LAHORE: The Pakistan government’s decision to sign a peace agreement with Maulana Sufi Mohammad, the ameer of the defunct Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi, who is well known for his constant defiance and innate inclination to challenge the writ of the state, has clearly revived the lost glory of this terrorist of the past besides legitimizing his TNSM which was banned by the Musharraf regime on January 12, 2002 for its alleged involvement in anti-state terrorist activities.
Generally referred to as the Pakistani Taliban, primarily to distinguish it from the Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Omar, the Sufi-led TNSM or the Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Laws is a militant Wahabi organization which had fast as a private army to reckon with. Known as a pro-Taliban jehadi organisation, the TNSM had been founded by the Sufi way back in 1989. While quitting the Jamaat-e-Islami, Sufi Mohammad had issued a decree, declaring that the religious political parties and electoral politics were unlawful and contrary to the Islamic principles. "There is no room for vote in Islam and the concept of democracy, which some religio-political parties are demanding, is wrong", he added.
Ideologically, the Ammer Sufi Mohammad is dedicated to transform Pakistan into a Taliban style Islamic state. The motto of his organization is ’Shariah ya Shahadat’ (Islamic laws or martyrdom) which rejects all political and religio-political parties for following western-style democracy, and openly condones the use of force in jihad. The members of the group are identified by their shoulder-length hair and camouflage vests and are now referred to as the black turbans.
In the words of Sufi: "Those opposing the imposition of Shariah in Pakistan are Wajibul Qatal (worthy of death). The TNSM rejects democracy as un-Islamic: "We want immediate enforcement of Islamic judicial system in totality: judicial, political, economic, jihad, fei sabilallah (holy war in the name of Allah), education and health. In my opinion the life of the faithful will automatically be molded according to the Islamic system when the Islamic judicial system is enforced", Sufi had declared in November 2001 shortly before being jailed in Pakistan on terrorism charges.
Almost six years later, on May 16, 2008, as Sufi was released by the government following a peace deal, he reiterated his stance that he was struggling for the enforcement of the Islamic laws that ensure harmony and justice in the Pakistani society. On February 17, 2009, almost nine months later, the government finally acceeded to his persistent demands in seven districts by abolishing all "un-Islamic" laws and by placing the security forces engaged in military operations in Swat in reactive mode. In return, Sufi has reached Swat with a promise to convince his son-in-law Maulana Fazalullah and his fighters to lay down arms for the sake of peace.
Sufi Mohammad first rose to prominence in 1994 when he had staged a sit-in at Malakand by blocking the Mingora-Peshawar road for seven days, cutting off the Swat valley from rest of Pakistan, demanding enforcement of the Islamic Laws. Subsequently, armed clashes between the law enforcing agencies and the TNSM activists took place at different places. A sitting member of the NWFP Assembly, Badiuzaman Khan, was taken hostage by the TNSM supporters and eventually killed. The law enforcement agencies thus moved in to crush the insurgents who clashed with the administration and effectively brought the whole administrative structure of Swat to a standstill by seizing control of government buildings and the Saidu Sharif airport.
The uprising followed the February 12, 1994, Supreme Court verdict declaring the PATA Regulation that governed the Provincially-Administered Tribal Areas of Malakand as unconstitutional. The void created by the SC judgment led to the demand for Shariah enforcement. Over three dozen people, including 12 security force personnel, were killed in a week of fighting before the government was able to re-establish its writ, but only after signing a peace agreement with Sufi to enforce Shariah in Malakand. However, the deal could not be implemented, thus prompting fresh violence. Peace was only restored after another deal that served as a clear victory for TNSM as Sufi Mohammad handed himself over to the military and the federal government agreed to enforce Shariah in Malakand. Sufi remained in government custody for a short period of time.
By November 1994, senior government functionaries reportedly sent Sufi official letters addressed to "Honorable Maulana Sufi Mohammad bin Hasan Mahmud" updating him about government directives to enforce Shariah law and requesting his cooperation. Immediate official instructions were then issued to establish religious courts. Sufi’s followers meanwhile started driving on the wrong side of the road claiming to defy the traffic rules introduced by Britain a century ago. Men were also told to grow beards. In short, Talibanization began to take place while the political leadership failed to contain it and to put an end to the problem at its outset. Already a conservative area, Malakand suffered in the process with the TNSM extremists openly pursuing their agenda.
