Make Malala Count: Mitigate Militancy in Pakistan

Despite continuing threats by the Pakistani Taliban, Malala Yusufzai’s father has vowed to take his daughter back to Pakistan upon her recovery.  The Pakistani government needs to make sure that over the next several months, it takes concrete steps to ensure that the brave young soul returns to a place safer than when she left it.  Pakistan’s divided civil society needs to come together to guarantee that it does.

In the days and weeks following the attack on Malala, Pakistanis were divided over what needed to happen next.  Rather than focus their ire on the government for failing to devise a competent strategy to deal with the myriad militant groups in Pakistan, Pakistan’s civil society, divided along ideological lines, turned on each other.  Proponents of military action against the Taliban were labeled liberal fascists and those calling for negotiations were deemed Taliban-hugging jihadis.  Rather than attack each other, Pakistan’s civil society groups would be better served if they mobilized around a single-point agenda–ending militancy in Pakistan.  There is no single strategy to accomplish this–it can only be achieved through a combination of short- and long-term measures.

First, there is an immediate need to go after Hakimullah Mehsud, the head of the Tehreek-e-Taliban (Pakistani Taliban), the outfit that claimed responsibility for the attack on Malala.    This is an especially opportune time as he is increasingly isolated within his own organization.  The infighting within TTP ranks has reached unprecedented levels and there is increasing disillusionment among members with respect to Mehsud’s leadership style and killing of innocent civilians.  Not only is there an ongoing battle with his TTP deputy, Wali-ur-Rehman, but also with Mullah Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadur (both were originally members of the TTP, but have since turned against its leadership) in South and North Waziristan respectively.  At this time, it should not be difficult to capture or kill Mehsud in a targeted operation when he is increasingly unpopular not only among the tribal population but also among his former allies.

Getting rid of Mehsud is not going to spell the end of the Pakistani Taliban.  However, it will show that the government is serious about pursuing not just the foot soldiers but also the leaders of these organizations.   To bring a sustained end to militancy, effective governance structures will need to be put in place in Swat and the tribal belt and strong anti-terrorism legislation instituted and implemented in the country.

Less than 24 hours after Malala was shot in Swat, a Pakistani journalist and his cameraman visited the crime scene expecting to find it cordoned off with heavy security in the area.  Instead, not a trace of what had occurred remained and life carried on as normal.   The journalist’s next stop was at the local police station—while a crime report had been registered, it appeared the police officials he interviewed had collected almost no forensic evidence.

Flagging law-enforcement is symptomatic of the overall governance situation in Swat, adjoining districts, and the tribal belt.   It was precisely the lack of justice, security and basic services that allowed the head of Tehreek-e-Taliban’s Swat chapter to fill the governance gap and flourish in the region in 2007.   While the military operation in 2009 succeeded in dispersing the local Taliban, the civilian government failed to put in effective governance structures that would prevent the resurgence of the Taliban and allow them to operate with impunity.

Pakistan’s tribal belt has similarly been conducive to the spread of militancy as dysfunctional and corrupt governance structures have allowed Taliban and non-Taliban groups to present themselves as anti-corruption, service-providers.   At the same time, after ten years of war, traditional tribal authority figures such as the mashars (tribal elders) and maliks (local tribal elite paid by the government) have neither the authority they once enjoyed among their populations nor are they able to regulate the affairs of the tribes in conjunction with government-appointed political agents.  It is therefore important to replace these obsolete structures enshrined in the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) and expedite the integration of the tribal areas into Pakistan.

A constitutional committee should be set up ahead of the 2013 elections to draft constitutional amendments to phase out the FCR, allow FATA parliamentarians legislative authority in the tribal belt, and transfer judicial authority of the political agents to district judges in neighboring Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

There has been some hesitation on the part of the government and military leadership about changing the status quo in the tribal areas given the war in neighboring Afghanistan and the fact that many of the Afghan groups were based in the tribal belt.  However, now that discussions are underway to begin negotiations with some of these groups to determine their participation in post-U.S. Afghanistan, this would be an opportune time to overhaul the dysfunctional governance system in the area.

Finally, there needs to be a concerted effort to strengthen Pakistan’s anti-terrorism legislation.   In 1997, in response to the rising tide of sectarian militancy in the country, Nawaz Sharif’s government enacted the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), which created special anti-terrorism courts and through various amendments expanded punishments associated with terrorism.   However, gaps remain, as a majority of those accused of terrorism are acquitted due to a lack of evidence against them.  This has led law-enforcement and intelligence officials to resort to extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances, further undermining the rule of law in the country.

A recently introduced bill in parliament, the Fair Trial Bill attempts to strengthen investigative methods and techniques through increased surveillance and monitoring of suspected terrorists.   Some legal experts contend, however, thatsafeguards should be introduced in the bill so as to prevent abuse of the law by law-enforcement officials.   These issues should be addressed in parliament on a fast-track basis and the law passed and implemented.

Malala’s heroic efforts to combat militancy in Swat and Pakistan should not be in vain—as she begins the slow and painful process of recovery, Pakistan’s civil society should unite around a common agenda and pressure its leadership to end militancy once and for all.

Author: Mehlaqa Samdani 

Other posts by the same author:

Memo Madness …           Consensus and Conflict…

The author is a Pakistani citizen who lives in Massachusetts with her husband and children. This post was originally published on her blog Politics and Peacebuilding in Pakistan and has been published by Pakistan Horizon with her permission for which PH is grateful.


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Filed under Discussion, Pakistan, Taliban, Women

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