As the Pakistani government seeks to re-establish the 'peace accord' with the Swat Taliban after Sufi Mohammed walked out on the agreement, senior officials are defending the negotiations as legitimate talks with an influential local group. But the group the government is negotiating with, the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammed [TNSM or the Movement for the Enforcement of Mohammed's Law], is far from an impartial broker. Recent statements from the TNSM's leader and its spokesman show the group sides with the Taliban and has the ability to direct the Taliban to conduct attacks.
The agreement, known as the Malakand Accord, calls for the withdrawal of the Pakistani Army from Swat, the release all Taliban prisoners, the withdrawal of any criminal cases against Taliban leaders and fighters, and the imposition of sharia in the Malakand Division, a region that encompasses more than one-third of the Northwest Frontier Province.
The Pakistani government has denied that the Swat negotiations are with the Taliban and instead notes the government is negotiating with the TNSM. At an April 9 forum in Washington, Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States, insisted the government is dealing with the TNSM and not the Taliban.
"Pakistan has not done a peace deal with the Taliban in Swat Valley. Period," Haqqani told the Washington forum. "Pakistan has negotiated an arrangement, locally, with the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammedi of Swat."
Haqqani echoed statements made by President Asif Ali Zardari in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in the beginning of March.
"In the highly volatile Swat Valley, our strategy has been to enter into talks with traditional local clerics to help restore peace to the area, and return the writ of the state," Zardari wrote. "We have not and will not negotiate with extremist Taliban and terrorists. The clerics with whom we have engaged are not Taliban. Indeed, in our dialogue we'd made it clear that it is their responsibility to rein in and neutralize Taliban and other insurgents."
TNSM is in the Taliban camp
Zardari and Haqqani's statements about negotiations with the TNSM vice the Taliban are technically correct. But both Zardari and Haqqani have obscured the real nature of the TNSM and its relationship with the Taliban. The TNSM is essentially a front group for the Swat Taliban.
In the early 1990s, the TNSM provided the ideological inspiration for the Afghan Taliban. The TNSM seeks to install a Taliban-like government, complete with sharia, or Islamic Law, throughout northwestern Pakistan.
The group is allied with Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar. In an interview in mid-February, Sufi Mohammed, the leader of the TNSM, admitted his fondness for the Afghan Taliban and described the Taliban government that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 as "ideal."
“I believe the Taliban government formed a complete Islamic state, which was an ideal example for other Muslim countries," Sufi told Deutsche Presse-Agentur just days before the Malakand Accord was signed.
Sufi and the TNSM are not merely local Islamists who advocate for sharia in the Swat valley. He and his group have called for Islamist domination of the world.
"We hate democracy," Sufi told a crowd of thousands of followers in Mingora after the ratification of the Malakand Accord was announced in mid-February. "We want the occupation of Islam in the entire world. Islam does not permit democracy or election.’’
Sufi and the TNSM actively fought the US in Afghanistan. Sufi sent more than 10,000 fighters into the country to battle US and Northern Alliance forces in Afghanistan.
The TNSM's activities were deemed so radical that the Pakistani government banned the group and labeled it a terrorist organization. Sufi was arrested and placed in jail, where he remained until 2007. The government needed someone to negotiate a peace deal with the Swat Taliban, and Sufi fit the bill. After his release, Sufi claimed to eschew violence. The TNSM is still listed as a banned group inside Pakistan, yet the government continues to negotiate with this group.
Another direct link between the TNSM and the Taliban is the relationship between Sufi and Mullah Fazlullah, the leader of the Swat Taliban. Sufi is Fazlullah's father-in-law.
Fazlullah has sponsored numerous suicide attacks, beheadings, and other acts of terror. The targets have been local political leaders, policemen, soldiers, and tribal leaders. Fazlullah actively opposes polio vaccinations for children, claiming the shots are designed to sterilize the Muslim people. Fazlullah is also a senior deputy in Baitullah Mehsud's unified Pakistani Taliban movement.
TNSM leader admits the group controls Taliban violence. The TNSM has made little effort to hide its relationship with the Taliban. Statements made by senior leaders show the TNSM openly sides with the Swat Taliban and the group has the ability to control the violence.
On April 11, TNSM spokesman Amir Izzat admitted the TNSM has the capacity to order the Taliban to conduct attacks. "We have not asked the Taliban to take up arms, but the government would be held responsible for any resurgence of violence in Swat," Izzat said while discussing negotiations to restore the agreement.
Sufi, who is supposed to be the impartial arbiter of the peace agreement, shed the façade of impartiality after defending the Taliban following a series of Taliban attacks and kidnappings on government security forces and government officials.
"The Taliban are doing nothing wrong," Sufi said after the Taliban killed two soldiers in March. "The government is responsible for violations."
Why does Pakistan negotiate with the TNSM?
With the TNSM clearly linked to the Taliban, the inevitable question arises: why would the Pakistani government negotiate with this group?
The government’s willingness to negotiate with the TNSM highlights how poorly the government and military have handled the situation in Swat and the Northwest Frontier Province in general, and just how strong the Taliban has become.
In Swat, the military has been defeated three times since the summer of 2007. By the time the last military offensive in Swat ended this February, the government controlled only the district's main town of Mingora. And the control of Mingora was tenuous at best. The Taliban routinely executed civilians and policemen and dumped their bodies in the town square.
The Pakistani government faces several dilemmas in Swat. The military wants an end to the fighting, partly out of ambivalence to the problem, partly out of sympathy to the Taliban, and mainly because it views the fighting in Pakistan's northwest as a distraction from what it perceives to be the real enemy: India.
The Pakistani government also faces internal and external pressures to end the fighting and restore its writ in Swat. Some of the secular political parties and elements in the Pakistani media excoriated the government for allowing Swat to spiral out of control. The US and other Western governments want the Pakistanis to halt the spread of the Taliban, as al Qaeda has re-established its safe havens in existing Taliban territory.
The government needs to put an end to the fighting, but it has been negotiating from a position of weakness. With the Taliban in control of Swat, and the military searching for the exit, the Zardari government needs a partner so it can negotiate the end of the fighting.
The government can't openly admit that it is caving to the Taliban, lest it incur the wrath of the US and domestic opposition. But with no one to negotiate with but the Taliban, the government has promoted the TNSM as a legitimate, popular, local political movement that merely sought to impose sharia. In order to maintain this, the government has willfully and knowingly distorted the TNSM's direct links to the Taliban.