the movement, the sit ins and dharnaas forced Swat to be isolated from the rest of the country, The government and the Sufi Mohammed compromised and both went along well for some time.

The Swat situation has rapidly changed, within the last three years, When US attacked Afghanistan, and Sufi Mohammed advocated a Jihad and "Afghanistan Chaloo" (Go Afghanistan) was his slogan. Over 15000 fundamentalist and followers of Sufi Mohammed went to Afghanistan for Jihad. The MMA government did not take any action against them and kept a very criminal silence on this Jihadi move. After the defeat of Taliban, he came back to Pakistan and was arrested for "protected custody). Local people were angry with him, He had promised them a lot and nothing was done. The local people wanted to ask him why he has taken their sons to Afghanistan without their permission and many had lost lives during the Afghan adventure. He was arrested by the government to save him from people's anger.

Chuprial is one part that is now the center of the religious fundamentalists. In June 2006, the Labour Party Pakistan had a public meeting here with Nisar Shah speaking, attended by over 600. There were red flags in all the area along the route from Matta. Earlier, In May 2006, LPP had a May Day rally in Matta. Matta is a Tehsil of Swat and now the main center of Taliban. So till 2006, we had good progressive forces in the area. Some of the main leaders of ANP joined LPP including Abdullah Qureshi. He was the first political figure to be killed in a suicidal attack in December 2007 at Matta. Later most of ANP leaders of the area were either killed or they left the area to safe their lives. It was fascism and government of General Musharraf took a serious notice of these events.

In 2008 general elections, in Swat, Boner, Dir and Chitral, no religious person was elected and was elected from PPP and ANP. LPP boycotted the general elections of 2008 on the appeal of the lawyer's movement.

The people rejected the religious fundamentalist. Even now, three months earlier, in a bye election, in Boner, ANP has won from Jamaat Islami. So we can say for sure that this whole area had many political ups and downs. Fundamentalists spread in the area within last three years and particularly after the general elections of 2008 because they were organized and armed. They had resources and were using fascist tactics. ANP and PPP went along with fundamentalists after the general elections, and released Sufi Mohammed, it strengthened the fanatics. The failure of the main political parties to mobilize people against fundamentalist paved the way for fanatic's growth.

In 2003, Afrasayb Khatak and Asfand Yar Wali, the main leadrs of ANP went to US and had some negotiations with US imperialism. They said openly that Phuktoonistan is been presented to us in a plate why we should not accept it. They had earlier supported the NATO forces in occupying Afghanistan.

The Talibas are divided in different groups and are not a unified group. There are several Taliban movements, separated from others; there are a lot of contradictions among them. Shia and Sunni fight had a lot to do that. Taliban has basically kicked out the Shia community from the areas dominated by the fanatics.

There are three main groups among the Taliban. ISI and CIA, they have their own groups among the Talibans. There are many incidents in Swat where truck load of arms were captured by police and then army personals let it go. It seems very clear that some sections of Taliban were supported by some sections of the army.

The Taliban war has many dimensions; there are different tactics and different targets used by these different groups. The group believed to be supported by some CIA personal are targeting on government buildings, this is Baitul Masood group of Taliban. This may be to destabilize the government.

The Taliban groups supported by some sections of the army are attacking the nationalist leaders mainly in Malkand division. From these areas, the ANP leadership is almost wiped out. All their members of parliament from these areas elected in 2008 have left the area to safe their lives. Their houses have been taken over by Taliban.

Sufi Mohammed Tehreek Nifazi Shariat Mohammdi is different from the Taliban. They are not in discipline of each other. Taliban did not want to surrender their arms although Sufi Mohammed wanted that.

The effect of Taliban activities has devastating and shocking effect on the lives of the peoples in the area. Women are worst hit. The flogging of one woman shown by the media is just one incident that came to be known to the people. This had been the case all the time. This had become a norm under Taliban.Despite the claims of the government, this incident happened and was a truth. Kala Kilay was the name where this incdent took place and some one made the video secretly.

Many more such incidents happen every day. The women are subject to the brutal behaviors. Our comrade of LPP Jilal Khan told us that he was traveling with his seven year old daughter. Taliban stopped us and asked me why no veil (Purdah) for your daughter. I knew another incident where they had killed one person because he was wearing low down Shalwar. Jilal Khan told the Taliban that this is mistake, I will not do it next time, and this was to safe his and daughter life.

They are imposing all sort of repressive measures. They have a special instrument called Gulail to size the beard of one person. If the beard is not up to the size, the person is subject to different punishments. You can not shave simple in the areas dominated by Taliban. They are terrorizing the whole community by imposing their medieval customs.

The main stream religious political parties have a criminal silence on these crimes of Taliban. They are not taking any stand on these issues neither making any statements on social issues. But if any Taliban is killed by police or army, then they make a lot of noise. The Jamaati Islami supports publicly the Taliban. In Dir, JI is strong and they are supporting the Taliban. They are actually spying for Taliban. They are the agents of Taliban in the cities. We know one incident which confirms this. In Timargrah, one NGO director was kidnapped; when he was released later, he told us that two JI people saw him coming out of his home and they informed the Taliban.

Because of Taliban control, the Swat economy is ruined. Swat s famous for its fruit gardens apart from tourism. The gardens are sold to people from outside and that also create a lot of employment. Because of the dangerous situation, the fruit traders from outside did not come this year. The pears, peaches and other fruits gardens are in total ruin this year. Tourism is already gone; Hotels are housing the army and Taliban without any rent. They are actually forcefully been occupied by the both. No gardens is been sold and fruits been ruined.

Swat was declared as tax free zone. This resulted in some establishment of industry mainly cosmetics and silk, the workers were mainly women in cosmetics, All women workers are now unemployed. They were asked by Taliban not to work. The factories are closed. District Boner is known for good marble stone work. Super White and Swat Green are very famous marble all over Pakistan because of its quality and beatification. Over 12000 workers are unemployed now. Pehar (mountain) Mazdoor Union was established by us in the area. This industry is also closed. The educational institutions are the worst hit. Taliban has hit the schools but mainly the girl's schools. They are first blown up and then the debris of schools is also sold. Every thing of the destroyed school building was also sold. Loot and plunder, that is what Taliban are been involved every where they have control.

Azra Shad chair person Women Workers Help Line went with us in 2007 to a village Slampur in Swat. It is famous for hand embroidery and handicraft, a lot of home based women workers were earning some money because of this, Salam Pur village is now empty, and they are coming to us in Murdan to take refuge after the military operation in May 2009.

In Boner district, when Taliban took over the district in end of April, they occupied 17 petrol pumps owned by a person who resisted for over 15 days. But, has to flee after he received no support from the administration. The Taliban sold all petrol for 30 Rupees per litter instead of 56, just to earn the money in short term and then fled away. The owner who resisted on his own was left alone and no army or police came to rescue him or fight alongside with him.

Taliban movement is a fascist movement, not a religious one. They are eliminating the opponents. They are more like MQM. They both are doing the same tactics. I know some Taliban who do not pray or go for religious preaching. They told me that they are in war situation and it is not necessary for them to go for prayer. This is just an excuse.

The linkages of the Taliban with state forces are exposed by the fact that Wazirustan is targeted by Americans Drone attacks but the leader of Taliban Tehreek Baitul Masood is addressing press conferences very regularly, why can not he be traced. It is multi dimensional war fought from different angles.

Amn Committees, or Defense committees, can not be done now, it is too late. But there is no other solution but to arm the people. Although we have to see this fact as well that in Afghanistan, those who were armed to fight the Taliban themselves became armed groups and war lords.

In Rustam, my small town in Murdan district, the Taliban came on motor bikes; they contacted the criminals, asked them to come to mosque and pleaded to cooperate with us. They had a check book and saying that money no problems, so there are a lot of criminals in their ranks as well. All tactics are used by them. They are inside Pakistan in large numbers and are waiting for more appropriate time. More Taliban are from Punjab, a lot more from Saraiki areas. A lot of terrorist organization headquarters are in Punjab. A lot more kidnapping is taking place inside Pukhtoonkhawa, a lot more in Murdan, every day kidnapping takes place inside. No military solution of this issue, Army or Taliban, they might be friends or enemies, both are not trusted by people.

Now, the Taliban are fighting a guerrilla war and we must oppose it and fight against. We are in a process to write a document how to fight the Taliban guerilla war and also the army operation.

The ruling class signed the Nizam Adl, may be to pressurize the imperialist forces to ask more money. But people have to pay a much higher price.

MMA and MQM are not against militarization and they are supported by the army all the time. At the time of signing the Nizam Adkl treaty between the Taliban and government, the situation was not clear,

People wanted peace so they supported it. We were also confused initially for a day or so, but we opposed it.

There are some Left circles who says let the Taliban be killed by the American and Army. This trend also had the same position in Afghanistan. This must be opposed at all level. The situation of Afghanistan is best example. MMA, the religious alliance that ruled the province from 2002-2007 changed the syllabus in Pukhtton Khawa. All the principles of in Chemistry and Biology have been explained through "Islamic teachings" instead of the scientific arguments.

Mobilization is one such answer that is correct. People will fight back if mass mobilization is been the main strategy.

