Horror amid the hills
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Vaguely, all of us know of the conflict raging in Swat. It is uncertain if the true extent of the horror that reigns there has dawned on us. The situation appears to resemble Afghanistan during its worst days under the Taliban. An ultimatum has been issued by the local extremists imposing a ban on education for girls. They have threatened force to impose it. Dozens of schools have closed doors. Pupils who had studied for years for their matriculation exams sit at home, in despair. There are reports that, much like what happened in Afghanistan, some daring local women have set up ‘secret’ schools within homes to educate girls, who drift in, in twos and threes, to avoid attracting attention. Only some stories are emerging of the terrors unfolding in the area. One tells the tale of a woman, condemned by militants and then killed as a prostitute only because she insisted on continuing work at a local school in Mingora. The woman, a mother of three, had little option than to do so anywhere given that her husband had died some years ago. A local cleric who tried to help her was punished himself, and ordered by militants to leave Swat. The fate of the children who their mother was supporting is unknown.
In the area, people talk of a daily litany of atrocities. People who dare speak out against the militants have been accused of being spies for the US and the government. This accusation can bring with it death or severe beatings. People also face oppression at the hands of security forces, which have, in some cases, been known to harass residents of villages. Those who can do so have fled. Many who remain either have nowhere else to go, or, like a few brave political leaders who oppose militancy, have chosen to stay on because of their commitment to a cause they believe in and their refusal to abandon their homes.
The situation in Swat is grotesque. It is shameful that we have allowed this to happen in our midst; that in Islamabad the government keeps up pretence of normalcy and claims it is succeeding against militancy. The situation in Swat receives sporadic media attention; occasionally human rights activists speak out against it. Far more urgent action is needed. There is not time any longer to watch and wait. The federal government needs to intervene to stop the atrocities in Swat. The abuse of rights must be ended. Girls and young women must be able to claim their place in society as equal citizens who enjoy constitutional protections. The killing of innocent people caught up in a conflict that has destroyed hundreds of homes and devastated a far greater number of lives must be ended. The ANP government has expressed displeasure over what is happening and questioned the central government policy. Clearly some at least in its ranks believe there is a lack of genuine effort directed against militants. All those in a position to make decisions or to influence policy must play a more active part in ending the Talibanisation of Swat and saving its people from a situation in which security and all sense of safety has been completely shattered. (The News)