Nazir Naji & Zafar Hilaly’s SOS from Swat

Swat and saving Pakistan
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Zafar Hilaly
More information regarding the Swat deal between the government and the Taliban has come to light. It now appears that the Taliban were bought off by the government for a sum ranging between $6 and $10 million. What was essentially a bribe was labelled as compensation for losses and damage suffered during the fighting. On the other hand the destruction, executions, rape and pillage wrought by the insurgents have been condoned; so too the continuing abductions of district officials and military personnel. It seems that if the insurgents wish to talk to an official, the latter has no option but to either present himself or be abducted. Even military patrols have to obtain the prior clearance of the Taliban before setting out. No where else in the world does a national army have to obtain the permission of outlaws to patrol their own territory.

Similarly the mores of the inhabitants of Swat will now be vetted by the Taliban. Those, especially women, who do not conform to the Taliban’s obscurantist version of Islam will be punished and, if they survive, banished. No doubt soon, if not already, we will learn that as in Kabul under Taliban rule women will be banned from washing clothes on the river banks; or have their clothes tailored by men; or use make up or nail varnish; or laugh or speak loudly lest they “excite” men. All of which goes to show that in the search for peace and quiet the government has sacrificed justice and the rights of half the population of Pakistan contained in the Constitution.

Liberals have been criticised for trashing an agreement that has brought peace to Swat and is welcomed by the locals. Actually, locals who fought heroically against the Taliban in the expectation that they would be backed by the government were dumb founded when the military for all its vaunted claims was unable to prevail mostly because they were unwilling to sustain losses; and having lost the will to fight preferred to let the government take the rap for their failure and cobble a deal which amounted to surrender. How do I know? Because there was not a single Swati, of the dozen or so that I have met and talked to, who thinks otherwise. Moreover their loathing for the Taliban is now only matched by their contempt for the military. When I asked one of my interlocutors the reason for the universal acclamation of the agreement by their folk in Swat, shown ad nauseam on TV channels, they shuffled about uneasily till, that is, one of them confessed, “Because they know that if they say anything else they will be slaughtered by the Taliban”. The peace that Mr Hoti has bought in Swat is one that has set a lethal precedent; besides it will also prove a bad bargain when it collapses.

But Mr Hoti alone is not to blame. The pusillanimous stance of the centre is no less culpable. Saving Pakistan, a project on which our politicians are seemingly launched and which, we are often reminded is “work in progress” is nothing of the sort. There is little work and no progress. And as if we need to be reminded the events at Liberty Chowk provided further evidence. It is not merely that the terrorists should want to kill Sri Lankan cricketers but that they should nearly succeed in a city that is virtually in a lock down because of the terrorist threat and, having attempted to do so, saunter away casually without a hair on their bodies being ruffled. When it comes to deciding which of the two is less efficient, the military or the agencies, or India or Pakistan, the choice is a toss up.

There are many who share the blame for the sad pass in which we find ourselves including, let it be said, the masses whose penchant for electing errant politicians and patiently tolerating dictators seems endless. To hope that matters will improve is unrealistic unless the state structure is righted. For instance, a successful democracy requires government to be local, accountable and elected which they are not in Pakistan. Provincial governments operate, or cease to, depending on the whims of the centre as we are so dramatically witnessing in the Punjab; nor are they accountable (accountability is a dirty word in our political milieu) or truly elected because rigging in elections is endemic. To expect a system so flawed to succeed, let alone “rebuild” is fanciful. Saving Pakistan therefore requires a new governmental structure to replace the current dysfunctional entity.

While I have no idea what, unless it is the present functioning anarchy, most suits our peculiar genius and will concede immediately that the best of structures in the hands of the worst of men will similarly fail, I do recall that the Lahore Resolution of 1940, also known as the Pakistan Resolution, envisaged NOT a unitary state for Muslim India but a number of “independent sovereign states” a proposition which, if heeded, would have ensured in 1971 the survival of the perforce loosely aligned Islamic Republic(s) of Pakistan and may still prevent a meltdown of what remains. (The News)

The writer is a former ambassador. Email:


Nazir Naji’s SOS from Swat