Swat Valley After Emergency in Pakistan

Many believed that General Musharraf would act swiftly against the militants in Swat valley after he imposed a State of Emergency in Pakistan on Nov 3 2007. After all, extremism and militancy were what the general presented as an excuse to pull the plug on constitutional democracy and to suspend the fundamental rights in the country. There are several reports in today’s dailies that the militants have captured more installations over the last few days. According to the reports from the local residents, the whole valley, from Kanju to Kalam, has come under the control of Taliban over the last few days. Inamullah, a teacher, social worker and lexicographer, reports, “Taliban entered our village ‘Bahrain’ the other day with heavy weapons mounted on a cavalcade of vehicles snatched from government officials. They delivered a speech on megaphone near a police station and ordered the police to surrender and submit their weapons to them. The police had left the building just an hour ago and a group of local people was entrusted to guard the building. A few hours earlier the village elders had decided not to confront the Taliban but to persuade them to stay away from the area assuring them there would be no security personnel stationed in and around the village. The local people had decided to be impartial in the fighting between Taliban and the security forces. It was a historic day and I saw some very interesting scenes. Taliban moved forward through the valley and halted in Kalam town where local elders negotiated with them the same way. Now they have moved back to their stronghold and we hope our area (the upper hilly area of district Swat) will be safe from any impending military operation against Taliban, though it is true, we are nowadays living under Taliban”. There are also reports that several security personnel thought it safe to flee from the valley.

In the meanwhile, Federal Minister for Political Affairs, Amir Muqam, has expressed disappointment over the deteriorating situation in Swat valley, “to be frank, unfortunately, there has been no improvement or sign of improvement in the situation on ground even after the promulgation of emergency”. The people of the whole valley feel themselves hostage to the firebrand Maulana Fazlullah and his 500 hundreds die-hard militant followers based in the villages of Mamderhai, Koza Bandia, Ningolai and Bara Bandai. According to the residents, there may be some 3000 sympathizers of the Maulana who might support him but might not accompany him in resisting the security forces. The residents of the upper Swat have started migrating either to the lower part of the valley or to other parts of the country. Educational institutions, business markets and government offices are closed down. The people living in the affected areas are terrorized after some eight beheaded bodies of the security personnel were shown to the people by the militants to win the support of the people a few weeks ago.

Maualana Fazlurrahman, leader of a religio-political party, Jamiat-e-Ulemai Islam, said last Friday that the present situation in Swat was created as a result of the reaction of the masses against the policies of the present regime. In his view, the regime’s support of the US war on terror might be the main reason behind the insurgency. In the same vein, the interim government of the North West Frontier Province announced that it would reinforce the Sahria’a code earlier promulgated to appease the defunct Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) in the mid-nineties. As both of these assumptions are based on erroneous statistics, both seem to clearly miss the real target. In fact, a vast majority of the population in the valley has already lost trust in the religious leadership due to their inability to respond to the real problems of the people living in the valley. The religious leadership has ruled the province since the elections in 2002. Presently, Maulana Fazlurrahman has become a blue-eyed of the military regime after the imposition of emergency in the country. Sirajul Haqu, amir Jamaat-e-Islami N.W.F.P, called a Jirga in Chakdara on Oct 30, 2007 to gather support for Maulana Fazlullah who had been allowed by the MMA government to continue his activities. The Jirga called upon the government to end military operation in the valley. The local Taliban of Bajore and Momand Agncy also announced their support of Maulana Fazlullah on the same day.

One may see a clear pattern of external and internal factors instrumental in bringing the valley to the present critical stage. One has to be conscious, though, of the distinctive features of the valley. Situation in the valley begs an analysis separate from the situation in Federally Administered Tribal Areas located to the south of N.W.F.P.

The prominent among the external factors are the weakening of political institutions and the wave of militarization in the era of Ziaul Haque in the eighties. Afghan war and Zia’s dictatorship in a symbiotic relationship came dialectically opposed to the political institutionalization in the whole country, and especially in Swat valley, which remained under a benevolent autocracy for almost a century.

During the eighties and the early nineties, foreign funding in the shape of petro-dollars helped permeate Wahabi interpretation of Islam in a previously balanced socio-cultural fabric of the valley. Traditional elites, divided in two prominent social groups, had to give space to the religious and marginalized groups because of the politics of Dala-Para (social grouping). The existence of two groups would guarantee a balance in the exercise of political power. The lack of political process in the country did not allow the indigenous socio-cultural and socio-political institutions evolve after the merger of the valley with Pakistan in 1969. Merger of the valley with Pakistan created another vacuum. The previously responsive judicial structure was replaced with a judicial code termed Provincially Tribal Administered Areas (PATA). The people of the valley had neither familiarity nor patience with the lengthy procedures of litigation, and consequently the people were frustrated with the whole judicial process. The vacuum enlarged even more after the Supreme Court of Pakistan disbanded PATA in the early nineties.

Maulana Sufi Mohammad of the defunct TNSM apparently capitalized on this frustration of the people to launch his movement for the promulgation of his code of Sharia’a in the early nineties. The demands of Maulana Fazlullah seem to address the same old frustration of the people of the valley. The Maulana is probably not interested to address the issues related to the economic sustenance of the people.

Some observers also believe that the role of the national and international agencies may not be ruled out in the present situation of the valley. The observers are of the opinion that the US might be interested to contain the march of Chinese to Gawadar Port and the Karakuram Highway to have an access route to Central Asian oil reserves, which might become instrumental in future in keeping the US trade interests at bay in the region. The powerful Inter Services Intelligence of Pakistan, the observers believe, might be interested to block the deployment of NATO forces in the region. The local residents in Matta, Durushkhela and Ningolai told this scribe that they had seen the militants of Jaish-e-Mohammad and those who might have come from Waziristan helping the local Taliban in bringing the upper Swat under their control.

The key to understanding the internal factors lies in understanding the composition of Maulana Fazlullah’s supporters. The majority of the supporters belong to the lower rung of the social structure—the vocational groups who do not have a share in the land distribution of the area. The Maulana communicates with them in their language through his FM radio, gives them recognition, and owns them as his colleagues. The supporters of the Maulana in the marginalized groups take a sense of empowerment in their state of powerlessness. Both the state and the traditional elites along with the political elites of the valley, unfortunately, have all along failed to respond to the aspirations of those remained marginalized in an already marginalized society of Swat valley. It is where the Jihadist interpretation found its room. This is not to say that the interpretation of Maulana Fazlullah aims at getting empowerment for the marginalized groups of valley Swat. None of his demands asks for the development of infrastructure, employment, conservation of natural resources, development of socio-cultural institutions such as education, lifestyle, healthcare and transportation. Even if the government acquiesces into the demands of the Maulana, the common people and the marginalized groups of the valley will remain powerless and poor. The demands of the Maulana include wearing of head to toe veil for women, banning NGOs, closing down CD shops, and implementation of what he terms Islamic punishments for the wrong doers.

This article was first published at Khadim Hussain’s blog and is republished here by permission.

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