By Zeeba T Hashmi
December 02, 2014
There is a theory that water is the medium that can store memory in its mass. In Swat’s case this has to be true, because every village, every a man, woman or child there has a story to tell. This is a story of a heaven found, but lost to human tragedy and bloodshed.
Years ago I was in the valley as a child, happy faces greeting me, the far purple mountains teasing my childhood curiosity. Years later I couldn’t find the same innocence that this once happy valley held. A sense of gloom lurks in the hearts of those who suffered the worst bloodshed ever, leaving permanent scars for generations to follow. The horrors of Mingora Chowk, known as ‘Khooni Chowk’ are still fresh with memories of decaying bodies left there hanging by the bloody regime of the Taliban, who had become a dangerous liability than a strategic asset.
For The People Of Swat, The Suffering Is Not Over.
According to locals, Mullah Fazlullah had gained quite a lot of popularity initially, but people started getting suspicious as his views got violent. Their request to get his radio channel jammed fell on deaf ears. And before any action could take place, it was already too late to settle things down. The Nizam-e-Adl fiasco and the TTP takeover of the entire area still didn’t cause any alarm bells to ring in the capital. It was only after the international media picked the story of a large number of IDPs from the area did the establishment take some notice and announce Operation Rah-e-Rast to bring order back to Swat.
The main TTP operations were removed from the area, and it was once again live-able. The military action was considered effective for the time being, but questions about the steps to restore livelihoods or compensate IDPs still remain a source of discontent among the local people, making them lose trust even in the most vocal political parties which have been targeted by the TTP for their opposition to militancy. Stories of brutalities are still on the rise, and those who are affiliated with the more secular parties remain on the hit-list.
As a prominent young advocate and human rights activist there says: “In these circumstances, the Election Commission of Pakistan has not treated Swat, Malakand and Fata with fairness in terms of providing them security like they have in Punjab and also in Balochistan now on the instructions of the Supreme Court of Pakistan”. The ECP has banned use of personal security in political campaigns. “This, by any means, is a ridiculous decision for security sensitive areas, and Swat is not out of danger yet. The ECP knows that for any political party, the election campaign starts much before than the election dates. The targeted parties have not been able to openly campaign for elections here due to lack of security, so how is the election/polling process fair?”
Despite the sacrifices by politicians and the military, there remains a sense of general discontent among the local population who have complaints against both the military and the provincial government. These apprehensions are linked heavily with issues of resettlement and compensation of the IDPs and the issue of missing persons in Swat which is hardly ever discussed in mainstream media. According to an estimate, the main rehabilitation process came from help from outside sources or through a self-help basis, whereas help from the government was just a little less than five percent. The UAE, China and other international donors seem to have contributed more towards reconstructing girls schools that had been destroyed. The development index is now slightly better in terms of women’s education, but the situation still remains volatile.
On the subject of missing persons, there seems to be no official data to authenticate it, but local perceptions estimate it to be between 10,000 and 12,000 people who have not been able to be traced since the operation. There were reports of how villagers were kept hostage or forced to join TTP recruiters at gunpoint, leaving them with no choice but to join lest their family members were butchered.
Locals of the area are not too keen on the military operation either, saying that TTP leaders are still roaming free, and that not a single master-mind has ever been caught. This is the main reason why the people of Swat have lost trust in the provincial government – for not raising the issue properly with the government and the army. Another important question is: why the differences between the most wanted list published by our establishment and that of the CIA’s?
It seems that bad governance and the lack of interest of the provincial government in resolving the issues of the local population, including the way the ECP operates there, have resulted in the loss of political enthusiasm in the people of Swat. Apparently they did see a ray of hope in the PTI’s tsunami, but the party’s ticket being given to an outsider rather than an local contestant prompted a protest by the people of Swat in Mingora during the PTI’s procession there during election campaign, propelling a panicked Imran Khan to cancel tickets to seats in all Malakand division, citing ‘lack of merit’ as the main reason for such a drastic announcement, and thus making it impossible for the party to earn the trust of the locals in the region.
This lack of trust in the political parties due to misdistribution of tickets gave a chance to the Muttahida Deeni Mahaz, an alliance of religious parties in the region to move in. This can have an impact similar to what the MMA brought in during Musharraf’s tenure after he caused a political vacuum by ousting the main political parties from political participation there. It must be noted that some parties that are part of such an alliance are already banned and have renamed themselves to be able to contest the elections.
The people of Swat have seen enough bloodshed, and are still suffering from the psychological impacts of being crushed by terrorism and military operations. But they have learnt to become resilient.