In Swat & other Pakhtun areas the Taliban, Al Qaeda have happily joined hands with those hardened criminals who share the loot of their crimes…

No class war in Swat
Thursday, December 18, 2008 (The News)
Farhat Taj

In his article, “Behind the Crisis in Swat” (The News, Nov 27), Sartaj Khan argues that the current religious militancy raging in Swat is a class war. He writes: ‘the militants are targeting the khans regardless of their political affiliations and have given their fight a class dimension.”

The fact is that the Islamist militants are targeting those khans who are politically active and influential. These are the khans who can be a hurdle in the way of the savage mediaeval order interpreted as Islam that the local and foreign jihadis want to impose on Swat and other areas of the NWFP and on FATA. Khans who are not politically active, keep their eyes closed to the brutalities of the jihadis and keep their mouths shut about them are not targeted. If it were a class war, every khan, regardless of his political leanings, would have been a “legitimate” target. Moreover, the jihadis are also targeting the poor political workers of political parties, especially the ANP, not because they are khans but because they have nationalistic and secular credentials.

In Swat and other Pakhtun areas the Taliban and Al Qaeda have happily joined hands with those hardened criminals who share the “benefits” of their robbery, murders and kidnappings with Taliban-Al Qaeda gangs. Leaders of a genuine class war would think many times before striking any kind of alliance with criminals.

Schools indiscriminately bombed by the Taliban in Swat include those where the khans were not educating their children, who would go to elite schools in Swat, elsewhere in Pakistan and even in Western countries. The Taliban have bombed small village schools where children of poor people received education. How can this be justified in terms of class war?

The Taliban have destroyed down, or forced the closure of, petty businesses like barber shops and small kiosks selling music DVDs and CDs. This is part of the Taliban’s agenda to impose on the Pakhtun a narrow social order that stifles every kind of free choice and entertainments in the name of Islam.

The writer quotes a socio-political analyst, Khadim Hussain, in support of his thesis. I discussed his article with Mr Hussain, who said he never implied in any of his writings that the situation in Swat is class war, and that the writer of the article had quoted him completely out of context.

The writer referred to an anthropological research conducted in the 1960s by Fredrik Barth, a scholar of Pakhtun culture, and points out that those who don’t land in Swat are directly or indirectly dependent on the landowners, both politically and economically. I recently had a talk with Fredrik Barth. He told me he is not aware of the current social situation in Swat. The fact is that social changes have happened since the time Barth did his research. There are people who previously did not possess land but now own houses and some land.

Pointing to the longstanding unsettled land disputes in Swat the writer says: “When it came to impose the Sharia the most significant measure of all was the rapid settlement of land disputes.” I don’t know how many longstanding disputes have been “settled” by the Taliban in areas under their control in Swat, but this is certainly not the most significant measure of their “Islam.” The most significant measures are: public punishment, including public beheadings, bombing of schools, music shops, barber shops, public harassment of women not “properly veiled,” threats to musicians, and destruction of Buddha statues in Swat.

It is true that in some poor villages in Swat the militants tried to address the widespread poverty, to take control there. But they could do so only because they were given a free hand by Gen Musharraf and his friendly opposition, the MMA government in the NWFP. Once the militants gained the control, they imposed the most savage way of life in the name of Islam. The government of Musharraf never came forward to rescue the villagers from the militants. The net result is that today they continue to live in poverty and they have lost whatever little civil liberties they had.

I do not mean to suggest that there are no poor and landless people and no longstanding unsettled land disputes in Swat. There are, as in the rest of Pakistan. Moreover, this is not to say that I justify feudalism. I do not. All I wish to say is that landlessness, poverty and unsettled land disputes have been wrongly attributed as causes of a class war that just does not exist in Swat in the context of the current situation. What we see in Swat and other Pakhtun areas is part of the global jihadi agenda. After all, the militant Punjabis, Arabs, Chechens, Uzbeks, Tajiks and Afghans have not descended on the Pakhtun areas to wage war on behalf of the poor people of the areas. They are there to occupy the areas, enslave the people and use them as launching pads to wage violent jihad, as they wish to do anywhere else in the world. I would request all those who write on the Pakhtun areas to look into the realities of the areas before they raise their pens to write. Distortion of the realities on public forums like The News can contribute to the sufferings of the Pakhtun. This also sends out a wrong message to the world. The ultimate beneficiary of all this can only by the militants.

I also wish to say a word about the disturbing news from Canada last month. Tariq Ali has reportedly said that the Taliban represent Pakhtun nationalism. I have yet to read any of his writings where he expresses such view. But I still think the report is a matter of grave concern, if indeed it is true. I would invite Tariq Ali to make a trip to a large number of villages and towns in the NWFP, FATA and Afghanistan, meet people there and see the situation with his own eyes. Upon his return he must publicly tell what he observed that can relate the Taliban with Pakhtun nationalism. Tariq Ali is an honest scholar. Honesty demands that he undertake the trip. I am afraid the Taliban will never let me conduct a free scholarly investigation.

The writer is a research fellow at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Research, University of Oslo. Email: