Swat Situation after the Military Operation

Swat after the operation
By Khadim Hussain: Dawn, January 22, 2008

ON Jan 16, a military spokesman claimed that the Pakistan Army had restored peace to the Swat valley and would wrap up the operation within a few days. He further claimed that the armed militants had been successfully flushed out from the area, and that thenceforth peace would be maintained by the local residents and the police.

But two days later, Swat’s local media reported that the operation was being reinforced and that it continued to be in full swing in the valley. House-to-house search operations were also taking place.

All this comes in the wake of a series of incidents of violence against some well-known personalities of Swat. Thus on Dec 27, 2007, Asfandyar Amirzeb, a former provincial minister and member of the royal family, was blown up in a bomb blast in Manglawar village near Mingora. He was a nephew of former governor NWFP Miangul Aurangzeb and also of former federal minister Gohar Ayub Khan.

Another well-known person to be attacked was Mohammad Sher Khan, who had led a peace march with white flags soon after the military launched its operation in the valley. He narrowly escaped death. Bakhtmand Khan, known for his opposition to the activities of Maulvi Fazlullah, was also blown up.

On Jan 13, Bakht Baidar, a popular political worker and a member of the ANP, was abducted from his house in Mamderhai reportedly by masked and armed Taliban and was later found murdered outside his village. The late Bakht Baidar was known for his progressive political work in the valley. His crime? He had been resisting Maulvi Fazlullah’s agenda from the outset. He was also known to have cooperated with security forces during their operation in the valley. The people of the village had alerted the local security post but to no avail.

When the government first launched a military operation in Swat almost three months ago, the people of the valley had high hopes that peace would soon be restored, and the valley would regain its position as a tourist attraction. It is a pity that a misleading impression is being created all over the country that peace has returned to the valley when the people there live in fear of suicide bombings and killings.

It is plain that the locals firmly believe that the armed militants who were the raison d’etre of the military operation are still at large. The core leadership of Fazlullah’s organisation is still intact and the well-known FM radio still disseminates sermons, threats and exhortations from militants. A number of civilians and security personnel were killed and wounded during the operation as a result of which the whole valley remains in the grip of fear and terror.

The armed militants have the capacity to successfully reach any target and accomplish their mission of terror. Both Asfandyar Amirzeb and Bakht Baidar were killed at a time when curfew had been clamped. A sub-valley of Kabal is still a no-go area for the local population and has been cut off from Mingora, the main hub of business. On the other hand, the security forces exhort the local people to maintain peace in their own villages. Though the people have established peace committees in several villages, they seem to have lost hopes of seeing their valley as a cradle of peace once again.

Most people feel confused and depressed. They seem to be unable to reconcile themselves to the reality of the destruction around them. Life seems to be paralysed for the people of the valley. Target killing is expected to become the norm. The ruthless manner in which the search operation is being conducted and the ensuing destruction of houses in the valley are creating a ripple of resentment among the people. Shortage of flour and continuous load-shedding of gas and electricity have added fuel to the fire.

The people face a severe socio-economic crisis as continuous violence has left most small and medium-sized businesses destroyed. Most of the 558 girls’ schools have either been pulled down or made non-functional. Hospitals, roads, bridges and houses have been destroyed. Though a package for the reconstruction of the valley has been announced by President Musharraf, the government has yet to draw up a proper plan.

One can observe an increase in the rate of begging in different parts of the valley. Hotels alone have reported financial loss worth hundreds of millions of rupees. The people have serious doubts in the ability of the government to come to their rescue.

Service delivery institutions in a large part of the valley are paralysed while the National Disaster Management Authority has banned international humanitarian relief organisations from working in the Swat valley. The people think that they are badly in need of instant relief. They wonder whether the NDMA will remove the ban on international humanitarian relief organisations so that they can help them cope with the disaster.

The general belief is that the fundamental issues which have caused and that will continue to cause resentment that feed militancy have still not been addressed. The issue of judicial reforms is considered to be the foremost. In the past, the people of the valley had the positive experience of a responsive judicial system and an efficient law and order machinery.

While the constitutional status of Swat is yet to be defined, the people would like to have a simple and responsive justice system in place. The development process that is at present based on the revenue record has to incorporate the sensibilities of the local population, if one of the major hurdles in the development process is to be removed. Socio-cultural institutions have to accommodate the marginalised and the emerging middle classes to prevent violence in future.

Devolution and decentralisation of political and economic power in the governance structure have to be adopted as a policy by the federal and provincial governments to stop providing fodder for militancy and extremism. Institutionalisation of tourism, redefinition of the forest policy, management of the use of natural resources and power generation from the Swat River are other significant issues that the people consider essential to be resolved to mitigate the wave of extremism and militancy in the valley.

All fundamental issues could be translated into a holistic vision and could be presented to the 1.6 million people of the valley to bring lasting peace and prosperity to Swat. The people also expect the political parties, the media, civil society and the intelligentsia to come to their rescue to help them start living a peaceful and normal life once again.

The writer is a socio-political analyst based in Islamabad.khadim.2005@gmail.com

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