Taliban brutality in Swat: Muted protests won’t do
By Zubeida Mustafa
PAKISTANIS have perfected the art of protest.
In 2007 Musharraf’s coup against the judiciary brought lawyers on to the roads until ‘democracy’ returned to this country. But why are the voices of protest so muted when it comes to Swat? To protest against such tragedies is a duty. And Swat is a tragedy that will ultimately shape the future of
Is there something more to the situation in Swat than meets the eye? True, the events there have been overshadowed by the larger picture of the war against terror in Fata and
• The figure for civilian casualties runs into hundreds.
• 200,000 of Swat’s 1.7 million population have fled their homes.
• The government’s effective writ has receded from the state’s 5,337 sq km to 36 sq km around Mingora.
• To terrorise the people, militants resort to a public show of barbarity and instances have been reported of men’s throats being slit and their corpses being left hanging from poles with a warning that they should not be removed.
• Women have been ordered to stay home and those defying the ban have been proclaimed prostitutes and slain.
• Girls’ schools — the number varies from 170 to 200 — have been torched or bombed and female education prohibited.
• Men resisting the Taliban have been declared informers and accomplices of the government and shot dead or have had their property destroyed.
• The militants dominate the airwaves and Maulana Fazlullah’s FM radio continues to pour out its retrogressive messages of violence.
• Swat today has a visible presence of foreigners from
• People speak of terrorists/training camps operating in the area.
• Tourism the mainstay of Swat’s economy is at a standstill.
These atrocities are shocking and you wonder why people are silent. And then one voice is raised on the Internet. It is Shaheen Sardar Ali’s, a native of that region who teaches law at the
she asks: “How long before we will say: enough is enough and rise, speak and act? How much more suffering before we declare emphatically that we refuse to be harassed and silenced any longer and demand answers for the wrongdoings meted out to us? How many more humans will have to be slaughtered, before we stand up and say NO.”
There is method in the madness that has engulfed Swat. This is not simply a battle between two civilisations — one seeking to impose by force its own brand of the Sharia on the people and the other resisting this imposition. If it was just a struggle of this kind, the army with its superior firepower and commitment to defend the writ of the state could easily have checked the insurgency and brought peace to this idyllic valley.
The Taliban by and large do not enjoy the support of the population, we are told, and so this is not a classical case of guerrilla conflict which defies conventional strategies of law enforcement. If Swat continues to be in flames even six months after Operation Rah-i-Haq was launched, there is something sinister going on up there. Has the old game of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds returned to the agenda of the defenders of this land? While the army claims it is waging a war against the Taliban, strangely enough the enemy seems to be thriving as it expands its operations.
At stake is the credibility of the army which has not been helped by the contradiction between words and deeds that is striking. This is not something we are not familiar with. In his exhaustive study of the Pakistan Army, Crossed Swords, Shuja Nawaz speaks of “local militant groups with shadowy links, past or present, to the ISI”, which was, along with other agencies, “allowed to keep open ties to Islamic groups”. Even in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks we have the US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Richard Boucher, speaking last week of delinking the Inter Services Intelligence from terrorist groups in
And what about our political parties that now feign to be so powerless in Swat? They have all contributed in one way or another to facilitating the rise of Islamic militancy. Just read what Dr Fazal-ur-Rahim Marwat of the
It is difficult to define the changing equations between the numerous stakeholders. Now when the genie is out of the bottle, who will take the blame? The common people of Swat will have to bear the brunt and for many of them the gula-i-nargis will never bloom again, though the crisis is not of their making. firstname.lastname@example.org
Mr PM, go to Swat and FATA not Davos
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Shireen M Mazari
Yes, many of us have been guilty of ignoring the escalating crisis in Swat as well as across the FATA region which has now spread to the settled areas right up to and into the provincial capital of
There are those who have pointed out that Swat is not an area where the
It is time the provincial government, with adequate resources provided by the centre, move back into control and begin establishing the writ of the government by reinstating the Qazi courts and providing effective governance and rule of law to the people of the area. The much maligned process of dialogue needs to be established but with the backing of force on the part of the government. And by definition, dialogue has to be with militants since they are the source of the problem and they are our citizens. Paramilitary forces should be there to provide the security for schools and to the local people including the local political leadership. It is inconceivable that if the media can access the militants and those terrorising the populace, the state cannot bring the guilty to justice and the military and paramilitary forces, with all their intelligence and physical resources cannot identify, isolate and arrest those guilty of murder, mayhem and terrorisation of the people of Swat. Clearly, deliberate games are being played by various powerful elements within the state while the people of Swat bleed on.
The same is true of FATA. The military should never have gone in simply because the
In any case, it is time to take the military out of FATA and replace it with paramilitary forces – again under civilian control. The civilian government, in this case the federal government, has to take ownership and direction of policy for re-establishing peace in the area. Why has no political leader visited these troubled areas in all these years, especially after the February 2008 elections? There is a need to bring the Political Parties Act into FATA as well as numerous small businesses, without waiting for the
Sound too fanciful? Not really. In fact, only when militancy and chaos are at a peak does the state find itself able, if it has the gumption, to move drastically in an "out of the box" mode. But the first beginning that needs to be made is to create space between ourselves and the
On the nuclear issue also, the hype is once again building up against
As for the Obama Administration supporting democracy, that will only happen when the Americans can distinguish between institutions and rule of law on the one hand, and individuals in power on the other, and move towards supporting the former rather than the latter. In
The writer is a defence analyst. Email: email@example.com
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Militants, who now control well over half of the
The federal information minister has promised schools in Swat will re-open by March 1. She has not clarified by what means this will be brought about or whether there is any expectation that Swat will, by then, be liberated. The NWFP government has suggested it could offer education to girls from Swat in other districts, possibly be establishing second shifts at schools that are already functioning. It is not clear how practical issues, such as distances or transport, will be handled or if these have also been considered. Unless entire families are shifted, the threat posed by militants will remain. The fact that many students in Swat have not been able to regularly attend classes for over a year will also mean they will struggle to sit matriculation or intermediate exams in April, even if they get a chance to do so. The need to save Swat from the brutality of militants must be taken up as an issue of the foremost priority. The government simply cannot afford to accept a situation where tens of thousands of girls remain out of school month after month. Even in the sprawling city of
The people of Swat have suffered enormously due to the conflict that has ravaged their homeland. They have faced atrocities at the hands of both troops and militants. Of the valley's 1.8 million people, over half are estimated to have fled. Those who remain live every moment in fear, forced most often to comply with the demands of militants who have made their ruthlessness obvious. These people must be saved. Sanity must be restored to the area, people enabled to resume lives and children, especially girls, permitted to attend schools and reach out towards the opportunities that education offers them. Denying them this amounts to an unforgivable crime, the perpetrators of which must be punished.