November 25, 2007


Pivotal test of Pakistan's will against extremists: Growing violence in the northwest, where insurgents have set up an Islamist ministate, could presage a push by militants in tribal borderlands, experts say (Laura King, 11/25/07, Los Angeles Times)

President Pervez Musharraf said his Nov. 3 emergency decree would bolster the government in its fight against militants. But in the three weeks of emergency rule, the insurgency in Swat has gained momentum, with militants in control of at least nine of 12 subdivisions in the valley, local and military officials said.

Fighting has spilled into the adjacent district of Shangla, where the insurgents loyal to Maulana Qazi Fazlullah are also gaining ground. From their base at his seminary camp in the village of Imam Dheri, they have seized the district's administrative center and are threatening the famed Karakoram Highway, the crucial link to China.

The Pakistani military says it has sent in 15,000 army troops to confront Fazlullah, 32, who is thought to have as many as 5,000 armed followers. But in Swat's towns and villages, there is little sign of the army presence. [...]

There are ambivalent feelings here about the militants. Fazlullah has an enormous and devout following, drawing on conservative religious traditions that predate Swat's absorption into Pakistan. When he presides over Friday prayers, the most important of the week, he draws tens of thousands of worshipers.

But some residents draw a distinction between Fazlullah, a native son, and the foreign fighters -- Uzbeks, Tajiks and Chechens -- who they say have joined his ranks. These foreigners, they say, are more fanatical, and far more ready to mete out cruel punishment to villagers whose behavior is deemed insufficiently Islamic.

In recent months, the militants have bombed girls' schools, ordered women to wear head-to-toe burkas, burned video and music stores to the ground, and threatened barbers who trim beards. In another echo of the Taliban's former rule in Afghanistan, the insurgents have twice tried to blow up first-century Buddhist monuments that are considered cultural treasures.

Fazlullah has an rigidly austere vision of Islam, laid out via fiery sermons on his pirate FM radio station. They have earned him the nicknames "Mullah Radio" or "the FM Mullah."

He has railed against girls' education and ordered followers not to allow polio vaccinations for their children, calling them a Zionist plot to sterilize Muslims. When he preached against the evils of television, thousands of villagers burned their sets.

"That was striking to me, that these very, very poor people, instead of just getting rid of their TVs, selling them, would drag them out and burn them," said Aurangzeb's son Adnan, a former lawmaker.

He said he became aware of the power of Fazlullah's message several years ago when he was making constituency calls in the countryside. "Out in these small villages, where there was nothing, there wasn't a household that didn't listen to him on the radio," he said.

That Fazlullah is still broadcasting is a signal to some that the government is not serious about moving against him -- particularly since officials, in the initial weeks of emergency rule, knocked private television channels off the air.

"So he's out here with a cheap Chinese transmitter, and they can't deal with that?" a Western military official said. "That strains credulity."

Although poor, remote and populated by ethnic Pashtuns, Swat, with a population of about 1.2 million, is culturally and socially distinct from the nearby tribal areas. Until recently, the valley was home to a thriving tourist industry that drew foreigners as well as Pakistanis. Visitors flocked to its mountain scenery, its trout streams and a resort featuring the country's only ski lift.

To residents who had hoped the area would continue to develop economically, the militant takeover has been a devastating blow.

For all the hand-wringing over whether the General is a democrat or not, the real question is whether he's brutal enough. Ms Bhutto is.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 25, 2007 4:10 PM

Obviously, Pakistan needs deeds, not words. It is for them decide whether Bhutto or Musharref is more of a Guiliani.

Posted by: Lou Gots at November 25, 2007 6:19 PM

Guerillas everywhere will have gained heart now that the Filipinos have caved and given Moslem terrorists their own state.

Posted by: erp at November 25, 2007 6:52 PM

You don't give people states--they take them.

Posted by: oj at November 25, 2007 8:36 PM

Bhutto knows how to imprison opponents of her elitist corrupt circle. Does she know how to fight Islamist nutjobs?

Posted by: jim hamlen at November 26, 2007 1:18 AM