Following the decision of the Pakistani state to relinquish its writ in Swat to the Taliban (a highly biased interpretation open to debate, I confess, but so it appears to me at the moment), it can hardly be a surprise that the Taliban would say, “Well, that wasn’t so bad. Let’s drive over the mountains and visit our neighbors.” [Thanks to Google Earth for this image of the magnificent Buner countryside.]
So they did, and guess what? There were no Pakistani military forces in the neighboring district of Buner either! [Thanks to Wikipedia for the map.] Note, by the way, how Buner kind of hovers just north of an imaginary line that would link Peshawar to Islamabad (just something to keep in mind). Be that as it may, this is not about a terrible scourge rising out of the unknown depths of Central Asia like Tamerlane and sweeping all before it. This is about nature filling a vacuum. The Taliban is not replacing the Pakistani government; there is no Pakistani government.
As the Frontier Post put it,
After sensing low morale and inaction of the provincial administration, and Peshawar’s lack of determination to maintain government writ in Swat, Fazlullah insurgents are acting as the new conquerors of the undefended districts in Pukhtunkhwa.
Should the Pakistani state desire to compete for political allegiance of the folks in Buner, it needs to offer them something. Straffing runs from U.S.-supplied jets won’t do it. Rapid, effective justice; police backed by the military guarding public places; social services…At the moment, the Taliban have stepped up to the plate and offered these things to the people of Buner. What the people want is not the point. The point is that they are only being offered one option, the Taliban’s option. Either make them another offer or start negotiating with the new government.
And that new government is gaining strength rapidly, as local representatives of the Pakistani state flee with the Taliban appropriating their vehicles, taking control of the streets. Some 2,000 Taliban fighters have already reportedly entered Buner from neighboring Swat. Vacuums fill easily.
Nevertheless, the mobility of the Taliban in a mountainous region with few roads is impressive. How much faster might they move through the network of modern roads in the lowlands? One wonders what steps the Pakistani state might possibly be taking to maintain security along its highways…
While the Taliban move into Buner may come as a surprise to Americans, there was nothing sudden about the process on the ground, where the evidence has been building for several weeks. At the moment, the evidence is building that Buner is just the latest step in a steady drive to assert control over security and courts throughout the mountains of the border area. Meanwhile, some Pakistani effort to insert paramilitary forces back into the lost territory is occurring, but the energy of the Pakistani state is visibly less than the energy of the Taliban.
This Pakistani analysis details how the bureaucracy has been facilitating the rise of Taliban power.
A very well written Pakistani approach to a solution proposes that Pakistan emerge from its slumber to find its own (i.e., not an American) way forward:
Why did we let others fight proxy wars on and from our territory in the first place? In addition, why did we let a vacuum develop because of the instability, the lack of administrative system and absence of justice that the Taliban have purportedly filled for Swat? We have been tactless, thoughtless and blind during the days of Soviet invasion and the chickens we so artfully hatched have now come home to roost. We saw it in Waziristan, Mohmand, Khyber, Dir, Bajaur and now in Swat and increasingly in Buner. We have been brainless during the Musharraf regime by being the tissue paper for US. The problem that was then very much at our doorstep is now well and truly inside our own backyard and it is destroying us, piece by piece.
Since we created this monster, the solution also lies with us. The solution is not bombing the areas left right and centre. It can only strengthen the monster. If the US cannot achieve it, with all its allies and sophisticated equipment, its satellite navigation and smart bombs, there is a fat chance that we can….
This momentary peace will not last if it is not followed by “and” action which is re- establishing the writ of government (and not what the US wants) through soft and hard means. The first is then to distance ourselves from US. Of course we cannot afford to go on an open confrontational path but there is something known as firm stance. We can do a couple of things that can show US we are serious in pursuing our own plans and not theirs. Refusing, for example, their supply line to pass through is one such step. If the parliament stands strong and firm and shows to US that it is against people’s will, only then can it happen (what the parliament is doing, however, is another sad story).
The second thing to do (and to do quickly) is to elevate the status of that part of the country, to give it a working administrative system and provide the people with ample opportunities of livelihood. Let them then make their own choice. The point over here is not opposition of an Islamic system. But can we infer this “nizam-e-adl” to be the answer to people demands? Most of the Swati people are just hoping for peace. The quick welcome that they gave to this regulation was more for personal reasons than because of ideological concurrence. Had there been peace in that area and people by popular demand had opted for a particular system then by all means there was merit in their demand. Now with a group of people calling the shots, who knows what the whole population wants?
The third most important thing is to look deep at and into our army. How did it reach such a sorry state that a bunch of ragamuffins (of our own creation) are now blackmailing us into accepting their demands, to which we have acquiesced to, for the peace of Swati people?