Swat, o Swat! Could it be that the former “assets” of the state are now turning their guns on their former benefactors?

Thursday, January 29, 2009
Kheyam Khan

The people of Swat are confused. They wonder how the might of the Pakistan Army cannot subdue the Taliban of Swat. The Swat insurgency and the “counter-insurgency” must be given priority attention by the country’s intelligentsia.

With the beginning of “Operation Rah-e-Haq” in November 2007 people hoped that security in the region will improve. They were optimistic about the operation and welcomed the military with flowers and garlands. But gradually over time this trust receded and now it is practically non-existent.

People now have their reservations about the operation. They ask pertinent questions about it. They see a lack of willingness on the part of the “state” to curb the militancy. This perception is now held by the intelligentsia, particularly the Pukhtun intelligentsia. They contend that if the state’s military can stand up to a military as strong and large as India’s, how can it not handle an internal insurgency carried out by a few thousand armed men?

And whenever the state expresses and acts on the will to bring law and order to the region it is able to do so, as happened in the February 2008 election. Before the election everyone was concerned whether the election was possible in the Swat valley. But to everybody’s amazement it was not only held but held peacefully, except in one constituency.

People ask who made the “miracle” possible then. Again this goes in the line of the argument that if “powerful state actors” will it then things can be settled in weeks.

The Swat issue started with the advent of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The TNSM was founded in 1989 in Malakand Agency at a time when the Soviets were leaving Afghanistan. The rise of the TNSM in Malakand Division at a time when the Taliban were gaining power in Afghanistan is not mere coincidence.

Overnight an elderly man rose from the hills of Maidan and became a hero. Before that nobody knew who Sufi Mohammad was. And later his movement was crushed in a couple of days because the state willed it – and after that there was complete peace in the valley. Tourists again began to pour back in and life once again became vibrant.

The peace was broken when the son-in-law of Sufi Mohammad gave his first sermon on the FM radio. It was post-9/11, and there was apparently drastic shift in Pakistan’s foreign policy. Pakistan became a frontline state in the war on terror, but the Pukhtun intelligentsia thinks – and this is conception shared by many others as well – that its “assets” had to be guarded as well, and hence Swat was made a “haven” for some of them.

The unwillingness of the state to fight the militancy head-on, they claim, was evident by the way it loosened the grip which it had established over the militants in their stronghold of Gut Peuchar in Matta tehsil. Many residents of the valley wonder whether this was done by design.

Another claim is that the tactics and strategies the Swat militants use are not the work of semi-literate mullahs. The intention is to crush any hint of resistance from among the local population and hence the daily killing of people and the hanging of their dead bodies in public squares. Similarly, targeting the leadership is a tried-and-tested war tactic throughout history. Could it be that the former “assets” of the state are now turning their guns on their former benefactors? This is a question on a lot of people’s minds.
(The News)

The writer is a researcher and has written this under a pseudonym for the sake of his own safety. Email: kheyamkhan @gmail.com