What happened to Pir Samiullah’s body is a dangerous symbolism, to many people in Swat it was wilfully permitted by the Army

Hanging a dead pir
Saturday, December 27, 2008
Farhat Taj

Pir Samiullah of Swat was reportedly encouraged by the army stationed in Swat to raise a lashkar against the Taliban. This invoked the rage of the Taliban who besieged him for days in his village. The army never showed up to help and finally he was killed. The Taliban exhumed his body and hung it in a public place for several hours.

What the Taliban did to the pir’s body is tantamount to a kick to the face of civilisation. The Taliban, who had done the same with the body of Dr Najibullah, the former president of Afghanistan, will most probably do it again if given the opportunity.

As far as I know Pakhtun history has never seen such kicks to the face of civilisation, although a greater part of it has been a history of armed conflicts. This changed with the arrival of the holy warriors–the Mujahideen and Taliban.

The Pakhtun Taliban, it seems to me, have appropriated such means of disgrace from the history of their Arabs and Central Asians colleagues. The Umayad caliphs dug up graves of their opponents, exhumed bodies, put them on trial and hanged them.

What happened to Pir Samiullah’s body is a dangerous symbolism, because to many people in Swat the disrespect to it was wilfully permitted by the Army. One person said: “The Army did not fire a single bullet while 300-400 of Taliban were firing at the Pir’s supporters in Matta tehsil. When the Army knew that Taliban fighters had gathered in their hundreds, why didn’t they take action?’

I have been in contact with a number of people from Swat, who complain that the Taliban terrorise and slaughter people and exhume dead bodies, but the Army is nowhere to protect them. They argued that the army is backing the Taliban. One person even said that the commander of the military operation in Swat sends Rs10 million every month to the Swat Taliban leader, Maulana Fazalullah, so he would not harm the army, and do whatever they want with the people and culture of Swat.

Many people who know the geography of the area believe that the military is capable of beating the Taliban by simply besieging their headquarters from three different directions–from the Matta and Madyan tehsil and from lower Dir. This will disrupt the Taliban’s logistics and ultimately force them to surrender. The people of Matta had distributed sweets when the military arrived there.

Local residents complain that while the military has killed hundreds of civilians, it has killed only a few hardcore Taliban. The brother of a serving minister of the NWFP, who was in the police and was well-known for standing up to the Taliban, was killed in broad daylight in Mingora, and the perpetrators succeeded in escaping. How then can the people believe that the military is serious in its operation against the Taliban? The result is that an increasingly people in Swat see the Taliban and the Army as two sides of the same coin.

To crosscheck the views of the local people I had a long discussions with two Army offers, a colonel and a major. (Neither was stationed in Swat but the said they were aware of the situation of their colleagues in Swat.) They denied any notion of the army supporting the Taliban. They emphasised that the militants hid among the civilian population and the Army had to move very carefully to avoid civilian damage. They said the Army is constrained by its sensitivity to media reaction: there is media uproar when civilians are killed in military operations and almost complete silence when militants kill civilians. They also pointed out that the civil administration has abandoned the people of Swat. There is almost no one in areas cleared by the army–the police or the administration–to resume routine work. They also said that Army commanders in Swat had requested key federal and provincial political leaders to come to areas cleared by it, under full military protection, to restore the confidence of the people of Swat in the government and the Army, but to no avail.

Following my meeting with the two army officers I also met an NWFP journalist who had had had long discussions with the military commanders in Swat. The journalist more or less confirmed the views expressed by the two army officers.

There seem to be a lack of confidence between the Army in Swat and the politicians and this is to the disadvantage of the people of Swat. The two sides have to remove the lack of confidence in each other if they wish to retain respect among the people of Swat, who now feel abandoned by both the army and the political leaders.

The media should be robust in its response to the violence used by the Taliban. Many people in Swat also believe they have been abandoned by the media as well. One person told me he had been contacting famous media persons like, Hamid Mir, Kamran Khan and Dr Shahid Masood to as them to highlight in their TV shows the daily violence committed by the Taliban, but none of them ever replied.

Any civilised society would have come to a complete standstill upon an incident like the disrespect to the dead body of Pir Samiullah. But in Pakistan it has been business as usual. When the holy warriors insulted the dead body of Dr Najibullah the society in Pakistan remained indifferent. Now this act of disrespect has been committed well inside Pakistan–Swat has no border with Afghanistan. I am afraid that in future such acts could be repeating themselves in Lahore and Islamabad. People across Pakistan must send–for their self-interest, if not for moral reasons–a strong message to the Taliban that their brutal means of violence are not acceptable. Otherwise, we must be ready to see more such kicks to the face of civilisation in our country.

The writer is a research fellow at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Research, University of Oslo. Email: bergen34@yahoo.com (The News, 27 Dec 2008)