Posted by: John Elliott | April 14, 2009

Punjab militants link with Taliban as Pakistan backs Sharia law

Added September 22 2009: While many people felt  the risks for Punjab were over-stated in the NYT report below, they have just been repeated by the Financial Times in a report – Militants regroup in Punjab, say officials  – with up-to-date information on Taliban militants from the Swat area taking refuge in Punjab, which, said one official “is ready to pop”. _________________________________________________________________

There is a worrying story in this morning’s New York Times  that Taliban activists are linking up with militant groups in Pakistan’s Punjab province and have been jointly staging terrorist attacks such as those on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore last month and the attack on Islamabad’s Marriott Hotel last year. [See also this NYT story April 17] 

This underlines the seriousness of the Taliban gaining control of the Swat valley north of Islamabad, and yesterday’s approval by Pakistan’s parliament for Sharia law to be implemented in the entire Malakand division of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). Malakand includes not just the Swat valley, but districts such as Chitral and Dir as well as Buner, just 60 miles north of Islamabad, where there has been recent Taliban violence.

The Swat Sharia deal, negotiated in February, arguably only reinstates a form of Islamic law that has been practised earlier in the area, where it is being welcomed by some because of its quick and efficient justice.

But the more important point is that the Pakistan government has in effect ceded control in return for an end to Taliban violence and killings – with a vague and unrealistic hope that extreme Taliban policies such as banning schools for girls, publicly flogging offenders and human rights abuses would end.

That makes it a government surrender and a military victory for the Taliban’s Sharia rule of law that the extremists will no doubt want to replicate elsewhere, as the violence in Buner district shows.

Apart from the MQM political party, which walked out and abstained in the Assembly yesterday, no other party opposed the Sharia vote. The Taliban had threatened that anyone opposing the law would be executed.

The risk is that the Taliban will then want to expand its Sharia influence in other areas of NWFP and then across Pakistan.

To destabilize Pakistan, destabilize Punjab first

The New York Times says today that Punjab police officials and local residents are warning that, if the government does not take decisive action, the poorest parts of the province could be the next areas facing an insurgency. “I don’t think a lot of people understand the gravity of the issue,” a senior police official told the newspaper. “If you want to destabilize Pakistan, you have to destabilize Punjab.”

Militants already control several areas of the province. The article says that barber shops, music stores and Internet cafes offensive to the militants’ strict interpretation of Islam have received threats in at least five towns in southern and western Punjab, including the city of Multan. Traditional ceremonies that include playing drums and dancing have been halted in some areas.

I have heard it argued in Delhi that the Taliban would be resisted by Pakistan’s Punjabis, who are culturally different from the NWFP’s Pashtuns, and that the prospects of the Taliban’s Sharia regime gaining a hold near to Pakistan’s India border are therefore remote. But that argument surely does not apply if the Taliban and Punjabi militant groups are combining forces.

Writing in the The Times of India last week, G Parthasarathy, a former Indian high commissioner in Pakistan, warned that India would “have to face up to the reality of the growing radicalization across its western frontiers, rather than entertaining illusions that civil society or political parties in Pakistan have the ability, or will, to take on the radicals”.

So how long will it be before a Swat Sharia situation develops in India? Would the Taliban-Punjabi militants target an area in Kashmir, adding to the terrorist activity there and elsewhere in the country?


Responses

  1. BHAKKAR- a gateway to Pakistan for Taliban. The people of BHAKKAR district have elected a chief minister of Punjab and a prime minister of Pakistan in different elections. Although a goup of local leaders sponcer the occasion and personally benefited by this gesture but basically the people of Bhakkar elected these leaders in hope of a better Bhakkar. It’s requested to the President, prime minister of Pakistan and chief minister of Punjab to please consider upgrading Bhakkar as a divisional head quarter by appointing a commissioner to provide better governance, extra facilities and security in the area. There are news that religious violence and drug smuggling is increased in the area recently. Bhakkar is a gate way to the Punjab and Sind provinces for NWFP and Afghanistan. Bhakkar has been head quarters of divisional level organization of Thal Development Authority since 1952. TDA was abolish in 1971 on corruption charges against it’s high officials. Bhakkar is also a border district to Dera Ismail Khan and a capital city of Thal desert area-spread in six districts in Punjab. Thanking you, Khwaja Aftab Shah,Florida, U.S.A

  2. Whether or not the media is unconcerned, what is needed is that governments from the US and Nato countries to all the countries in the neighbourhood including China and Iran take this seriously. Pakistan is rapidly becoming a failed state and it is not just north western India which will be destabilised.

    And surely nothing will succeed in Pakistan unless and until the Pakistani army and the ISI take the measure of the danger to themselves as well as their fellow citizens of allowing areas to be beyond state control? Who can start the dialogue?

  3. A clear, farsighted and chilling view of the consequences of destabilisation.

  4. Just a couple of weeks ago, British friends passing through Delhi told me that India was overplaying the Taliban takeover of Swat as the Brits in their Empire days had considered Swat unmanageable anyway. Now, the reports become more alarming; yet the foreign media, with the exception of today’s NYT article seem relatively unconcerned. And certainly nothing said by the Pakistan Government suggests that the Taliban is so close to the centre of power. But then that is to be expected. When will reports become credible?

    Thanks Oracle – keep reading reports on this blog! je


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