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Swat’s wicked problem

On April 9,Sufi Muhammad,chief of Tehreek Nifaz-e Shariat-e Muhammadi left his peace camp in the district of Swat...

Written by Ejaz Haider |
April 14, 2009 12:20:25 am

On April 9,Sufi Muhammad,chief of Tehreek Nifaz-e Shariat-e Muhammadi (TNSM) left his peace camp in the district of Swat,saying that if anything unpleasant happened in the area,President Asif Zardari would be responsible for it. However,Sufi was careful in stressing that the “peace deal with the provincial government is intact.”

On April 12,Zardari sent the document to parliament for its review and to suggest a course of action. The same day,a beleaguered ANP government in the NWFP threatened to walk out of the coalition at the Centre if the president did not sign the regulation.

Where does Swat go from here?

Before attempting to answer this question,it is important to clarify two issues about Swat which,because of poor information,have become conflated and caused much confusion: the peace deal and the Nizam-e Adl Regulation 2009.

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Deliberations on what is now termed the Nazim-e Adl (Shariat) Regulation 2009,still in draft form since it has not been signed by Zardari and for that reason does not enjoy the legal status of a presidential order under the constitution,had begun as far back as 2007,in fact before the army operation in the valley had started.

To think that that document is the peace deal is therefore incorrect.

When the recent round of troubles began in Swat and the army was deployed to the area after the police,the Frontier Constabulary and even the Frontier Corps elements were found inadequate before Fazlullah’s men,the operations resulted in much civilian internal displacement and casualties.

The army operation,which began in November 2007,continued until February 2008. It is a measure of the success of the first phase of the operation that elections were peacefully held throughout the Valley and voters overwhelmingly voted for the Awami National Party and the Pakistan People’s Party,the two major partners in the NWFP coalition government.

After the elections,however,the Taliban elements began sporadic operations again. The second phase of the operation resulted in more collateral damage. At that point the ANP government began lobbying for a political solution. The policy resulted in a dual-track strategy: make legal arrangements for the implementation of Shariat law in the area through Sufi Muhammad’s TNSM and use that to force the Taliban into a peace deal.

The thrust was to blunt the Taliban who were using the absence of Shariat in the area to accomplish their agenda. Sufi Muhammad,the father-in-law of Fazlullah,with his TNSM was thought to be the best bet to achieve this.

Sufi was released from jail in Dera Ismail Khan and allowed to reclaim his bailiwick. Simultaneously,the government offered a peace deal to the Taliban who had already come under pressure because of his release and his statements that given the government’s sincerity in implementing Shariat,there was no reason to continue fighting.

The fighting stopped. But the policy has come under tremendous pressure and there is much disinformation floating around. The two issues,implementation of the Shariat law and the peace deal,have also got mixed up because of the timing and because the Nizam-e Adl Regulation 2009 has been used as the device which prevents the Taliban from making mischief.

Such is the level of criticism that Zardari has so far refused to sign the order even though it was signed by NWFP Chief Minister Ameer Haider Hoti on March 9 this year. The video showing a girl being flogged has contributed further to undermining the two-pronged policy.

The question is: what is the best course of action in Swat? Critics say the government has surrendered to the Taliban and conceded territory; they warn that other groups would replicate this; they chide the government for showing up the state to be weak and challengeable and so on.

The supporters point to the ground realities; the fact that fighting has stopped,qazi courts are dispensing justice and even taking the Taliban to task; human lives are not being lost and people have started returning to the area.

This is the point in the debate,what should or must the state do,where we are reminded of what social scientists and policy planners call a “wicked problem.”

A wicked problem is generally one that is either difficult or almost impossible to solve because of contradictory and changing requirements and where information is incomplete. To add to the degree of difficulty,a wicked problem involves complex interdependencies,such that tackling one aspect of the problem can create other problems.

Essentially,this means that no course of action can be based on a definitive formulation because a wicked problem successfully eludes one; courses of action cannot be correct and incorrect or true and false but only relatively better or worse; every attempt is a one-shot experiment which may or may not work; stakeholders have different frames for understanding and solving the problem; there are multiple value conflicts and so on. The list is long and growing longer!

Going by this,Swat is as wicked as a wicked problem can get. Not only that,given the pressures of getting to the end-state,a solution,even as how must one get there remains highly disputed,the planner is not cut any slack when he goes wrong!

Problem is,there is no definitive solution because there is no definitive formulation of the problem for a host of reasons. The liberals can say the state must act as the Leviathan. Sure. But can the state do so in relation to one problem when its capacity to act as the Leviathan is undermined because of the fragility of the social contract which is presumed to have brought it into being and which the liberal enclave never tires of pointing to otherwise?

The question is important because the same set of liberals talk about the necessity for the state to dialogue with the Baloch sub-nationalists because the Baloch non-acceptance of the social contract is owed to the state’s highhandedness and its unacceptability!

In a way they are right because a state can act ruthlessly only when its writ is accepted by the majority of the people. A violent expression of state writ,paradoxically,requires the stamp of legitimacy even more so. But if that legitimacy is absent in relation to one set of dissidents,it is equally absent in relation to all sets of dissidents. Neither liberals nor the state can cherry-pick targets for the exercise of internal sovereignty.

The prognosis therefore is not easy,given the wickedness of the problem. But it is a foregone conclusion that if the presidential order is not signed,the fighting at some point will restart.

The immediate question then is,and we can’t go beyond the immediate: is the state ready for that?

The writer is Op-Ed Editor Daily Times and Consulting Editor The Friday Times,Lahore. The views expressed are his own

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