“Sufi Muhammad was detained by General Musharraf at Dera Ismail Khan jail, and his men were exchanged by an Afghan warlord with money.”

When I commented that it is general knowledge that the son-in-law of Sufi Muhammad, Maulana Fazlullah, is allied with Baitullah Mehsud’s Tehrik-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan, Aurangzeb expressed uncertainty. “I do not know,” he said.

I asked him how he saw the present insurgency. He replied, “Tell me how long Americans fought in Vietnam, how long Charles de Gaulle fought in Algeria.”

I interrupted to observe that he was suggesting the current military operation would be a long, drawn out affair.

He said, “So far, we just have no knowledge who provided the most sophisticated weaponry, communication systems, and FM radios to the militants. We must have accurate knowledge of these people and their objective.”

Prince Aurangzeb’s son-in-law Amane Rome is an old friend of mine. He was a senior executive with the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation back in 1976. He, too, entered into politics and on a PPP ticket got elected from Swat in 1988.

When I approached him, he was very selective about his words and was very careful whenever making a single comment about Taliban. He repeatedly told me, “I am not making any comment against Taliban.”

Lala Afzal Khan, who was elected to the National Assembly from his nationalist Pakhtun Awami Party and joined Benazir Bhutto’s cabinet, has remained in Swat during all these days of anarchy. He has been awarded with one of the highest civil gallantry awards.

Lala Afzal Khan told me, “The Taliban movement is not an ideological movement. All the men of Sufi Muhammad and Maulana Fazlullah are loyal to Baitullah Mehsud. In fact, all the Taliban are loyal to Mullah Omar and  most  of  them  are  criminals, looters, bandits, car  snatchers, absconders and  drug  runners. He is the center of gravity both for Pakistani and Afghan Taliban.”

He said, “In class struggle between haves and have-nots, you do not become a criminal. You do not harm innocent people, snatch vehicles, dump arms and ammunition; you get popular through the force of ideology and not force. Taliban are terrorists and have no ideology.”

Having nationalist and left-leaning views, Lala Afzal Khan was critical of the Swat peace deal; not only the recent one, but also the 1994 peace deal. The federal government signed both deals from a position of weakness and not from a position of strength.

I also spoke with the chief spokesman of the army, Major General Atthar Abbas, and asked him what the exact strategy was of Taliban militants in areas like Swat, lower Dir, and Buner.

“If they continue to make advances and cross Walnut Heights of Kalam and Miandri,” he replied, “they can reach Hazara Division, where Pakistan’s many important defense establishments are located.

“Yes, this appears to be their strategy. But now we have gone for a full-scale operation. We have a free hand and we have contained and encircled them in Swat and Buner. This is one of the reasons these militants could not send suicide bombers to Pakistan’s other cities.

“Previously,” he continued, “due to political expediencies, we were carrying out our operations in a slipshod manner. I mean, one hand was tied and the other one free. There is and was a civilian government in the North West Frontier Province, so we had to only go for defensive operations and we were mostly trying to persuade local people to avoid violence and militancy.”

When asked about the objective of the militants’ move to Buner, Lala Afzal Khan answered, “Buner was not the end. These militants had planned to capture the vital KKH (Kara Koram Highway) or the Silk Route that links Pakistan with China. Having the best knowledge of their plans, we adopted sufficient contingency measures to besiege and kill them.”

Pakistan’s military operation in Swat has created yet another divide between Pashtuns and both the Sindh National Front and the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), an Urdu speaking community of Karachi and historical rivals of Pashtuns there. With over a million and a half people displaced by the fighting in Swat, the influx of Pashtuns to Karachi in Sindh Province is already sending alarming signals of further destabilization of the country.