Historical analysis of extremism in Swat

Historical analysis of extremism in Swat or

Why Swatis support extremists

By Tahir Ali

(The News 2709-09)

Even though history regarded them as a nation that is inclined towards the mullah, the face of Swat and MD is changing fast

In his book, The Story of the Malakand Field Force, Sir Winston S Churchill wrote, “Perhaps half the tribesmen who attacked the Malakand had thought that the soldiers there were the only troops that the Sarkar possessed. ‘Kill these,’ they had said, ‘and all is done.’…These ignorant tribesmen had no conception of the sensitiveness of modern civilisation, which thrills and quivers in every part of its vast and complex system at the slightest touch.”

Churchill said that as entire Swat had been involved and around 12,000 armed men followed the “Mad Mullah, it was decided to mobilise a 3rd and Reserve Brigade.”

As a result, “The fearful losses which the enemy had sustained had made an appreciable diminution, not of an army, but of a population. For days their bodies lay scattered about. In the standing crops, in the ruins of villages, and among the rocks, festering bodies lay in the blazing sun, filling the valley with a dreadful smell. To devour these, great numbers of vultures quickly assembled and disputed the abundant prey with the odious lizards.

“The punishment that the tribesmen of the Swat Valley had received had broken the spirit of many, and several deputations came to make their submission. The Lower Swatis surrendered unconditionally, and were allowed to return to their villages. Of this permission they at once availed themselves, and their figures could be seen moving about their ruined homes and endeavouring to repair the damage. Others sat by the roadside and watched in sullen despair the steady accumulation of troops in their valley, which had been the only result of their appeal to arms.”

The appeal to arms has brought devastation to the region and the people yet again. Names of contenders have changed. But miscalculations on the part of the anti-state group and the results are so shockingly identical. In Swat at least history did repeat itself recently.

Swat and other districts of the Malakand division have been centres of intermittent religious — often hard-line — movements. The question is, are the Swatis prone to militancy too often? Are they extremists by nature?

Veteran nationalist politician Afzal Khan Lala says they (the Swatis) are not. “Had they been extremists, they would have supported religious parties in previous elections. Instead, all of the national and provincial assembly seats were taken by secular parties like ANP and PPP. They are a peaceful, moderate, tolerant and enlightened people. I think they were encouraged to support the militants by previous governments.”

According to Lala, the militants “were allowed to occupy the administration, the judicial system, emerald mines and the economy of the region. They fined, punished, abducted, killed and terrorised common people who defied their law, but they were not stopped.”

Earlier, Sufi Mohammad was brought over to Swat by the chief minister to harm Jamaat-e-Islami. He and his men took out weapons, cut off Swat and other districts from the rest of the country for days shouting ‘Shariat ya Shahadat’. The Shariah Regulation 1994 and another amended regulation in 1998 were enforced in submission to his demands — after all, the Pakistani constitution has Islamic provisions and there is no need for the new or old regulations. It requires a two-third majority in the parliament to amend the law but the gun-wielding militants forced the government to comply.

“Sufi was allowed to lead thousands of people to Afghanistan most of whom died there while he escaped. He would have been killed by the angry people in the area but the government took him into custody and saved him. This government released him, pinned high hopes on him to control militancy. On his demand, another regulation was enforced recently, Quaid-e-Azam’s pictures were removed from the room where he would negotiate with officials. But what did he do afterwards? He declared the entire Pakistani system anti-Islamic. He had lost the confidence of the people for his continuous summersaults. I told the NWFP chief minister on the phone not to make a leader of him. But the government went for another pact with him. We, the people of Swat, were not consulted. We have had to face destruction for the faults and wrongs of the previous governments.”

Lala adds aggressively, “Taliban unleashed a reign of terror, there is no question of supporting them or their abetters in the political arena.”

In his view, the Pukhtoons were a “gullible lot” and could be easily cheated in the name of Islam. This, he says, is true not only for the Pukhtoons in Malakand but also in other areas. “In Afghanistan, too, we’ve seen that. The west used mullahs successfully against freedom fighters like Ghazi Amanullah Khan. But what can you say when the Pukhtoons continue to kiss the hands and the feet of the mullahs while none of the family members of Ghazi lives there.”

Wajid Ali Khan, provincial Minister for Environment, says the people in Swat and Malakand have never been pro-extremism though historically they are pro-religion. He recalls that the people of the region voted for liberal parties like ANP and PPP ever since the 1970s. It was only in 2002 that they supported the MMA for a number of other factors.

“When the PATA regulation governing Malakand was declared null and void in 1994, a vacuum was created. The mullahs and, later, Taliban took advantage of the situation and created a crisis on the issue. The people didn’t support them. They just desired speedy and cheap justice. If they had love for them, why would they have gone out of the area when the army launched the operation? Their immediate departure nullifies the notion that the Swatis love Taliban,” he declares.

According to Mumtazuddin, a historian and former administrator of an IDP camp, Swat was a princely state which was merged into Pakistan in 1969. “My question is why wasn’t it made a normal part of Pakistan? Why was it made a semi-tribal region? Why was it governed by the PATA regulation and not by the normal law of the land?”

The women lot also supported the Taliban initially. A woman tells TNS in the Sheikh Yaseen camp in Mardan that she was enchanted by the sermons of Maulana Fazlullah. Another woman says she donated 70 tola gold to Fazlullah though she had to pay a heavy price for this. “My husband divorced me in anger,” she says. “We had no idea that our savings would be used to raise an army to kill and humiliate us, to confine us indoors and to flog us in public. We are ashamed we supported them.”

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About Tahir Ali Khan
I am an academic, freelance columnist, writer and a social worker.

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