Ramadan Stand-down for the Terrorists in Pakistan

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 10 months ago

It wasn’t too many months ago that Pakistani newspapers were unanimously begging for “talks” with the Taliban, that “misunderstood faction” that could be reasoned with if only we would try.  But the Pakistan Army recently stood down on operations against the Taliban during Ramadan.  The Captain’s Journal recently said that the subtitle to this stand-down is that the Taliban won, and the population would be much more cautious in the future siding with the Army, given that the Army has a history of failure to finish the Taliban off. The Pakistan Daily Times has a great editorial on the Pakistan Army halt to operations in the North West Frontier Province, exactly one day after we weighed in on this issue. It is far different from editorials before, and it is quoted extensively below.

The interior adviser, Mr Rehman Malik, has announced that the military operation in the Tribal Areas will be suspended on August 31 in deference to the holy month of Ramazan. That means that for 30 days our army will not fight the militants who have literally taken a large chunk of our territory away. Mr Rehman says it is not going to be a ceasefire, and only he can make sense of this “rider clause”, but we hope that our army doesn’t give up its position of advantage in Bajaur and Swat because of this “deal” in the month of fasting.

The past pattern is stark. “Peace talks” proceeded after sending the army back to the barracks, pulling down the checkposts and returning the territory which should not have been returned. Now Mr Rehman says the army will suspend operations but if the militants start something it will retaliate: “If they fire a single bullet we will respond with 10 bullets”. In the past, this has not happened. It is the militants who fired the ten bullets, it is our men who died, while the politicians kept on saying they wanted “peace talks”. The militants always regrouped and returned with redoubled strength that found no comparable counter-force opposing them.

No one can be blamed for characterising the suspension of military operations in the Tribal Areas as a weak-kneed response to the challenge of internationalised terror. One can’t see how it is going to be different this time. If the operation is suspended, does it mean the troops stay where they are but do nothing when they see the militants getting fresh supplies of munitions and men? Does suspension mean that the troops will go back to their cantonments to fast and say their special Ramazan prayers? If that is going to be the shape of things to come in the next 30 days, who will look after the safety of Bajaur refugees trying to return to their homes?

Ramazan has assumed a great religious importance in our days. Entire cities go into partial suspension of life and work because everyone is fasting. No one wants to work seriously and doesn’t even think it is wrong to violate traffic rules. Will this apply to war also? It has never happened in the past. Some wars are known in Muslim history as “Ramadan wars” because the enemy will not strike according to the Islamic calendar. In fact the enemy will strike most effectively during Ramazan because Muslims are not willing to be active during the fasting month. Let us be frank, the terrorists who kill fellow-Muslims have a poor record as far as observing the holy months is concerned. The militants one faces in Bajaur are the same people who have been killing Muslims during Ashura.

In a way, the 23,000 people who are supposed to return home and start fasting will walk straight into the arms of the terrorists. Already the people displaced by the terrorists have come to Peshawar and are opposing military operations against the Taliban. Their mind is influenced by the past hesitation on the part of the state to take on the terrorists. They simply don’t believe that the state is capable of defending their rights; therefore, to save their lives they are ready to give up their right to shave their beards, to educate their daughters and listen to music, and prevent their sons from being trained as suicide bombers. Hundreds of thousands of people have actually migrated from South Waziristan, Swat and Kurram, and they are so forlorn and desperate to just “live” that they are prepared to accept the tyranny of the Taliban because the Pakistani state cannot or will not protect them.

The state’s response was on the upswing before the fasting month came around. Eighteen Taliban making life miserable in Peshawar surrendered and swore on the Quran that they would not repeat their evil deeds. Of course this means nothing unless the state is dominant. One is conscious of the fact that the state has asserted itself in Swat and Bajaur, but it has not yet established dominance. (It has turned tail in Kurram, of course, where the Shia are being allowed to die.) The right thing to do is to carry on the noble deed of rescuing the people of Pakistan during Ramazan and to think of resting only after the job is accomplished.

We have tried peace talks; we have tried jirgas. Peace talks have allowed the terrorists to reorganise and replenish. The jirgas are no longer real because all the elders who could have talked peace have been killed by the terrorists. Now we can try Ramazan, and after that Eid too in the hope that this will work and the Taliban will vacate aggression and allow the writ of the state to prevail. But if it doesn’t work, we will rue the lesson that there is nothing more damaging for morale than to give up after succeeding partially.

