The fall of Swat
After a year of military operations in Swat, the territory controlled by the terrorists has reportedly increased from 25 percent to 75 percent. On Friday, the army killed 12 Taliban in different parts, but could not prevent the demolition by them of a rest house owned by the ANP’s late leader, Mr Abdul Wali Khan. The party that rules in Peshawar has been systematically decimated in Swat as its allies walk in fear and no longer criticise the Taliban in public, accusing only the army of being “indiscriminate”.
Swat had voted last year for ANP as a liberal alternative to the now defunct MMA because they wanted their home territory to be made safe against the vandalism of the Taliban. But what they have got is the systematic destruction of the female educational infrastructure in Swat by the Taliban and loss of protection by the state. The terrorists had warned last month that if any girls’ schools opened after January 15, they would be bombed. Consequently, after the expiry of the deadline, none of the 400 plus schools has reopened, causing 80,000 girls to go without education for the foreseeable future. Along with them, 8,000 female teachers will be rendered jobless in state sector and private institutions.
The federal information minister, Ms Sherry Rehman, has responded to the questioning in the National Assembly by saying that the government is not oblivious to the situation and will do something about it. But this isn’t terribly credible. The Taliban have already bombed out of existence 122 girls’ schools in Swat while the army operations go on inside a fast shrinking territory of the writ of the state. The inhabitants no longer believe that the state is capable of protecting them and talk on TV channels freely in favour of the army clearing out of the area and the government negotiating with the terrorists to give them what they want, including a literal ban on the public movement of women.
The ANP government began talking peace with the Taliban after coming to power in 2008. It reached an agreement on the enforcement of sharia with the terrorists and even let their founder-cleric out of jail as an earnest of its peaceful intent, but, according to the ANP leaders, the contract was sabotaged by the warlord Baitullah Mehsud who sent in more “foreigners” into Swat to tighten his hold on the territory. Reporters have described youths who behead people in the valley as people who speak differently from the locals and even look like non-Pakistanis.
In Pakistan, the foremost obstacle in pacifying Swat is the national division of opinion. A majority of the people who mould public opinion think that “it is not Pakistan’s war”, and trace it to the cruelties inflicted on the innocent people of Swat by the Musharraf regime. A recent opinion on the plight of Swat was expressed like this: “Swat was totally peaceful until two years ago. Then the government of Pervez Musharraf destroyed its peace. It spilled the blood of innocent people, and now the same innocent people had become greatest oppressors. They are killing each other in the name of Islam. What a great irony that the dictator who loudly proclaimed his enlightened moderation cast Swat into the clutches of religious extremism. And now he is going around the world lecturing on peace”.
But the truth is that Swat saw its trouble first in the mid-1990s with a radical cleric Sufi Muhammad asking for sharia. In 2001, the Sufi joined the Taliban in Afghanistan to fight the Americans. After his arrest, his son-in-law Maulvi Fazlullah unfurled the flag of jihad in Swat and was soon taking orders from the South Waziristan warlord Baitullah Mehsud. Today, Swat lives under the sharia of Fazlullah. Civilian collateral damage has been considerable, and may have caused rebellion in some cases, but most of the “obedience” observable in the valley is because of the fear of beheadings by the terrorists.
The measure of lack of success of military operations in Swat can be had from the fact that the terrorists now have an autonomous state of their own, complete with running sharia courts and an FM radio station exhorting the people to accept the new order or die. They have their own network of intelligence and an information secretary that you can ring up and talk to. Every day the people of Swat wake up to find someone or the other either beheaded or hanged on the Green Chowk of Mingora now called Khuni Chowk. Those who could flee Swat have done so; those who have nowhere to go will live under the terrorists. The “state” will soon have to survive on the economy of contraband and kidnappings in the settled areas of the NWFP.
Pakistan can turn away from the obligation of saving Swat only at the risk of further more dangerous erosion of the state. It is a war that has to be fought and Pakistan cannot afford to lose it. Islamabad must realise that Swat terrorists have their networks in the rest of the country; and last year, Lahore’s girls’ schools had received threats of closure the same way as in Swat.
