After three days of stiff resistance by the followers of Mulla Fazlullah, the Amir of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), who beat back the attempts of Pakistani para-military forces to capture the headquarters of the mullah at Imam Dheri in the Swat district of the Malakand Division in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan, there has been a lull since the early hours of the morning of October 29, 2007. There has been an informal cease-fire to enable the two sides to collect their dead and injured. It is not known who initiated the ceasefire--the government or the TNSM.
The para-military forces--mainly from the Frontier Constabulary--called for helicopter strikes on the jihadi hide-outs in order to break their resistance. They also used heavy artillery. Most of the fighting centred round the small town of Mingora, where the jihadis had blown up a truck on October 25, 2007, killing 20 FC members and some civilians. Earlier, the para-military forces had claimed that they had reached Imam Dheri, which is 15 KMs from Mingora, and surrounded the headquarters of Fazlullah. Subsequent reports showed that this was not so. The jihadi resistance had prevented the para-military forces from advancing towards Imam Dheri.
Ten jihadis were killed in the helicopter strikes, but the panic caused by them led to a large exodus of refugees towards safe areas. The jihadis claimed to have captured 30 para-military personnel and threatened to have them killed if the para-military forces did not stop their operations. They also managed to blow up electricity transmission lines in the adjoining areas plunging them in darkness. Unidentified elements fired rockets at the Peshawar airport on the night of October 27, 2007, but they did not cause any damage. It is not, however, known whether this incident was connected with the fighting in the Swat District.
The NWFP was under the rule of a coalition of six Islamic fundamentalist parties called the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), who had won the elections of 2002. This government recently resigned during the crisis over the re-election of Gen. Pervez Musharraf as the President while continuing to hold office as the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS). The local Assembly was also dissolved. A care-taker government headed by a retired public servant has taken over. Fresh elections are expected in January next year. Till then, the province would be directly under the administration of the federal government in Islamabad. Taking advantage of this window of opportunity for operations against the pro-Taliban and pro-Al-Qaeda jihadis, who had set up virtually autonomous enclaves in areas of the province adjoining South and North Waziristan with the complicity of the MMA coalition, Musharraf has embarked on a drive to crush them before the elections. His operation has run into serious difficulties. The fundamentalist parties such as the Jamiat-ul-Ulema Islam Pakistan of Maulana Fazlur Rahman, which have links with the TNSM and the Neo Taliban, have accused the General of provoking a crisis situation in order to use it as a pretext for imposing a state of emergency and postponing the elections.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.