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Swat: some questions

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Friday, December 04, 2009
Zubair Torwali

The assassination of the Awami National Party (ANP) MPA Shamsir Ali raises many questions regarding the Swat operation, largely thought to be successful.

Why has a political figure been targeted instead of the security forces? What, or who, was the actual target of the guerrilla attacks that the Swat Taliban leader Fazalullah threatened in his telephone call to the BBC Urdu Service some weeks ago? The attack indicates a security lapse in the area in question and the people of Swat are not unjustified in their fear that the militant network is still there despite the eight-month-long operation. Those living along the eastern side of Swat River say that less attention is being given to security in Kabal and the neighbouring areas than on the western side.

Whenever such attacks occur, the people of the valley are understandably stunned. People wonder that with the extremists still not reined in, has the operation has really been as successful as it is said to be? They want to know when the fate of the militants' top leadership will be sealed. People are curious what the government is doing with the arrested leaders and what plan the security forces have for apprehending these leaders still at large.

Many of the militants who have been held until now are those that joined the network either out of fear or adventurism, ignorant of the consequences of fighting with the militants. Generally, those under arrest are not hard-core militants. A perception in Swat is that the latter have found new safe havens.

Meanwhile, now and again dead bodies are discovered near the security forces' check posts. Many people say the bodies found were those of arrested militants. Were these really the victims of extra-judicial killings? Though the general public does not pay much attention to such incidents since most people are hostile to them, the reported occurrences are not a lawful way of punishing the militants or anyone else. A state is supposed to deal with its citizens strictly under the law. No one is the law unto himself. Nor is anyone above the law.

Another continued grievance of the locals is about the attitude of the security personnel stationed at the security check posts. There are almost two dozen check posts along the main road from Mingora to Kalam. Travellers undergo strict checking at each one of them. Sometimes, the checking takes hours as there is much traffic in the populated district of Swat. In addition to this, many security personnel on duty behave rudely with the passers-by.

At some check points, the personnel on duty are polite and understand how to deal with the general public. However, at many others the officials don't seem to about the feelings of the people. It is true that the security forces are having a hard time in the valley because of winter, but they need further training so that they can perform their duties much more effectively. They also need to be more aware of the social sensitivities of the area in which they operate.

Trust is the key to the success of any venture. Given the kind of war taking place in the area, perhaps the most effective weapon for the security forces is earning the trust of the locals. Many of the grievances of the locals are rooted in the lack of adequate communication. The security forces have no communication strategy. Their officers need to interact with the general public of the area where they are stationed, which will foster mutual trust. Otherwise, the people may start considering their own army as invaders.

The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: angeltorwali@ gmail.com

Courtesy: The News International