There is something of a tribal awakening in the NWFP, but its numbers are almost certainly overblown, and it will also most certainly fail without the support of the Pakistan Army, just as the awakening in Anbar would have failed without the support of the U.S. Marines. On the same editorial page is yet another similar commentary.

There is no need to say what happened after a “successful” operation in Khyber Agency. Warlord Mangal Bagh was put to flight and is under a deadline to leave the agency. The latest news is that his gang Lashkar-e-Islam has asked the people of Landi Kotal to obey his orders, or else. Mr Bagh has asked the people to voluntarily hoist his army’s black flags on their rooftops or face punitive action. He has asked men to keep beards, cover their heads with caps, and keep their ankles visible to avoid thrashings. A large number of people have bought caps to avoid being killed. Since he is using the FM radio, the sales of radio sets have shot up. People don’t want to miss out on his fresh orders and suffer. Every prayer-leader will have to follow the timetable for five prayers set by Mr Bagh’s army.

It is the same as in Swat and Bajaur. No one dares to speak up against Mr Bagh. But everyone is ready to speak against the state and ask it not to come to their help. This is because the state has gone in and then left the job unfinished. When the state was winning against him, Mr Bagh was laughing on TV. He still owns houses in Peshawar and orders people around in Hayatabad, but the state is not there in Khyber.

In a way, the Pakistan Army is Pakistan’s own worst enemy because of its loss of heart and failure to finish the job in the tribal regions. No one should expect a tribal revolt against the Taliban when the Army gives up every time before the job is finished.


  1. On September 2, 2008 at 8:02 am, Warbucks said:

    Memo To Department of Defense (DOD),
    Use Ramadan to communicate more than war.
    As we read in Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramadan ) Ramadan is a time to fast for the sake of God, and to offer even more prayer than usual. Also involved in Ramadan are asking forgiveness for the sins of the past, asking for guidance in the future, and asking for help with refraining from every day evils and trying to purify oneself through self-restraint and good deeds.
    These are the moments granted to us to communicate across perceived religious boundaries: Ramadan and Christmas. Use them.
    Promulgate the Fatwa against non-violence to every living soul throughout the middle east:
    1. Senior Iraqi Religious Leaders craft a joint Shia-Sunni Fatwa condemning violence

    Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East
    London House 100
    New Kings Road London, SW6 4LX
    +44 (0) 1428 722 744
    III Beirut Meeting
    We have just finished the main sessions of our meeting of Iraqi religious leaders in Beirut. As we have experienced in the past, the meeting was at times difficult. Present were the most senior Shia and Sunni Iraqi religious leaders. However, despite all the difficulties there was very real progress. It was wonderful that Bud McFarlane, the former US NSA, could join us. Bud has attended the last three conferences and is well known to the delegates. He has an extremely important role in these activities.
    There were two very significant conclusions from the meetings. Firstly there was a serious acknowledgement that security is dramatically improving in Iraq. We acknowledge that the Multi National Forces in Iraq and the Iraqi security forces are responsible for this progress. The reality is things are changing for the better.
    The second major development was that there was a very serious rejection of violence and of suicide bombings. There was also the acknowledgement that the main reason for this violence and terrorism is religious sectarianism. This can be seen in the declaration and Fatwa below.
    As the previous meetings have shown, the FRRME must remain dedicated to working with the religious leaders to ensure that follow up of the declaration is a reality. It would be wonderful if the Iraqi component of the follow up was dealt with by the religious leaders alone but we must keep working with them and enable them to see this through. The follow up will be threefold, requiring the religious leaders to engage with:

    1 The Iraqi Masses, especially through the religious
    2 The Iraqi Government
    3 The Coalition countries, especially the USA.
    Whilst it is intended that the next meeting will happen in November in Beirut it is very much hoped that we will then be able to take the delegation to the USA. For the first time all the delegates have agreed to this.
    Beirut Religious Declaration
    In the name of Allah the most merciful.
    A group of Iraqi Shia and Sunni Islamic scholars have gathered in Beirut from the 22nd to the 24th of August 2008 under the auspices of the FRRME. Through dialogue they have discussed what should be done following the considerable security improvements in Iraq. There is great urgency to meet the needs of the Iraqi people who have suffered from injustice, sectarianism, violence, the destruction of infrastructure and the squandering of the fortune of Iraq. They have reached the following recommendations:
    1. The violence is coming from extremism without any religious or moral foundation and this contravenes humanitarian principles and targets innocent people. We strongly condemn and denounce all terrorist activities and suicide bombings. The non violent resistance which is aiming to liberate Iraq is a legitimate right by international standards and the heavenly faith.
    2. We encourage the continuity of this dialogue and the serious cooperation between the leaders of Iraq to create solutions to be the foundations for the building of the state where security and justice can prevail between the people.
    3. We denounce and condemn all foreign interference in Iraq in every way. This interference is the main cause of the violence and the sectarian divide and is preventing the establishment of the Rule of Law in the state of Iraq.
    4. We seek to prevent Iraq from being a theatre for sectarian conflict.
    5. We encourage the investment in security improvements and want to see the Iraqi community prevented from becoming militant. We will continue to work very hard to develop democracy and activate the role of NGO’s in civil society to enhance the building of the state and its institutions.
    6. We see that as a priority we need to enable the return of all displaced and emigrated persons to their homes and encourage qualified Iraqi people to go back to Iraq assuring them of their civilian rights and we desire that they return back their estate and employment.
    7. We urgently require investigation of the cases of those in prison in Iraq particularly those in prisons controlled by the Coalition.
    Sheikh Ahmed Al Kubasi Senior Sunni leader
    Sheikh Abdul Latif Humayem Senior Sunni leader
    Ayatollah Abu Rageef Senior Shia leader based in Najaf
    Sheik Zuhari Senior Shia leader who is the chief religious advisor to the Prime Minister
    Organised by Canon Andrew PB White (we highlighted at P&CR.org for emphasis) and the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East
    The Joint Sunni Shia Fatwa against all violence
    In the Islamic religion, it is knowledge that our merciful God has deigned Adam’s son more than other creations: See the Holy Qur’an God says, 70, Alisraa book.
    It is knowledge that everybody in Islam more than the other religions. It is totally prohibited from harming the spirit of all human beings: God says in the Holy Qur’an, 32, the table book.
    One of the speeches of the Prophet Mohammed prohibits the spilling of Muslim blood on a Muslim himself, and his family, thus suicide bombings are totally prohibited.
    Therefore religious and ethical duty calls us as Shia and Sunni religious leaders to announce that all killing must be stopped now, whatever the reasons and the cause and the motives between Muslims. And we must start the reconciliation and tolerance and make them the only way to solve the conflicts between the brothers in the country, as seen in the Holy Qur’an God says,9,Alhujarat book the ethical and religious duty is to call all Muslims in our country to take Al Sharia as a refuge to solve all the conflicts, and its invitation to all our people at this difficult time and after this hard experience to reject and forsake all violence, killing and provocation. We invite people of violence to come on side to support reconciliation and tolerance: God says from the Holy Quraan,65,the women book.
    Achieving peace, living together, under the rule of law is the demand on all the Iraqi people and it is the religious and ethical duty of everybody to abandon all violence.
    This is our Fatwa to all the Iraqi people and all Muslims. From our God we are told, and so have delivered this message, may our God be the witness on us.
    The Shia and Sunni Religious Leaders

    This message is sent to you because you are subscribed to the mailing list peacemaking@list.usip.org.
    United States Institute of Peace
    1200 17th Street NW — Washington, DC 20036
    (202) 457-1700 (phone) — (202) 429-6063 (fax)

  2. On September 2, 2008 at 11:28 am, Herschel Smith said:


    You are just missing the point. Fatwas, communications of messages of peace, and all of the other stuff you mention is exactly what the Taliban want. They don’t respect that and won’t listen. Your suggestion plays into their hands.

    The people need security if they are ever to stand up against the Taliban. Pakistan’s own newspapers have now made a 180 degree reversal and are demanding that the Pakistan Army finish the operations rather than stand down. This is a remarkable change, and it is the POINT of the article.

    In other words, it isn’t just The Captain’s Journal or some other U.S.-based blog that is saying we need to continue operations against the TTP. It’s now Pakistan’s own people. They have caught up with The Captain’s Journal in understanding that the TTP respect only force, not religious Fatwas as you suggest. Go back and read the first editorial I cite again. The editorial ridicules the notion of reliance on everything else – for it is has already been tried, and that, many times.

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You are currently reading "Ramadan Stand-down for the Terrorists in Pakistan", entry #1281 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Pakistan,Taliban,Tehrik-i-Taliban and was published September 1st, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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