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Swat a Paradise lost

By: Khurshid Khan

Valley Swat, inhabited mostly by the Yusufzai tribe of Afghan and situated to the north of Pakistan, has witnessed numerous epochs for the last several thousand years. Since the Aryans, who migrated to the valley in 14 th century B.C, Alexander’s invasion in 327 BC, Buddhist civilization recorded by Chinese Buddhist pilgrims in 4th century A.D and the glorious period of the princely State of Swat till the merger with Pakistan in 1969. The Swat Yusufzai enjoyed freedom and neither had paid taxes to Delhi or Kabul not yielded obedience to any foreign law or administrative system. The valley has experienced diverse lifestyles, different worldviews, numerous cultural traditions, and distinct state institutions.

Everything seemed fine with the 5337 square kilometers area of the district and the 1.694701million people with a growth rate of 3.37, of the valley, despite upheavals in the rest of the Pashto speaking areas of the North West Frontier province of Pakistan, till the early nineties. Culturally, the people of Swat valley had been more accommodative, more generous and more open than the rest of the Pashto speaking areas of the N.W.F.P and Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The religious class of the area before the establishment of Swat State, during Swat state and long after Swat state, had always been broad minded and culturally absorbed in the society. They had never been rigid in accepting music, games, western dress, TV, internet and the rest of modern technology.

The valley had one of the highest women literacy rate as compared to the nighbouring districts. Till early nineties, no body among the common folks or the clergy had ever raised any objection to women education in the valley. The religio-political parties would cast a few thousand votes in different constituencies of the valley before 1990s, but they had never been able to win any assembly seat on their own.

The merger of Swat State brought miseries in the lives of the discipline community of Swat. The people of the area were more educated, socially develop, economically prosperous from the neighboring areas. Forests were protected, Fresh waters were clean, law and order situation was exemplary, Justice was speedy and cultural activities were supported and encouraged.

The rule of military dictator, General Zia ul haq, and the so called holy war in Afghanistan affected the resourceful valley Swat. The valley, being situated in PATA (Provincial Administered Tribal Area), provided safe haven for drug traffickers, Arms smugglers and investment place for Pakistani corrupt officials. The State was secular in nature. Queen Elizabeth was among the admirers of the natural beauty of Swat. The Pakistani government could not continue the State policy of modernization and enlightenment but adopted adverse policies, thereby plunging the valley into darkness and bigotism. PATA regulations made the bureaucracy more powerful. They enjoyed unlimited powers and the legacy of corruption began. In 80s the religious seminaries mushroomed, which were sponsored by the state through financial support from Ushar Zakat department @ Rs.360 per student. Resultantly, slowly and gradually the enlightened society of the valley lost its identity. The people of the valley fell victims to frustration, helplessness and powerlessness owing to a corrupt judicial system, broken health and security and an unviable education system.

General Zia‘s doctrine of so called Islamization worked successfully in Malakand Division in general and in Swat in particular. Since the mid-eighties through the early nineties the clergy, who mostly migrated from Afghanistan during Afghan war and after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, got the opportunity to introduce a molested interpretation of the Islamic Sharia’a in the madrassas established with the help of rich Punjabis industrialists, Urdu speaking Muhajars of Karachi and petro-dollars. This interpretation could be considered a new version of Wahabism. The local Ulema (religious scholars) resisted the emergent phenomenon but, probably, the rigid interpretation had already won political power among the illiterate segment of the society.

Among these hardliners was Sofi Muhammad who founded Tehrik-i-Nafaz-i-Sharia-i-Mohammadi (TNSM) in Dir in 1989. Sofi introduced his own interpretation of Sharia’a (Islamic laws). The divisional administration secretly supported Sofi in his endeavours. Moreover, Major Aamir of IB (Intelligence Bureau) forged close relationship with the clergy. The historical verdict of Supreme Court of Pakistan to abolish PATA Regulations created a management gap in Malakand division. To fill the gap Sufi found the right time to demand Sharia’a in Malakand Division and his movement got momentum and ended with bloody clashes between the Swati people and the security forces in 1994.

Maulana Sofi Muhammad gave a decree in favour of seeking military training declaring it compulsory for every Muslim. The TNSM workers were sent to training camps based in Afghanistan and other parts of Pakistan. Maulana Masood Azhar, the imprisoned extremist in India was released in a deal between hijackers and Indian Government in Qanadahar, came to Swat and formed a militant organization, the Jaish-i-Muhammad. He joined TNSM, trained its workers and started its activities along with Taliban in Aghanistan.This was the pioneer organization of suicide attacks in Kashmir and Afghanistan.

