A resident of Swat writes: What the people of Swat really wanted

What the people of Swat really wanted
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Lakhkar Khan

The writer is a resident of Swat who had to flee his home and is currently living in Lahore.

The Feb 16 agreement hasresulted in the planned promulgation of the Nizam-e-Adl regulation in Malakand division, in which Swat district is situated. The government’s plea is that this is the demand of the people of Malakand division. However, those who made this announcement – in particular the ANP chief minister Amir Haider Hoti – should know that the people of Malakand division voted in favour not of Sharia but for secular, nationalist and democratic parties in the general elections of 2008.

The fact of the matter is that the ANP and the PPP contested the election on the stand that they would fight to eliminate terrorism and extremism, so it is a bit ironic that both parties have now done just the opposite. They failed to face the situation in Swat and have gone down on bended knees before the extremists.

The people of Buner, Shangla, Malakand, Lower and Upper Dir and Chitral never voted for the implementation of Sharia and did not rise up against the state for its implementation. In Buner people actually went after and killed some of the militants, and rose together as one against the extremists. And as a result of this, the militants killed over 40 people in one village of Buner alone as revenge. Despite this the people of the area never surrendered to the extremists, so they are going to be right in wondering that if they did not surrender, why has the government done just that? They ask why the state, despite having all the resources to nip this evil in the bud, chose to yield to the extremists.

Sufi Mohammad, someone who is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of young men of Malakand, was inexplicably released from prison and his crimes of the past were conveniently forgiven. He is the very person who in 1994 challenged the writ of the state to the extent that his followers killed security personnel and even an MPA. This happened in Swat and Dir but the then Sherpao government ruling the NWFP for some reason withdrew all charges against Sufi Mohammad and his colleagues. In 2001, he declared jihad against the US in Afghanistan and took several thousand of his followers there to fight. Sufi Mohammed led these young men to their deaths in Afghanistan, and was the first to leave the battlefield together with his close followers when the American B-52 bombers came. Hundred of the others who went with him lost their lives and hundreds are still missing. On his return, the political agent of Kurram Agency imprisoned him under the Frontier Crimes Regulations and that was when his son-in-law, Fazlullah, filled the gap and established a foothold in Swat.

Strange are the way of politics in this country because one day someone is a killer and the next day he is labelled as a hero – and this is done by parties that claim to be the most secular and democratic in the country.

As for Fazlullalh, we all know what he did and continues to do. He challenged the state’s authority and his followed killed police constables, and army and paramilitary personnel in a most brutal manner. His group bombed schools and bridges, as well as the houses and hujras of many who tried to stand up to them. They deliberately targeted social, political and moderate religious figures and journalists in the district and many were killed and the rest compelled to leave Swat. Hundreds of thousands of people, like myself, were dislodged from their homes, and had to flee Swat. Most are now living a miserable life in other areas of Pakistan, and despite the so-called peace deal they are not sure if they can return to their homes. Not only were people’s lives and property were destroyed, the region’s whole economy was devastated by the terrorists. Fruit orchards went to waste because people were too afraid to work in the fields, and local businesses suffered immensely because tourism vanished. Over 2,000 innocent people, including many women and children, were killed and thousands were disabled and wounded in indiscriminate shelling and firing by security forces and the militants. As a result of the barbaric actions of Fazlullah and his followers, the centuries-old soft image of Swat and its inhabitants, based on its rich heritage dating back to its Buddhist and Swat-state eras, was lost forever. Did the government consider all this when it chose to capitulate to the extremists? What the people of Swat wanted was for the government to ensure that those behind all these murders and mayhem are held accountable for their crimes.

This brutality and carnage will not be forgotten easily by the people of Swat. It has taken its toll not just in physical terms but also on the mental wellbeing of the people of the area whose minds have been scarred. The mental health of women and children in particularly has been damaged by the actions of the militants and the incessant violence that they indulged in.

It is abominable that the government is actually now going to declare a general amnesty for Fazullah and his men, people who are directly responsible for all these deaths and atrocities that were inflicted on the people of Swat in the last two years. In this instance I would like to quote from one of this newspaper’s recent editorials following the so-called peace deal. “Fazlullah’s numerous acts of violence, his attempts to stifle learning and the way in which he targeted the most vulnerable citizens, show that he indeed cares nothing for Islam – a religion that advocates kindness for the oppressed, emphasises the significance of learning and lays down rules of respect for women, for minorities and even for enemies…. It seems obvious the ignorant forces of Fazlullah seek only power and are willing to use any means to obtain this.” This is precisely what the people of Swat think of Fazlullah and his men, but for obvious reasons were not able to articulate or demonstrate in public.

And what is the end result now? What is one to make of this deal? That Fazlullah has emerged victorious. And that both the federal and provincial governments are taking credit for the promulgation of Sharia in Swat. As for the people, they see this as nothing but an abject surrender to the forces of obscurantism and darkness, a surrender which presents a bleak future for the people of the area.

Sufi Mohammed is now the officially-sanctioned saviour of the people, but what about the people themselves? They have lost everything and gained nothing. And I say this because the deal gives them nothing in terms of holding accountable all those who killed, butchered and slaughtered hundreds of Swatis. Who will heal their bleeding hearts and souls? Certainly not this agreement.

The fear is that the militants will not remain confined to Malakand but will demand the same deal in the settled areas of the NWFP and in FATA as well. And they will use the same tactics and brutal force against the security forces and the people as they did in Swat. What will our politicians do then? Will they bow before them again? Or will they exercise the state’s authority? It shouldn’t take too long to wonder what the likely option will be, keeping in mind the Swat experience.

The people of Swat ask why the state is silent, rather than ensuring their rights, and why it treats those who are murderers and criminals and those who took up arms against the state as born-again heroes. They ask why this is done. What message is sent to those who abide by the law and want to have nothing to do with these militants and born-again heroes?

The people of Swat also say that financial compensation as is being announced by the government will not help heal the wounds. But what will is an independent high-level judicial probe into what happened in Swat, followed by accountability of those involved in the killings and violence. This is what the agreement should really be providing them – not the space and the legitimacy to the militants which is what they think has happened. (The News)

Email: lakhkarkhan51@yahoo.com

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