THE ghosts of the past are coming back to haunt the residents of Swat Valley in the Malakand Division. Several recent incidents indicate that militants are reasserting themselves in the area, and have become emboldened enough to commit brazen acts of violence that hark back to the bad old days.
Last week, PTI MPA Malik Liaquat Khan was seriously injured and three others were killed in Lower Dir when the vehicle in which he was travelling came under attack by militants. A few days later a video surfaced on social media showing a man claiming to be a member of the TTP interrogating an army major whose hands had evidently been tied behind his back, and asserting that the militants had taken him and two others — a DSP and a soldier — hostage. A jirga later successfully negotiated the release of the captives.
These are highly disturbing indicators that have alarmed the people, many of whom turned out in various parts of KP to protest against the resurgent Taliban. A revival of the horrors witnessed during the years when the TTP’s Swat chapter led by Mullah Fazlullah — who was later to become the TTP emir — was in control of the area cannot be countenanced.
When the cleric first began inciting rebellion in fiery sermons on illegal FM frequencies in the mid-2000s, he caught the locals’ attention. Fed up with the dysfunctional governance and judicial system in the area, many were swayed by the words of the ‘Radio Mullah’; women even donated their jewellery to his cause.
The state apparatus was curiously lethargic to his tirades in which he also railed against girls’ education and polio vaccination. But the brutalities visited upon the locals by the militants when they held much of Malakand Division in their grip shocked the nation.
It took two kinetic operations to flush them out and establish the writ of the state in the area. That writ is once again being tested, and this time the authorities must not allow violent extremists a comeback.
While Mullah Fazlullah was killed in a US drone strike in Afghanistan in 2018, others from his outfit have been taking refuge in that country’s Kunar province which borders Dir, and from where they are believed to have crossed over into Pakistan.
There have been increasing reports over the past month about them establishing their presence in the area. But that begs the question why, of all the TTP chapters, are only militants from the Swat chapter evidently returning home? What are the terms of the ceasefire that the Pakistani state has agreed with them? Have they been allowed to return without laying down their arms, contrary to what had been publicly stated?
There is fear and confusion all around. It is for the state to bring clarity to the situation. The people have a right to know.
Published in Dawn, August 12th, 2022