The Taliban regime became a source of inspiration for the religious seminaries and masses of Swat and supported it in cash and kind. Volunteers used to go to Afghanistan and took part in war and other activities. The incident of 9/11 changed the world political scenario and Pakistan brought U turn in its foreign policy and withdrew its support for Taliban .United States attacked Afghanistan and thousands of TNSM workers went to Afghanistan under the leadership of Sofi Muhammad for fighting a holy war against US forces. Thousands were killed and many are still missing. It was a very hard time for the militant organizations when their ideal government was dethroned. Pakistan declared these organizations as terrorists and banned them. General Parvez was held responsible by the militants and was declared infidel and agent of the United States of America.

The American presence in Afghanistan and continuous air strikes on the religious seminaries along the border inside Pakistan made the militants more emotional. They succeeded in getting the support of the innocent and simple headed Pukhtun in Pakistan through different means, specially the FM radio. The fall of Taliban accelerated the extremist forces and the coalition of religio-political parties, Mutahida Majlis-e- Amal (MMA), exploited the sentiments of the masses during general election 2002 and won all seats of provincial and national assemblies.

Swat valley is presently witnessing the worst form of anarchy. Militants have challenged the writ of the government. The security forces are paralyzed and the District administration endorses every warning of the militants. Bomb blasts, suicide attacks on security forces confined them to their camps. The criminal silence of MMA government is augmenting the power and terror of the militants. The militants are attacking private properties, Video and Audio shops and barber shops were blown up across the valley. They are threatening girls and forcing the management of Saidu Medical College and other educational institutions to stop imparting education to Female students. When the heads of these institutions brought the matter into the notice of DCO and DPO, these responsible officers of the district administration advised the heads of institutions to act according to the demands of the militants. Women are warned not to go to markets for shopping of day to day utilities.

Swat attracts tourists from all over the world and is considered a haven for national and international tourists and nature lovers. More than 500 hotels and resorts serve the guests. This year tourists avoided visiting Swat, which dealt a huge financial setback to the tourism industry. Mingawara (Mingāora) is a big trade center for the whole of Malakand region. This chaotic situation badly affected the economic activities of the city.

The terrorists have started targeting to kill the influentials of Swat. The attacks on District Nazim and his father, and Mohammad Afzal Khan and his nephew (Tehsil Nazim Abdul Jabbar Khan) in upper Swat created a civil war like situation. But they all have acted responsibly and look towards the government for remedy. The people of Swat considered it an act of target killings. This type of actions hint towards the involvement of agencies who want to achieve their objectives in the international perspective. The old rivalries are instigated for paving the way to civil war. The so called Kisans (peasants) have joined hand with the militants in upper Swat foreshadows the would-be-clashes between the Owners and tenants under the blanket of Sharia’a Movment.

There is uncertainty in Swat because of the hidden enemy and the society is in the grip of severe tension. Human rights are violated on all fronts and no one feels safe on the road, market and work place.

The Provincial government is doing nothing because of up coming elections or probably because of their sympathies with militants and Al-Qaeda. Federal Government is also not taking interest in getting rid of these odds for the reasons known to them. The people of Swat have a feeling of helplessness and are disappointed with the State Authority. They ask the world community and the human rights organizations to put pressure on Pakistan not to create another Waziristan in Swat.

This chaotic situation did not emerge in a single day. It took almost two years. After Sufi’s imprisonment his son in law, Maulana Fazlullah, took over the control of the banned TNSM and started his illegal FM radio in Mamderai, Swat. Maulana declared musical instruments, CDs, TV unIslamic and people were asked to burn them. Female education and polio vaccination were apposed. People were instigated to withdraw their daughters from schools. He not only challenged the government writ but gave asylum to the outlaws of the banned Jaish-i-Muhammad. The Government remained silent spectator then, when it was very easy to curb it. National and international media reported the activities of the Maulana. The people of the area time and again reminded their MPAs and MNAs to do something about it but to no avail. At last the district administration signed a treaty with the clergy and saved its face. The said Maulana has close relations with other extremists residing in Waziristan, Islambad and Bajwar. Maulana’s brother was killed in Bajawar when Army bombed a seminary there. Maulana Supported Gazi Abdur Rashid (now killed in Red Mosque operation) in cash and kind. He used to address big crowds in Mamderai, Swat on telephone.

The Red Mosque incident once again inflamed the dangerous situation of Swat. A series of attacks on security forces began and more than fifty soldiers of Army and police have lost their lives in suicide attacks, bomb blasts and ambushes.

No State authority exists in the valley. Militants have created State within a State or is sit the agenda of the hidden forces? The peace loving people of the world should come forward and play their role in bringing peace to Swat.

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Anonymous said…
Very good analysis of the situation. It's definitely tangled and confused mess, hopefully it can be resolved from within Pakistan with the least amount of bloodshed.
You have a very good blog that the main thing a lot of interesting and useful!
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