November 09, 2008

PAKISTAN: Militants surging up in the twin cities of Swat

By: Khurshid Khan
November 5, 2008

Mingawara (also Mingāora or Mingora) and Saidu Sharif are considered the most peaceful areas in the turbulent valley of swat as compared to other rural areas here. But it seems now that this urban area of swat is moving towards anarchy and the writ of government is gradually slackening. The police are imprisoned themselves in their own police stations and even traffic police have shunned their duties. Several police officers and constables have been murdered since the last month. The district co-ordination officer (DCO), District police officer (DPO), Deputy inspector general of police (DIG) and Commissioner Malakand range are confined to their offices and houses. Even they avoid meeting complainers in their offices.

Mingawara, the business and cultural centre of swat, was a village of Babozai before the establishment of Swat State while Saidu Sharif was popular among the people due to the Tomb of Saidu Baba (Abdul Ghafoor -the Akhund of Swat). Bacha Saib (the 1st Wali of Swat 1917-1949) made Saidu Sharif his capital and established State offices here.

In the past, most of the villages of swat were having small shops (Attai) where the daily commodities were sold through barter system. The Paracha (muleteer) would take grain, desi ghee, honey and dry fruits in caravans (tappal) to Batkhela, sell it there and bring back daily necessary items and sell it to the small shop keepers (Attewal). After the establishment of the Bazar, the same traders started business here permanently.

The Pukhtun (in the context of wesh) community of the area regarded business as base profession. Bacha Saib encouraged traders to settle here and establish their businesses. He ensured them the safety of their lives, goods and property. In this way, Mingawara prospered slowly and evolved to the municipal status.

When the ruler of Swat connected the remote areas of swat and the adjacent Buner, Malakand, Shangla and Swat through an intricate network of roads, the city became the nucleus of business for these areas also. People discarded the centuries old Barter system and joined the new trend in the market.

The rulers gave the status of municipality to Mingawara and established a permanent municipal administration here. With the passage of time, commercial buildings were erected in the city. Today, the city is a hub for economic activities in the whole region.

In the period of statehood, the rulers never compromised on the peace of the city. Both these areas were weapon free zones. No one, even the influential figures were not allowed to exhibit fire arms openly during the reign of the Walis of Swat.

Mingawara has remained the centre of cultural activities. A cinema and a separate locality for dancers and singers were built. There used to be dancing and musical gatherings on the occasions of marriages and Eid festivals. This tradition continued after the merging of the state in 1969 till 1980s which has almost perished now. Dancers had changed their profession and the cinemas are closed now due to the blazing wave of militancy and terror strikes in the city.

The volatile situation in Mingawara has also adversely affected the business activities in markets. A cloth merchant, Amanullah says “due to the uncertain situation, the business losses have fulminated to 80% we are speculating to close our businesses now”. Mingawara is also the largest market of Chinese goods. Goods, worth of billion rupees, reach here through Silk Route. But the people are worried about their business as due to the severe road blockages and uncertain situation. The outsider investors have withdrawn their capital and have lifted swat.

Mingawara is also the largest and busiest fruit and vegetable market in Malakand region. The impact of militancy over business activities is also clearly visible here. Inaytullah Khan, a trader in fruit and vegetable market, says that “due to the daily curfew, bomb explosion and road blockages, our business has fallen down to an alarming level. I am looking for an alternate business now.”

The business community of Chena market, Mena bazaar and Makan Bagh has displayed banners in the markets due to the fear and terror of Taliban miscreants, which says that ladies are not allowed to enter the markets places. Taliban have openly threatened that they will blow up those markets where ladies come for shopping. Chena market is closed since the last week, once a thriving and charming market in the city, where women shops, mostly. Saeed of Chena bazaar says “I have sold my shop due to the continuous losses as the business has come to a halt because Taliban are against cosmetics.”

Taliban have suggested the plaza owners to reduce the rent up to 40% which is implemented by the plaza owners without any complaint or condition. The specialist doctors have been warned to reduce their appointment fee to Rs.100 and almost all have complied with this order.

Several high and low class hotels and restaurants which were once jam packed with visitors are closed now as the visitors never ventures to come here. Transporters also tell the same story. The daily wage earners spend days and night without food. The girls’ schools are permanently closed in Mingawara while some have been destroyed or burnt to ashes.

Saidu Sharif is still considered the capital of Swat where the royal family is residing. Several districts and administrative offices including District and Tehsil Nazims offices are located here beside different private and Government educational institutes. The residences of the administrative officers are also located near these premises. Several private hospitals are working here side by side with Government hospitals.

The gates of Saidu Sharif and Rahimabad police stations are closed and the sign of Government writ in the city is almost nominal. The Mingawara police station building has been blown up. The policemen never ventures to come out even in daylight. Army officers rely on helicopter instead of roads for traveling. Earlier, Taliban used to freely patrol the city during night but the situation is different now and they can be seen in the city in the broad day light. Last Friday, the Taliban warned the staff and patients of central hospital on gun point to observe the strict codes of seclusion and wear burqas, which ushers that Mingawara and Saidu are also yielding to the grip of militants now. People say that due to the critical situation, several people from war struck areas migrated here but are now compelled to quit the area as the situation is also spiraling out of government’s control here. A local journalist Ghafoor Khan Sheda points “operation Rah-i -Haq is now progressing towards Phase III where the battle field will be Mingawara and Saidu”.

Militants can raise their venomous head here any time. If it happens, then a conventional war can erupt between security forces and Taliban here which will turn this cradle of peace into ruins. Several innocent lives will be lost while others will be forced to migrate. There will also be a great loss to private and public properties as well.

It’s the demand of the day that surgical action should be carried out in the suspected hid outs of the militants in the city. It will curb the evils with minimum losses if steps are taken in this direction promptly and quickly through rapid forces.


No comments: