By Zia Ur Rehman

Oct 17, 2012

SWAT – Security forces in the Swat Valley have shattered the militants’ command-and-control abilities, leaving the Taliban with only the ability to create fear through hit-and-run tactics, local elders and police officials said. In their latest attempt to terrorise the public, a gunman shot Malala on a school bus in Mingora October 9. Malala earned international fame for blogging about the Taliban’s 2007-2009 reign of terror in Swat.

The attacker also shot two other girls, Kainat and Shazia, whose wounds are less serious.

The incident led to a worldwide outpouring of anger and sympathy, as the entire nation prays for the girls.

Civil society activists in Karachi October 13 protest outside the Karachi Press Club, condemning the October 9 assassination attempt against Malala Yousafzai, a young peace activist. Malala was sent to the United Kingdom October 15 for further treatment. [Zia Ur Rehman]
“Police made arrests in the shooting incident, but we can’t give any details about their numbers,” senior police official Afzal Khan Afridi said.

Sangota resident Ataullah, the suspected mastermind of the plot, has reportedly gone underground after his identity was publicised, but police are scouring various areas of Swat in pursuit of him and the other suspects, media reported October 14, adding that police are questioning his male relatives.

Taliban’s return to Swat termed ‘impossible’

Taliban militants led by Mullah Fazlullah seized Swat in 2007. Bloodshed and atrocities followed, causing the army to launch Operation Rah-e-Rast (Straight Path) against the militants in April 2009.

But the militants can’t return to Swat, officials assert. “The government has defeated militancy and established peace in the Swat Valley through unprecedented sacrifices,” Swat parliamentarian Sher Shah Khan said.

Fazlullah, head of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Swat chapter, and his fighters fled to the Pakistani-Afghan border zone, though some of them are hiding in Karachi, Shah said.

“They want just to spread panic among local residents through such cowardly acts like attacking a young schoolgirl,” Shah told Central Asia Online, adding that such inhumane acts violate both the teachings of Islam and Pashtun norms.

Attempts to kill anti-Taliban figures

Taliban militants are targeting peace activists with hit-and-run tactics, but that is occurring at a very low level, Shah said.

Several anti-Taliban figures hailing from Swat have been assassinated by the TTP in Karachi, Shah said, but security forces and resistance by locals make it very difficult to target someone in Swat.

Still, five peace activists have been attacked in Swat in the past six months, tribal elders say.

An unknown attacker early July 12 fatally shot prominent political activist Afzal Khan Damghar. He was a hotel owner associated with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz who had played a key role in maintaining peace in the valley.

Zahid Khan, a leader of the Swat Qaumi Jirga (SQJ) and president of the All Swat Hotels Association, sustained severe injuries in an August 3 attack while he was going to the mosque for Isha prayers. Zahid had vocally criticised the Swat Taliban during their reign. Separate attacks in Swat also injured peace activists Idrees Khan of Bara Bandai and Muftaiuddin of Kanju.

The most recent target was Malala.

“Political elders and leaders of anti-Taliban peace committees of Swat are a key target of the Taliban because they played a key role in assisting law enforcement agencies in the operation against the militants,” said Saifullah Khan, a leader of Nekpikhel Qaumi Jirga, an anti-Taliban armed volunteer force formed in Kabal Tehsil to keep the remaining militants at bay.

The attempt to kill Malala was meant to destroy peace in Swat, but the local population and security forces won’t allow the Taliban to do so, Saifullah said.

“Local and Swati elders are meeting regularly with the security forces and police,” he said, adding that such co-operation was vital to counter-terrorism success.

The district administration, aware of the threat, is protecting schools as well as civil society activists and leaders of various political parties and of anti-Taliban peace committees.

Parties silent about Taliban atrocities

Political leaders and analysts are concerned by the silence from religious and political parties on the Taliban atrocities, especially the Malala attack.

“Religious and political parties that fail to condemn the Taliban’s atrocities and attack on Malala are either fearful (of the militants) or are working hand in glove with them,” Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Provincial Forest Minister Wajid Ali Khan said.

“More than 200 schools were blown up in Swat, and it took a lot of courage for the girl to raise her voice so that they could be reopened,” he said. “That was the only reason Malala was punished.”

Meanwhile, Muttahida Quami Movement chief Altaf Hussain October 12 appealed to the people of Pakistan to refrain from offering prayers behind religious clerics who fail to condemn the Taliban’s attack on Malala.

Journalists also threatened

A small portion of the media, in covering the attempt on Malala’s life, have mentioned deficiencies of security in Swat, he said, adding they should avoid such coverage because it will embolden the militants.

Mostly, though, the militants have been severely denounced worldwide for shooting Malala and her schoolmates.

TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud has directed operatives to take action against media organisations and reporters who have criticised the Taliban for attacking Malala, BBC Urdu reported October 12, adding that the Taliban have threatened media organisations and individuals by email and phone.

Swat Police have provided security to a local journalist after learning that his name appeared on a TTP “hit list,” an October 10 letter issued by the Swat Police stated.