Challenges in Swat after Military Operation

By Ibrahim Khalil

The Defense Ministry is optimistic that Military will finish Swat operation in a few days. Let us hope and pray that it ends as predicted. However, contrary to what many people believe, end of military operation will not mark the end of the problem. If the reportedly successful Bajaur operation has taught us anything, it is that a new set of challenges will be waiting for us once the military declares the area fit for repatriation of IDPs.  The government needs to have a plan in place to tackle these challenges otherwise any gains that army has achieved in its war with extremists will be lost in the battle for hearts of IDPs.

First and foremost, ensure the return of IDPs to their villages. As per the portrayal of IDPs as depicted by media and government, IDPs can’t wait to go back and will return at the first available opportunity. If the Bajaur operation is anything to go by, the reality will be very different. The government offered little or no assistance when these IDPs were running for their lives, in their panic some leaving their kids, old relatives etc behind, latching onto any means of transport bus, truck, or pickup paying whatever they had on them and some even making to the camps on foot. However, the journey back will require significant role to be played by the government. Sound arrangements would have to be made for transporting them back as reversal of such a huge displacement of population with some estimates putting them at 3 million will be a logistical nightmare if not planned properly.

Two, if these IDPs are to return, efforts need to be made to resettle them. Since we have not seen the pictures of what is left of their abodes and it was the shelling rather than door to door fighting that caused the mass exodus of Swatis, there is very high probability that their houses have been razed to the ground as well as their businesses and standing crops have been destroyed. Under such circumstances a lot of them don’t have anything left to return to.

Let’s take housing. As the total extent of destruction is not clear at the moment, we cannot estimate how much funds will be required to rebuild houses for them. After the earthquake, when there was outpouring of funds and charity, the government and military still botched up the resettlement. Now when the national mood is not as sympathetic to the cause, one cannot stress the need for efforts to help settle them. What is being overlooked in the fundraising frenzy is that money is just a means to an end. Unless the funds that have been raised are channeled appropriately, the problems of rehabilitating and repatriating IDPs will remain. A large proportion of IDPs from Bajaur have not returned despite peace returning to the region as they claim they don’t have a roof left over them back home.

With their standing crops destroyed and shops razed to the ground, many of IDPs will not have a source of livelihood once they return. In case of growers, the government was kind enough to waive their agriculture loans. But that is not enough. A harvest of a season serves two purposes. One, it enables a grower to pay back the agriculture loan, and two, it provides him with income for sustaining the rest of the year. The government thus far has taken care of first part but appears totally oblivious of the challenge posed by the second part.

Thirdly, though a bit clichéd yet still true, justice delayed is justice denied. Taliban made their way into the minds of Swatis through justice. Whether one agreed with their brand of justice, the fact remains that Taliban administered justice swiftly. It has been reported in media that initially Taliban’s swift justice was well received by Swatis. Unless government puts in place a justice system in Swat for resolving disputes quickly and there will be disputes now especially with some people having lost everything, the Swatis will prove fertile ground for growth of another justice administering party.

Fourthly, unless the Nizam-e-Adl regulation is repealed, it has been approved as a system of justice in Swat. Before trying to repeal it, despite what our American paymaster push us for or what op-ed pieces say about Nizam-e-Adl, we should actually consider what the people of Swat want. Contrary to popular belief, Nizam-e-Adl calls for qualified people from recognized institutions, and not ignorant militants of Fazlullah and Sufi Mohammad, to be Qazis or Judges.  Two justice systems in a country is not a new or a foreign concept. Swatis were ruled under Nizam-e-Adl until 1970. Even in US who we look up to for justice standards, different states have different laws devised by the legislative of that state. Needless to mention, Swat was peacefully administered under a system similar to Nizam-e-Adl till 1970.

Fifthly, we have to decide about the constitutional status of Swat and its adjoining areas. Whether one agrees with the statement of Sufi Mohammad or not, as per constitution of 1973, the jurisdiction of high courts and Supreme Court as well as the parliament does not extend to Swat. This was high handedness of provincial as well as national governments as by appointing and later pulling strings of political agents or maliks, the successive governments used to have their way in these areas without going through the parliament.  As most of the maliks have been killed or have ran off, this is the most opportune time to bring Swat and it’s adjoining into mainstream Pakistan and eliminate their status as Provincially Administered Tribal Areas.

Sixthly, law enforcement mechanism has to be put in place. Why is that as Taliban kept on gaining ground in Swat there was no law enforcement mechanism to deal with them or fight them? We need to have a permanent police in Swat recruited from the same region and trained to enforce the proverbial writ of state. Military should not be posted as peace keepers. We have not set a good precedent in Karachi by posting Rangers; they have gotten so used to easy urban law enforcement that it does not seem likely that they will return to their original job of guarding the border regions where life is tough. Needless to mention, the law and order situation in Karachi has not become any better because of Rangers.

When apologists object that military operation is not the solution, this is the reason: when the dust settles, the status quo has been disrupted, infrastructure has been destroyed, new challenges have arisen and to again use clichéd term, a paradigm shift has occurred. The above challenges are bare minimum that the government should be planning for immediately if it wants IDPs to return, resettle and avoid another challenge to writ of state by Taliban or their ilk a few years down the road.

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