Farhat Taj: Life in Swat after the peace deal

On Feb 16 a peace agreement was signed between Sufi Mohammad, leader of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) and the government of the NWFP with complete blessing of the PPP-led federal government.

Sufi Mohammad reached Swat with a promise to convince his son-in-law, Maulana Fazlullah, and his fighters to surrender weapons for the sake of peace.

Two months after the peace deal, how is life in Swat? What is happening to people? Is the peace deal working?

‘The peace deal is not working and will fall sooner than later,’ veteran ANP politician Afzal Khan Lala tells me. He is the only politician who is still standing up to the barbaric Taliban in Swat despite several death threats and the demands of his old age — the rest of the ANP leadership has fled the area.During a telephone conversation, he elaborated: ‘The peace deal has been made by non-Swatis. People of Swat have not been taken into confidence on the deal. Also, I was never consulted by the ANP government in making of the peace deal.’

Day-to-day happenings in Swat clearly indicate that the apprehensions of Afzal Khan Lala are not misplaced and the peace deal has been strengthening the writ of the Taliban over Swat’s 5,337-square-kilometre area. The Taliban have made the 1.7 million people of Swat hostage, and the people continue to suffer. The government in Swat seems helpless and paralysed. I will elaborate it with some examples.

Fazlullah, the leader of Swat Taliban, led the prayer at his home village, Mamdirai on Friday, April 3. He was warmly received by his followers, as well as military officials and officials of the district administration. Those who prayed behind him were key military and civil officers—including Brigadier Tahir Mubeen, Syed Javed Hussain, the commissioner of Malakand region, Khushhal Khan, the DCO of Swat, Danishwar Khan, Swat’s DPO and the man in charge of Operation Rah-e-Haq. After the prayers Fazlullah gave an emotional and threatening speech which was heard with zeal and respect by all, including the military and civil officials, like obedient subjects. How funny is it that key state functionaries are praying behind the terrorist who killed soldiers of the Pakistani army, NWFP police officers and civilians of the Valley.

During the telephone conversation with this writer Afzal Khan Lala said: ‘There cannot be two swords in one sheathe. There cannot be two kings of one land. In Swat one king is Fazlullah and the other the government.’ The conduct of the state functionaries in Swat showed who the real king of Swat is. The people of Swat owe an explanation from the Pakistani army and the government of the NWFP. Would the army care to explain why its commander in Swat was offering namaz behind the terrorists who killed soldiers of the army and policemen? Would the ANP government care to explain why its senior-level government servants pray behind a terrorist who killed civilians in the very constituency that elected the ANP to power? It is also pertinent to mention that police in Swat have registered at least 60 cases related to suicide bombings, kidnappings, attacks on civilians, police and armed forces and damage to public and private property against Fazlullah.

Taliban have created their own income-generation sources in Swat. They have taken over the possession of the famous Mingora emerald mines. Mingora city is the district headquarters and a busy commercial centre of the valley. The Shamozai emeraled mine, some 25 kilometres from Mingora and now the Gujaro Killay emerald mine in the adjacent district of Shangla are also under the control of the Swat Taliban. Mining is in progress in these mines and precious stones are auctioned in the premises of the Mingora mine every Sunday, where the dealers from all over Pakistan come for shopping. Federal and provincial governments have kept silent over this looting and plunder of State properties.

The Taliban are in league with the timber mafia. They are mercilessly cutting the forests of Malamjaba, Fatehpur, Miandam and Lalko. They also cut the fruit orchards of the landlord opponent to them. The fruit orchards in Barabandi, on the main road and near to army check post, have been cut down in broad daylight. Barabandi is some six kilometres from Mingora.

The Taliban have plundered the Training Institute for Hotel Management (Paitahm), a joint venture of Pakistan and Austria, and the Malam Jaba tourist resort. The Taliban have carried away its furniture, Computers and electric appliances, even its doors, windows and ventilators. They have established a warehouse in Barabandai where all these things are auctioned. The Taliban call it mal-e-ghanimat (war booty). This is another of the income-generation sources of the Taliban.

The Taliban militancy is spreading towards the lower part of Malakand. The Taliban have banned women from markets and bazaars in Batkhela and Thana towns in Malaknd. Thana’s Mina Bazaar, a famous market popular with women, has been razed to the ground.

There are several new training camps in Swat where the Taliban train teenage boys for militancy. The boys belong to the schools that have been destroyed by the Taliban. Lack of occupation and the jihadi preaching of the Taliban turn Swat’s young men to jihad. Their schools are destroyed.

The Taliban have banned TV and music and playing of cricket. The young men have no activity and the Taliban constantly invite them to jihad. Hundreds of boys have joined the training camps, most of them without the permission of their parents. According to the Taliban’s version of jihad, parents’ permission is not needed at all. The helpless parents have nobody to ask for help in order to stop their children from joining the Taliban. The Taliban threatens parents who stop their children from joining the so-called jihad.

Some months down the road Pakistani right-wingers and so-called liberal leftists obsessed with anti-Americanism will say that the Taliban are popular in Swat and the proof is that their ranks have grown. But today no one is paying attention to the plight of the helpless parents who earnestly wish to stop their children joining the ranks of the Taliban but have no one in the entire Pakistan to help them.

The Swat Taliban sent 350 fighters to strengthen the Dir Taliban. People in Dir have made a local people’s army against the Taliban. To combat the local people’s army the Dir Taliban sent an SOS call to the Swat Taliban, who sent armed Taliban to Dir to slaughter the people of Dir.

More than a hundred Taliban crossed from Swat into the adjacent district of Bunair on April 5. Arms clashes have been reported between the militants and the armed lashkar. The army has vacated many check posts on the demand of the militants in Swat. The Taliban are not allowing the army to enter the areas that they were occupying.

Commenting on this situation Afzal Khan Lala said: ‘The army will meet tough resistance and will suffer a great deal when retaking the area because the Taliban have strengthened their positions in Swat.’
The writer is a research fellow at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Research, University of Oslo, and a member of Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy.



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