By that time, the Taliban movement led by Mullah Omar had already surfaced in Afghanistan after capturing Kandahar. As the Taliban and the TNSM had the same religious vision and ideals, Sufi Mohammad used to enjoy cordial relations with the Taliban rulers who funded him in a big way to make him extend the TNSM organisational set up in other parts of the NWFP and in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. On September 6, 1998, the TNSM threatened to attack American property and to abduct American citizens in Pakistan unless Washington apologised for the August 1998 missile strikes in Afghanistan, targeting Osama’s training camps. The TNSM organized a protest procession in Mingora on September 20, 2001 where the speakers called for raising a voluntary army in order to extend support to the Taliban militia against the impending US strikes.
The Taliban rule in Afghanistan at that time actually provided the TNSM with an instant reference to argue and justify their rigid social policies. When the US-led Allied forces invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks, Sufi exhorted his followers to join the Taliban in Afghanistan in their armed struggle against the US-led allied forces. He had self-admittedly led over 10,000 Pakistani youngsters to fight the US-led Allied forces in Afghanistan in November 2001. Reportedly armed with Kalashnikovs, rocket launchers, missiles, anti-aircraft guns, hand grenades and swords, thousands of the TNSM cadres led by Sufi crossed the Pak-Afghan border. Thousands of the youngsters he had taken to Afghanistan in the aftermath of the US invasion were killed by the Northern Alliance troops and hundreds others were trapped by various Afghan warlords, who literally sold them back to their relatives in Pakistan for huge sums of money.
When a majority of his soldiers had been either killed or captured, he returned home only to be arrested by government forces. He was ultimately convicted on April 24, 2002, along with his 30 companions, to ten years of imprisonment for inciting people to go to Afghanistan and for violating state restrictions. He was then sent to a Dera Ismail Khan jail. Interestingly, he had refused to contest his case in the court of law, saying he does not believe in the existing courts and laws which were un-Islamic to him. In the aftermath of his jehadi misadventure and the subsequent loss of lives, Sufi Mohammad lost much of his support in the Malakand division. A majority of his supporters went underground after the TNSM was banned on January 12, 2002 by the Musharraf regime along with four other jehadi and sectarian organisations.
The TNSM had become almost dormant till the October 8, 2005 devastating earthquake struck the region, thus making the followers of Sufi capitalise on the great human tragedy and use it to revive their organisation. Since the volunteers of the TNSM were in the forefront of the humanitarian relief work, especially in the devastated areas of NWFP, the popularity of the group once again shot up. In the process of helping out the quake-affected people, the TNSM re-established its stronghold in Malakand, Swat and Bajaur like other banned jehadi groups and started mobilising its activists. However, contrary to many other banned militant organisation that deemed it fit to resurface under new identities by renaming themselves, the TNSM leadership decided not to abandon its previous identity.
Since the TNSM volunteers were in the forefront of the humanitarian relief work, especially in the devastated areas of NWFP, the popularity of the jehadi group once again shot up. In the process of helping out the quake affected people, the TNSM, now led by Maulana Fazalullah, re-established its stronghold in the Malakand and Swat areas of the NWFP and in the Bajaur area of FATA like other banned jehadi groups and started mobilizing its activists. Almost a year later, in the early hours of October 31, 2006, 82 people were killed in a missile attack on a religious madrassa located at Chenagai village in the Bajaur Agency. The strike also killed Maulana Liaquat, the younger brother of Fazalullah, who used to run the seminary as a key leader of the TNSM. A few hours after the missile attack, Maulana Faqir Mohammed announced to avenge the killings of the innocent madrassa students by carrying out suicide bombings against the Pakistani troops.
A week later, 45 army recruits undergoing training at Punjab Regimental Centre training school at Dargai, 100 kilometres north of Peshawar, were killed and dozens injured on the morning of November 8, 2006, when a suicide bomber ran towards them and blew himself up. The TNSM had subsequently claimed the attack. Since then, there had been a significant resurgence in the activities of the TNSM, mostly targeting the country’s security forces, eventually prompting the newly elected NWFP government to sign a peace agreement with Sufi on April 20, 2008 and release him from jail after six years of imprisonment. Almost nine months later, the government has signed yet another deal with Sufi Mohammad. However, only time will tell whether the deal signed by the government with the terrorists of the past to ensure peace in Swat bears fruit and actually brings the much needed peace to the valley.