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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

PAKISTAN: Fears of Taliban resurgence in north

PESHAWAR, 12 October 2012 (IRIN) - The shooting on 9 October of Malala Yusufzai, a 14-year-old girls’ education campaigner from Swat Valley in northern Pakistan, is a reminder that militancy is still a significant threat in the north.

A large-scale operation by the Pakistan army against militants in 2009, later hailed as largely successful, has not driven away the hardliners.

“We hear a new operation may be launched here against the Taliban, but nothing is formal yet,” an administrative official in Swat who asked not to be named, told IRIN. “We are keeping up the search for militants, including those who shot Malala,” the district police officer for Swat, Rasool Shah, told IRIN.

The military spokesman for Swat, Col Arif Mehmood, told the media this month that a “search operation” had been on for the past five days against “suspected militants”.

The militants’ targets include campaigners for women’s rights, such as Fareeda Afridi, who was shot dead in Peshawar while on her way to the Khyber Agency, where she worked for the women’s empowerment NGO Sawera.

Meanwhile, schools continue to be bombed in various incidents. Syed Nauman Ali Shah, the political administration officer in Orakzai Agency, told IRIN, “93 schools have been blown up here since 2009, and the trend continues.”

"When the various operations by the military took place in northern areas, the militants in many cases just fled to neighbouring territories where they found safe havens, as these were still under the control of other militant forces - or else they took refuge in neighbouring Afghanistan, where it was impossible for troops to follow," Shaukat Salim, an analyst and activist based in Swat, told IRIN. He said this made a possible resurgence "quite easy".

“The militant problem has changed shape. Things are not as they were till 2009, when the Taliban controlled all aspects of life,” Sher Muhammad Khan, the vice-chair of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), told IRIN. “Targeted actions by militants continue, as in the shooting of Malala or the bombing of schools,” he said, adding that there could be no guarantee militants would not regroup. “Defeating them is all a matter of the will and commitment of the forces engaged against them. A lack of commitment naturally helps them.”

A former military officer, who preferred anonymity, told IRIN: "Soldiers are often reluctant to fight their own countrymen.”

Getting convictions has also proved problematic. "The fact is the police, due to poor training and resources, can often not produce evidence good enough for the courts to convict people,” said a recently retired police officer in Peshawar.

Current strategy “not working”

Some believe elements within the military may even be collaborating with certain militants. “A liaison between militants and the military was established in the 1980s, after they jointly fought the Soviets in Afghanistan. There are many reasons to believe this alliance continues, at least with specific groups of militants - for strategic reasons sometimes linked to a desire by both parties to regain a hold over Afghanistan,” said a lawyer in Peshawar who preferred anonymity.

“Oh yes, the militants are definitely still around. They threaten and harass; we have encountered problems with them in Dir District, which borders Swat, and elsewhere, and they clearly haven’t been vanquished,” Gul Lalay, director of programmes for the Peshawar-based women’s empowerment NGO Khwendo Kor (House of Sisters), told IRIN.

She said the government needed to work out a “different strategy against them as the current one is not working”. Lalay also said trying to strike a deal with militants or hold talks with them, “as the government had attempted in the past” was “pointless”.

“We are doing our best, but yes incidents like the attack on Malala Yusufzai are shocking,” the information minister in Khyber Paktoonkhwa Province, Mian Iftikhar Hussain, told IRIN.

People in northern areas say they still live in fear of militants. “The militant forces like Lashkar-e-Islam operating here in Bara [a town and district in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas near the Afghan border] still control our lives. I am terrified my son, 15, will be forced to join them through coercive pressure,” Amina Bibi, 50, told IRIN from Bara town.

No jobs

Furthermore, the lack of development in Swat and the tribal agencies “definitely nurture militancy”, according to HRCP’s Khan. He said government promises to create employment and bring development to Swat have “not been met”. Huge floods in 2010 added to the problems, he said, with rebuilding and rehabilitation work affected.

“Whether it is Swat or somewhere else, what will people do if they have no jobs, no opportunity and they can see no government presence? They will turn to the militant forces who can recruit such desperate people for any purpose - as suicide bombers, as fighters and for other things. Naturally militancy grows in such conditions,” he said. "People need choices in life. If they have none, it is easy for militant groups to lure them in.”

And the problem may be spreading beyond Swat Valley: “I have passed my matriculation exam. Now there is no college in my village, and no jobs on offer. My friends who have aligned themselves with the militants ask me to join almost each day. So far I have resisted, but one day I may give in and at least get a gun,” said Muhammad Murad, 17, from neighbouring Salarzai Valley in Bajaur Agency.


Theme (s): Conflict, Early Warning, Economy, Governance, Human Rights, Security,

Copyright © IRIN 2012
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
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