Wali Khan spent the last days of his life at home in one of the most beautiful places in the Swat Valley. The house which is surrounded by greenery and a picturesque river has a significant place in the history of Pakistani politics.
Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Wali Khan took several important decisions in this house. I met Wali Khan in the same house in the 1980s along with other senior journalists. An active politician, Wali Khan had foretold that the situation will become dangerous especially in the NWFP if Pakistan would not stop sending armed people to Afghanistan in the name of Jihad. Most people did not share his foresight at the time, however, his prediction has proved true today.
I remembered his words again as I read the news about militants attacking and damaging the residence of the late ANP leader, Khan Abdul Wali Khan. The war that started in Afghanistan in the 1980s by Ziaul Haq in the name of Jihad has now reached Peshawar from Kabul.
A few days ago, I had the chance to meet Mian Iftikhar Ahmed, a minister of NWFP (Pakhtoonkhawa) in an informal meeting held in Karachi. He was here to attend a conference, which was to be convened by the Sindh Inter Provincial Coordination (IPC) Minister, Makhdoom Jameeluzzaman. However, the conference was cancelled due to other engagements of the federal IPC Minister, Raza Rabbani. I was the only journalist in this luncheon meeting with other guests Mian Iftikhar Ahmed, Information and IPC NWFP, PPP leaders Nafees Siddiqi, ANP Sindh Chief Shahi Syed, Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan Secretaries IPC and Joint Secretary IPC federal government. The purpose was to create an IPC ministry and the departments in the provinces were to share their problems and suggest solutions.
Taking advantage of this occasion, I asked Mian Iftikhar about the situation in the NWFP. Most of the information that he shared was off-the-record. However, it was quite alarming. He explained that the people who had elected religious parties in the last election rejected them this time around and as a result the ANP and other liberal parties came into power. The people of NWFP were happy over this change while the political parties had the mandate to serve and develop the province.
He said that their major demand to change the name of NWFP to Pakhtoonkhawa has been accepted as the PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari had agreed for the constitutional amendment to change the name of the province. Unfortunately, the situation changed suddenly, just after the government started planning. Terrorists came out and started sabotage and suicide activities in the province. Consequently, the government started negotiations with Jihadi groups to handle the situation and people welcomed this move as they wanted peace. However, some quarters got angry with this political move and finally the terrorists increased their activities.
Being a political party, the ANP persuaded the public to stand united against terrorism. People and tribes took action against terrorists in their respective areas, which forced the terrorists to take shelter in other areas including Swat. In retaliation, the terrorists who are equipped with modern arms and latest communication equipments, spread terrorism by exploding schools, government buildings and taking civilians hostage while there is an Army operation in progress.
Mian Iftikhar said that his province needed political, moral and financial support to fight against terrorists — which in fact should be construed as a fight for Pakistan. He added that the writ of the government is only followed in Peshawar, but the provincial capital is also under the siege. Terrorists in the provincial capital have attacked not only the Governor, but also other government functionaries. Mian Iftikhar asserted that support for the NWFP situation should be the top priority, otherwise the situation will soon be out of control. He emphasised that the terrorists would not stop in the NWFP, they will also enter Islamabad, Punjab and other provinces.
He further disclosed that Punjab is also not safe from the threat of terrorism as some terrorists also come from training camps in southern Punjab. After the NWFP they would spread their fight to Punjab, if the provincial and federal government do not take action.
Unfortunately, the media and religious parties call these elements ‘Jihadis’. However, they are terrorists because Jihadis never kill women, children and explode schools. “If somebody has the impression that terrorists will stop at Attock border in the NWFP, they are living in a fool’s paradise. Terrorism is a threat for all, they will not stop until they have breached Islamabad, Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan.”
His community is looking for support from the entire nation. “Please do something before everything is destroyed,” Mian Iftikhar said.