In the grip of fear

MINGORA, the Swat valley’s major business hub, finds itself once again enveloped in the dark clouds of fear.

On Oct 9, 2012, the 14-year-old nominee for the International Children’s Peace Prize, winner of the National Peace Award and recipient of the Sitara-i-Jurrat Malala Yousufzai, was attacked along with two other girl students. In August 2012, a well-known social worker and hotel owner, Zahid Khan, was attacked in front of his house in Mingora.

Both these incidents put a question mark over the counterinsurgency strategy of ‘clear, hold and transfer’ and the Pakistan government’s counterterrorism framework of ‘dialogue, deterrence, development’, especially in the context of military operations in Swat since 2007.

The scenic valley, situated in the north of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and at a stone’s throw from Pakistan’s capital Islamabad, can be seen as a ‘model’ for four reasons.

First, it represents a de-tribalised Pakhtun society in which state institutions were developed on the basis of indigenous customs and values. Tribal and indigenous cultural values were preserved and linked with modern civilisation and the world at large through infrastructural development, educational progress and technological advancement. Openness, accommodation and acceptance defined the socio-cultural structure of this tourist spot, once the capital of the flourishing Gandhara civilisation.

Second, the Swat valley is also remembered for the contagion of militant discourse and as a place where extremist organisations have held sway over society from time to time. The ‘era’ of Sufi Mohammad’s Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Mohammadi (TNSM) started from 1989. Mullah Fazlullah’s Shaheen force period followed some years later in 2004 and then the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) emerged in the last quarter of 2007.

The TTP period was defined by barbaric acts of violence, large-scale bomb blasts, erosion of the socio-cultural and politico-economic capital, decimation of infrastructure and the establishment of a parallel state. Intense fear, lack of mobility, silence and retrogression were the hallmark of Swat during this time.

Third, Swat can be seen as a model in terms of military operations and the strategy of ‘clear, hold and transfer’ as well as the government’s framework of ‘dialogue, deterrence and development’. It is pertinent to remember that the political government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa twice held dialogues with the militant TTP in 2008. In a bid to neutralise the TTP’s discourse and isolate the group, the government even announced the implementation of the Nizam-i-Adl regulation in Swat that same year. The elected government took political responsibility for the use of force against the TTP in Swat in 2009, as it did for managing the displacement of almost 2.5 million people, caused by the military operations.

Earlier, the military had announced the success of an operation in December 2007/January 2008 which, later in 2008, was seen as having been ineffective in curbing insurgency and terrorism. While Gen Musharraf was in power at the centre and the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (an alliance of religious parties) in the province, the Swat chapter of the TTP had established strongholds of territorial control in Kabal, Charbagh, Barikot, Shamozai and Mingora towns in Swat.

The 2009 military operation saw the TTP Swat chapter disrupted with its leadership fleeing to Afghanistan’s Kunar province.

Since then, the military has been involved in the ‘hold’ part of the insurgency whereas ‘development’ is what the government is looking at.

Military and police check posts are spread over the length and breadth of the Swat valley. Search operations are consistently carried out by the military and police. Presently, the civilian administration is dependent on the military command’s ‘clearance’ for smooth administration and development.

Apart from the intense fear engendered in the local populace and damage to the socio-economic fabric, the period between 2007-2010 saw the creation of a vacuum as politically influential individuals were eliminated. The politicians and activists of the Awami National Party (ANP) bore the brunt of this campaign. Different phases of the military operations also saw the elimination of thousands of TTP foot soldiers. Anecdotes in the valley these days have it that even those who had greeted a Taliban commander have been either exterminated or picked up by unknown people perceived as the ‘agencies’.

Presently, military and police check posts dot the entire valley. It is bound by these in all directions and in all locations. The military is on ‘hold’ there for the last two years while the leadership of the Swat TTP continues its attacks on Barawal and Upper Dir and the border areas of Bajaur Agency from Kunar.

The fourth aspect is that the Swat valley could have been a model for rehabilitation, reconstruction and regeneration. The rehabilitation of infrastructure, of its cultural capital and social structure could have been achieved by the political leadership, civil society groups and the academia with the facilitation of the civilian government in the province. This could have paved the way for the smooth ‘transfer’ of administrative authority to the civilian set-up. Unfortunately, very little of the sort happened.

Today while Malala fights for her life, it seems that certain realities are feeding the unease of the common people in Swat. First, targeted killings and the increasing number of missing people, men and women, have created fear in the collective psyche of the people of Swat. Second, there is a sense of economic, social and political insecurity. Third, people in Swat are fast losing trust in the government, security agencies and state institutions. These are factors that need immediate attention.

The writer is a socio-political analyst.

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Comments (2) Closed

Agha Ata (USA)
Oct 14, 2012 01:28pm
And FOURTH: Our army is still sitting in long meetings to decide--God knows what. One of the generals said "such decisions cannot be taken quickly." Now the real cause of fear is that our army never thought of upcoming dangers at all, despite all the killing going on for a few years. Is this our army's way of defending us? That causes the real fear!
Oct 14, 2012 08:06am
If the Military was serious about uprooting the Taliban this farce which is being played out for years would not be continuing. Not even an inch of territory in KP and FATA has been cleared of militants. The scene playing out looks like a dog chasing the shadow of its tail around a tree. Meanwhile the Taliban continue to drive around the countryside in their Pajero's crisscrossing military check posts while the people hear stories about sacrifices of the soldiers.