Barbarism in Swat

By Khurshid Khan

SWAT’S Sangota Public School was blown to smithereens on Oct 7, 2008 — a dark day in the history of the area.

This convent school was established in 1964 by Miangul Jahanzeb, popularly known as Wali sahib, the last ruler of Swat who not only donated land for the school but also provided generous financial aid for its construction and operations. It was renowned for its quality of education in the entire Malakand region.

This epitome of architectural perfection was situated in a beautiful and enchanting location on the left bank of the meandering and bounteous Swat river, spreading the light of education. Most of the teachers were Irish nuns who had devoted their lives to educating Swat’s children. They arrived in the bloom of their youth and returned in the autumn of their lives. They also educated the young girls in neighbouring villages and hamlets, without any thought of financial gains, teaching them the same courses as were being taught in the school in the morning.

A co-education system was in place until the 1990s but after the establishment of Excelsior College, the boys were shifted there and from then onwards only girls were admitted to this prestigious school. The school was closed on the DCO Swat’s orders because of the turbulence and volatile atmosphere in Swat much against the wishes of the students’ parents. The school administration decided to vacate the premises and as soon as it was vacated, it was razed to the ground by militants the next day, as was the premises of Excelsior College.

The first school in Swat was established in 1922 by Miangul Abdul Wadood. Both boys and girls were educated here until the primary level. It was not until 1926 when a separate school was established for girls. His successor Miangul Jehanzeb established a network of schools and colleges in the whole of Swat, Buner, Shanglapar and Indus-Kohistan which were then a part of the Swat state.

Education was not only encouraged but free. Scholarships were awarded and students were sent to western countries for higher education. Those who completed their education were given attractive employment. Thanks to these incentives, people swarmed to Swat for education. Students from Dir, Chitral, Malakand, Charsadda, Mardan, Swabi and other parts of the country turned to Swat for education.

After the merger of Swat state in 1969, several other schools and colleges in the public sector were opened, especially girls’ schools and colleges. Private schools also emerged. Gradually, Swat came to be regarded as a centre of learning by adjoining districts. But this evolution of education was strangulated by the militants in 2007 and 2008. Swat is now being pushed back to the pre-1922 period. Even then there were no militants who destroyed their own people.

Adjoining districts Shangla, Buner and Dir have suffered equally adverse effects. The people of these areas sent their children to Swat for education but now they are compelled to send their children to Peshawar, even to Punjab, where expenses are comparatively high.

Meanwhile, back to the Sangota Public School. The religious extremists and rival private schools generated negative propaganda against it but parents were not taken in by these rumours and continued to send their children to school there. They knew that not a single student had been converted to Christianity.

The people of the nearby villages looted the furniture, libraries, computers and other precious accessories of Sangota Public School and Excelsior College after their destruction declaring it war booty. The vandalism and looting continued all day. Security forces stationed in the overlooking mountains watched this humiliating process but still remained silent and unmoved. Eyewitnesses say that even if the forces had fired in the air, the looting would have stopped.

Taliban spokesperson Muslim Khan in a BBC interview alleged that the school had been following a co-educational system and was also preaching Christianity. Therefore, its signs had to be obliterated. But what about the scores of other schools where there was no linkage whatsoever with co-education or Christianity? Why were these demolished?

There may be two hidden motives, i.e. to discourage education and increase poverty in Swat. Ignorance and poverty breed extremism and this is actually happening in Swat. Unemployment is on the rise. People are drawn towards militancy because they are given a handsome remuneration for becoming one of the Taliban. State-of-the-art weapons, handsome salaries and the assurance of paradise in the hereafter are some of the temptations that lure the youth.

These young men are the major source of strength and power for militant leaders. Through them militants have succeeded in banishing the influential people of Swat and have compelled political leaders to kneel before them. Police do not dare to patrol the areas and the army is very cautious in its movements and operations here.

The barbaric Huns destroyed the Gandhara civilisation in the 5th century AD and burnt to ashes educational institutions including the university at Taxila. Today, all the laboriously constructed educational institutions are once again the victims of vandalism. Precious cultural antiquities are being destroyed. These barbaric activities are certainly the handiwork of a strange and peculiar mindset.

It is shocking and surprising that as schools and colleges in Swat are being levelled to the ground one after the other, the people do not protest and the government is averse to taking serious action. Parliamentarians are also silent spectators. Their tongues are tied and their hands fastened.

The process of Talibanisation is progressing in Swat. There are many simple-headed people there who either openly or secretly support the movement, all in ignorance and clearing the ground for it. The valley is fertile and all the ingredients of building and maintaining a civilisation are there in abundance. In spite of possessing all these valuable resources, if we still keep silent, then barbarism will certainly replace civilisation in the valley.

One hopes that the demolition of educational institutions, especially of girls’ schools, does not mean that the people of Swat will stop educating their children. After all, the wheel of time is not meant to reverse its direction; it must move forward. (Dawn, 25 Dec 2008)