There is no military solution to the issue. The military operation has resulted in devastating effect of displacement of hundreds of thousands. We can not support the Taliban nor the military solution. We have to oppose the both. They both believe in repression. They both are linked to each other and now are fighting with each other. We can not trust any one of them.

We have to build an alternative. We have to unite all the forces opposing Taliban and also those who oppose the military solution. The labour movement has to play a role, mainly in Punjab. The people in Swat are disappointment and disillusioned. They supported the Nizam Adl because they thought it will bring the peace. It did not come. It could not come because this was an unholy agreement between the two rival forces who were deceiving the each other

Many displaced people are coming to Murdan. We have to help them. We are based in Murdan and will do our best to help them. The people have no more trust in army. The army is involved with some Taliban. Lala Afzal, a respected ANP leader who fought against the Taliban and did not leave Swat until recently told a gathering that the commander of Taliban and the army is the same and one. That sums up many thing. It is conflict zone. We have to play a role in this period of the history.

Contributions to the discussion by comrades from the effected areas

Yasir, member national committee LPP

I agree with Farooq Ahmad, more information, the Taliban have their own double standards. While they ask the sons and daughters of the Muslims to come to Madrassas but the fact is one of the main leader of Taliban Tehreek Pakistan is Fazal Ullah, his two sons are in studying Chemistry in Peshawar University. Taliban are exposed by Nizam Adl to some extent. It was a clever move by the government. Now the Taliban they are looking for new justifications for their war against army. One comrade from Murdan told us that the Taliban are propagating that army is Shia, so they are Kafir, and we must kill them.

In Boner only 60 Taliban came and captured the whole area. Sufi Mohammed group is not a peaceful group but it is a militant group. They have nothing to do with peace. It is an armed group. A lot of people are armed, may be they have no food but a rifle is with them.

Rehana, Women Workers Help Line Pukhtoon Khawa

It is good that I am here. The women are the worst hit in Swat. They can get education as they are not allowed to leave the homes. In the areas dominated by the Taliban, the women can not leave homes even with their brothers and husbands. Thousand of women are unemployed because of Taliban. The widow women can not leave home and they are the worst hit. A lot of NGOs in Murdan are asked to leave the area. The LPP is doing activities despite the threats. Even in Murdan, the women are asked not to leave homes. Even the girl's schools are asked to close down in Murdan. The women are the worst hit. The Taliban are hitting women. No schools, no market, no out door activity that is the lives of women. A lot of domestic violence is not been shown on televisions that is been carried out on women.

Ayaz, President All CT Teachers Association Phukhtoon Khawa

It is not an issue of Phukhtoon Khawa but of all Pakistan. The Taliban according to their financial circumstances should have been very poor, but they have all the resources, they are very rich. They have the latest modern cars and big ones. It is not a religious fight. It is fight of the capitalist for gaining capital. It is game of capitalists. Earlier, army was with them. Now the game is exposed, now the army has started a war. The PM announced to hit them. It is drama; the fact is that it is their war for capturing the area. It will not be limited to one area. 67 persons have come to my house from Bajor earlier to stay, it is spreading all over. Few days earlier, a shopkeeper doing repair of mobile phones told me: A Taliban came to my shop for a mobile phone repair. In the meantime, a woman came as well for a mobile repair. The Taliban asked the women why you have come here outside the home, why are you using a mobile, you must stay home. The shopkeeper said that to safe the life of the women, I became angry on women and asked her to leave the mobile with him and do not ever come back to take this mobile, Mobile is a man work and not a women work. That is how, I saved the life of a women. She to to leave and later, I returned the phone to her. That is what Taliban are now doing in Murdan, a district believed to be safe from Taliban.

Hakim Bahadur member National Committee LPP (Mangora, Swat)

The Establishment created the Taliban, Fazullah and the Sufi Mohammed. Our state institutions have created them. Now the situation is out of control. They are starting a military operation. The situation of Swat is very bad. They are coming slowly to Punjab, in Murdan they are there. They are in control now, the operation is their majboori. How to fight them is to establish our party, we must arm our selves ideological. They are targeting the both, socialist, democrats, nationalist. It is necessary to build the party to fight them. The unity and unity is the answer. Farman Ali, Secretary LPP Pukhtoon Khawa

Until the Afghanistan situation is better, and NATO forces leave Afghanistan, the Pakistan situation will not be better. Afghanistan is on the borders. The Taliban takes inspiration from there. They are linked with the Afghan Taliban. They help each other. American imperialist are not interested in peace in this area. They are escalating the war. They are pressurizing the Pakistani government to take more military actions against the Taliban. But Taliban are not affected, it is the people of the area that are hit badly. We are paying the price of the new liberal agenda. We must oppose the both.

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