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Saleem Safi calls for coherent strategy against Islamic militancy

Pak Institute for Peace Studies invited renowned journalist, Saleem Safi, to speak on the “Current situation in FATA and NWFP.” What follows is a summary of his speech and discussion.

Saleem Safi ruled out the possibility of crushing the Taliban by the United States in Afghanistan or the Pakistani military in Pakistan unless the real causes of Islamic militancy were searched and a political solution was sought. He thought it was imperative to dismantle the ideological basis of the Taliban militants first.

He said Taliban were not confined to one area or region. “Their supporters have a worldwide network,” he said. For instance, the top leadership of Taliban and Al Qaida including Khalid Bin Sheikh, Abu Zubaida, Ramza bin Rasheed were captured in Rawalpindi, Faisalabad and Karachi. Some Al Qaida members were captured from as far away as Turkey. “So, are we going to launch military operations in all these places. I don’t think it is possible,” Safi said reiterating the need to look into the ideological roots of the Islamic militants that is attracting the youth as well as the grown ups towards their cause.

On the issue of Swat, Safi said he was not in favour of the Nizam-e-Adle Regulation signed between Sufi Mohammed and the provincial government of NWFP. It was a non-starter as Sufi Mohammed who played the role of an interlocutor between the government and the Taliban had no sway over the militants although he is a well-respected religious scholar and father-in-law of Fazlullah, the Taliban commander in Swat. It is important for a durable peace to talk to Al Qaeda, Taliban and Baitullah Mehsud, said Safi.

He called for a coherent strategy to deal with militants, which used force as a last resort. He said drone attacks were effective. Although they killed innocent people, but in the end the United States did manage to eliminate some top Al Qaida leaders. On the other hand, Pakistan government has launched a massive onslaught against Islamic militants resulting in heavy civilian casualty and internal displacement but it has been unable to kill or capture the top leadership of Al Qaida or Taliban.

Asked to highlight better solutions to rising militancy in Pakistan, Safi said the tribals could be bought off with money. Instead of drone attacks and throwing bombs at them the government should have disbursed money among tribal elders who control the tribespeople. This is exactly what the Taliban and Al Qaida are doing in the tribal areas, says Safi.

He said the religious basis in the tribal areas was gradually built up in the last three decades which will take time to give way to a rational society. America, Pakistan and other neighbouring countries must agree on a single point and form a comprehensive strategy to resolve the issue. The ongoing violence and now the military operation has badly hurt the socio-economic structure of FATA, which is one of the main reasons for intelligence failure, Safi said.

On the issue of the Internally-Displaced Persons (IDP) he recommended full government attention and a proactive role in making sure that they are served better, failing which, he feared grave consequences if the growing hatred against the military and the government was converted into propensity to join the militants. Safi also urged the government to involve the religious parties and other tribal infuentials in a negotiating process.