Is militancy in Swat over?

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  • The army took the lead

Swat has come a long way from the days when the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) ruled the roost; when Mullah Fazlullah called the shots, cycling around with his portable FM radio transmitter, spewing venom against the state and Pakistan army. The peace loving people of Swat were held at gunpoint; their businesses looted, schools closed and the Gestapo like TTP publicly flogging and executing people at the faintest suspicion of sympathising with the state. Today Swat stands smiling. In 2009, the world was shocked because the TTP were poised only sixty kilometers from the capital Islamabad. The army fought back and after suffering huge loss of its personnel, it liberated the valley from the clutches of the terrorist, who beat a hasty retreat to neighbouring Afghanistan. Mullah Fazlullah has elevated himself from a lowly chair lift operator to the head of the TTP. He has found safe haven in Afghanistan, from where he is conducting and executing terror attacks on Pakistan, including the deadly 2014 assault on Army Public School Peshawar during which 145 innocent children were mercilessly butchered.

Pakistan army has played a major role in the reconstruction of Swat and the rehabilitation of its people. In a recent gesture, as a gift for the resilient people of Swat, an army Public School and College with a capacity of 3,600 students was established as the first project of the cantonment. While inaugurating the state of the art facility, COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa declared it as one of the best Army Public Schools in entire country.

The businesses of the people of Swat are flourishing today and tourism is increasing. The internationally famous ski resort of Malam Jabba, which had been destroyed by the TTP, has been rebuilt and national ski championship events are now being regularly hosted.

According to William Avis of GSDRC, drivers of conflict in the Swat Valley consist of a diverse mix of historical, social, economic and political factors linked to the absorption of the region into the British Empire

Expressways are linking Swat with motorways. All the schools which were destroyed and burnt by the militants have been reconstructed, much better than before. It is the army which stood with the people in all odds like floods, earthquakes as well as in fighting militancy and people of Swat cherish this asset.

It was curious to find out the causes of the people of Swat being attracted to the diktat of Mullah Fazlullah initially. Even ordinary housewives donated their jewellery to his cause, because he exploited the sympathies of the people, playing on their religious sentiments. It was not till the full fury of Mullah Fazlullah’s barbaric reign was unleashed on the people that the truth came out. Case study of militancy in Swat reveals inequalities and inaction in its foundation. Prima facie, the grievances of people needed to be addressed by the government. Requirement of independent of political influence policing and justice system, strong and resourceful institutions, realisation of local concerns and strong weapon control system also figure out to be reasons behind the militancy. Benazir Bhutto, during her brief reign, tried to provide a speedy justice system but it was a case of too little, too late.

According to William Avis of GSDRC, drivers of conflict in the Swat Valley consist of a diverse mix of historical, social, economic and political factors linked to the absorption of the region into the British Empire and, latterly, independent Pakistan alongside more proximate factors such as international interventions in Afghanistan (1979, 2001) and decades of poor governance. The drivers include: Historical factors linked to the colonial and post-colonial legacy of the Swat Valley’s absorption into the British Empire and later independent Pakistan. Religious factors and the role religious leaders play in Swat Valley society. Whilst the Pashtunwali code of conduct had served as a tool for conflict resolution, the emergence of the Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariah-Mohammadi (TNSM) propagated by Mullah Fazlullah and their desire to impose Shariah law in the region led to conflict both within the Swat Valley and with the Pakistani government.

Political and judicial factors such as the underdeveloped judicial system and ineffective local government which created social cleavages and played a major role in the rise of TNSM and TTP as political forces in the area. In the context of Afghanistan and Pakistan, where strong ethnic ties among Pashtuns exist, Pakistan has been inexorably drawn into discussions of Afghanistan’s fate as result of cross-border insurgent activity. Although gender was not initially a central conflict issue, it became a focal point at a later stage with destruction of girls’ schools and attacks on working women. Militants in these areas have exploited frustrations resulting from decades of weak governance, corruption and wide ranging socio-economic deficits. Attempts to resolve the underlying drivers of conflict in the Swat Valley have included military, humanitarian/developmental and legislative interventions. The Pakistan government’s response to the conflict has been the adoption of a three-pronged strategy based on dialogue, development, and deterrence. It entails deploying military force while also seeking to enhance development efforts and address persistent grievances.

However, once militancy had erupted, the most important requirement was a clearheaded and timely decision whether to launch an operation or not. If the governments in province and centre could have taken an in time decision for a military operation, big losses could have been avoided.

The case of Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai captured worldwide attention after a member of the militant group shot Yousafzai and her classmates as they sat in a school bus in 2012. Lying unconscious, Malala was evacuated to the Combined Military Hospital in Rawalpindi by the Pakistan army. It was the army surgeons who convinced a visiting British team to transfer her to the UK. The rest is history.

Malala Yousafzai returned to her hometown in Pakistan on Saturday for the first time since she was shot by the Taliban in 2012. Her arrival in her hometown comes during her first visit to Pakistan since she was shot. Yousafzai, 20, arrived by helicopter and went straight to her old house in Mingora in the Swat valley. Yousafzai also visited her old school and rekindled international interest in Swat.

Meanwhile some Pakistanis abroad are not helping the cause of Pakistan. Hussain Haqqani, former ambassador of Pakistan to the US, has been declared an absconder by the Supreme Court and is required to return to Pakistan to face charges against him. His Op-Ed titled “A Non-Ally Relationship with Pakistan” carried by the 12 January 2018 issue of “American Interest” does not help matters.