Afrasyab Khattak, Provincial President, ANP; peace envoy to the Pakhtunkhwa
government

By Tauseef-ur-Rahman

The News on Sunday: Who are Taliban and what is their agenda in the Swat
valley?

Afrasyab Khattak: The extremist insurgency in Swat is not an isolated
phenomenon; it is connected with the militancy that has its bases in the
Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). There is a very popular myth about
former president, Gen Musharraf, taking an about-turn of sorts. If there was an
about-turn, it was a double about-turn because the Taliban and Al-Qaeda
operatives were allowed to enter Fata and set up bases for fighting from across
the border. When the pressure on insurgents increased in southern and eastern
Afghanistan, they started expanding their bases to acquire depth on east of
Durand line. They had a plan to Talibanise the settled districts. Now it has
emerged as a type of a parallel state with Waziristan as its capital. They chose
Swat because it is a district situated in the north of the province and away
from Waziristan so that it may not look like an expansion of Taliban’s Emirate
of Waziristan.

Secondly, connected with Shangla, it is a transit for ‘Mujahideen’ who want to
come from Azad Kashmir to join fighting in the Kunar province of Afghanistan.

Thirdly, the sophisticated mind behind the apparently crude and primitive
Taliban chose Swat because the absolutist feudal rule of Waali had succeeded in
disintegrating tribal structure in Swat so that there is no tribal base for
resisting the onslaught of neo-fascism that calls itself Taliban.

TNS: How do you see the present law and order situation in the valley?

AK: The problem was mishandled by the MMA government which allowed this
monster of violence to grow without any hindrance. More regrettable was its
refusal to recognise the existence of a developing insurgency spreading from
Fata into Swat. So, there were no preparations on the counter insurgency front.
There was no investment into building the civil security apparatus to meet the
challenge of insurgency.

When the ANP-led government took power in April 2008, it was confronted by an
ever strengthening extremists’ insurgency without institutional preparation to
meet the challenge.

TNS: Is your party satisfied with the military operation taking place in
Swat?

AK: We have certain reservations about the military operation. The first
operation that was launched in July 2007 was inconclusive. Taliban were chased
out of the valley by the army and they took shelter in Peuchar and other camps
in the mountains. But, their legacy – FM radio stations and heavy weapons –
remained intact.

As for the second phase of the operation which started on July 29, 2008, it has
been ineffective in the sense that Taliban’s activity has increased both
quantitatively and qualitatively in Swat. Since most of the operation has been
carried out through long-range guns and air force, the collateral damage is
quite high.

TNS: The Army holds ANP responsible for the regrouping of Taliban, thanks
to the May-21 agreement with militants. What is your take on that?

AK: The agreement was very important as it politically exposed and
isolated the militants. Had it not been for the Swat agreement there would be no
popular resistance and uprising against Taliban in Dir, Buner and other
districts of the province.

TNS: So, whose failure is it?

AK: We believe that the major cause of militancy and extremism in Fata
and Pukhtunkhwa is the duality in our Afghan policy. We (Pakistan) pay lip
service to peace in Afghanistan but we tolerate militants’ sanctuaries in Fata.

TNS: How do you explain the refusal of 600 Elite Force to perform in
Swat?

AK: There were mistakes committed in preparing this elite force. Most of
them were earlier recruited to serve in their own districts but were suddenly
asked to go into the troubled valley. These mistakes are being rectified and
very soon a strong civilian security apparatus in Swat and the rest of the
province will be put in place.

TNS: Police and other government officials are quitting their jobs in
Swat. Comment.

AK: Actually, when the large-scale insurgency erupted, civil security
apparatus was ill-prepared to meet it. We have to provide more resources for
building a civil security apparatus to meet the challenge in coordination with
traditional armed forces.

TNS: The chief minister and other ANP ministers have been talking about some
good news to come in a couple of weeks. What could that possibly be?

AK: Naturally, we cannot put up with the status quo. We are working on a
new political initiative to improve the situation, but it is rather premature to
go into details at this point.

TNS: How will you respond to the hit list issued by the Swat militants?

AK: That is all rubbish. They are outlaws and fugitives. They have no
legitimacy whatsoever. Instead, it is the government which will bring them to
justice.

TNS: Where are the militants getting the financial support from?

AK: We believe Fazlullah is paying Rs 15,000 a month to about 10,000
people, apart from arms supply and other expenditures. There is a link between
terrorism and drug trafficking, but we believe that the Arab money is still
pouring in through Waziristan.

TNS: Do you think the Shariah Regulation will bring about an improvement
in the situation?

AK: We have done our homework to address the concerns of the people and
we shall make public our reform package of the judicial system to provide quick
and inexpensive justice to the people of the Malakand division.

TNS: Don’t you think this will encourage the people of other districts to
make such a demand?

AK: No. In fact, Swat, Chitral and Malakand division have a particular
history. They have been demanding it from the late 80s and 90s and the demand is
limited to these areas because of its particular condition. I think in other
settled districts the traditional system is well entrenched and accepted.

TNS: What future do you see of the Valley, in the context of its current
security situation?

AK: The democratic government is determined to rectify the past mistakes,
to defeat the insurgency and to carry forward the process of political
integration and socio-political transformation. These goals can be achieved only
through the unity and determination of both the state and the society.