The Madyan Tragedy And The People Of Swat

The people of Swat have to admit that in the early days of this movement, the locals contributed generously. They cannot turn their faces away from it now by blaming it upon weak laws or an outside conspiracy

The Madyan Tragedy And The People Of Swat

In 1992, when Sufi Muhammad made the Malakand Division, and Swat in particular, the epicentre of his movement for the implementation of Shariat, a large majority of Swat's residents sided with him. Every summer, they would block the only road leading to and from Swat at the Malakand top. Summers quickly began to be associated with his movement's annual season. Then, his movement seized the Saidu Airport in 1993 and paralysed the local administration of Swat as he imposed his interpretation of Shariat on Swat. Being in my teens at the time, I too was also influenced by this movement. The ruling government of that time, however, reacted strongly to liberate the Swat Airport. Thwarted, the focus of this movement shifted to Afghanistan. 

Around a decade after Sufi Mohammad's movement, the Swat-based Taliban movement started in 2004. Initially, the local administration ignored it. Gradually, the activities of the Taliban movement increased, and a large number of locals started supporting this movement. People used to dedicate not only treasure to the movement's exchequer but also their time and energy to construct a seminary linked to the movement. People were so enthusiastic that they would travel from different areas of Swat and take turns to provide free labour to construct the seminary in the Mam Dheri village, located near the airport. Many opted to support it because they found themselves helpless before this movement as the state at the time was not only lax in clamping down on it but also tacitly supported this adventure.

The people of Swat have to admit that in the early days of this movement, the locals contributed generously. It found supporters in almost every village and hamlet across the Swat valley. This movement descended into a bloody period of brutal killings and wanton destruction of Swat's economy in 2008 as fear and panic took hold. In February 2009, a military operation was launched to root out the movement. As the military moved in, more than 1.5 million residents migrated out of Swat and other parts of Malakand and spent three to four summer months in tents and camps. Nearly two decades later, many displaced families have yet to return to their homes. The military operation, though, was so successful that militancy in Swat temporarily stopped. However, the operation left many local youths dead while many are still missing.

In 2010, dangerous floods swept through Swat, which added to the tragedy and misery of a region reeling from widespread destruction. Just as people were struggling with the floods, suspicious activities sprung up again on the hills of Swat. By 2022, these activities had increased after a deal with militants who had fled to Afghanistan. When these activities intensified in 2022, the eyes of Swat's residents widened, and the entire region stood up against the possibility of further terrorism. Large protests were held across Swat against any such movement by the Taliban. The widespread outrage by Swat's residents brought the dubious activities high on the hills in various valleys of Swat to a stop. 

Had the people of Swat woken up like they did in 2022, Swat would have never witnessed the worst militancy there in 2008 and 2009. But it took 15 years and a Taliban resurgence for the people to realise their folly and the heinous designs of the Taliban and similar movements. Everyone, from a hawker on the street to the intellectual, has learnt the truth, which many writers screamed in their pieces from 2004 to 2008. The political interpretation of religion, with which the Taliban movement had started, is being questioned.

What happened in Madyan, Swat, this past Thursday was the direct result of this new tool being implemented. It was prepared and launched in mainstream Punjab, from where it gradually rippled to faraway areas like Swat

A critical element in the Taliban movement was how certain clerics, who subscribed to their school of thought, became victims of the Taliban movement because their politico-religious narrative had been manufactured for a specific purpose. Even though the political and radical version of religion has lost the world's favour and the quarters which used religion as a political and strategic tool, are no longer accepted internationally, religion was once more used for political gains by the powerful to create a new vein of violent people for their vested political adventures. People were organised under the banner of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) to use violence to cripple governments which certain people in power did not like. 

Now, in a new political manoeuvre, this project's scope has been extended. This project has been institutionalised and incorporated into formal, mainstream politics to be used as a political tool. It has met relative success as it quickly entered the suburbs and peripheries of the country. What happened in Madyan, Swat, this past Thursday was the direct result of this new tool being implemented. It was prepared and launched in mainstream Punjab, from where it gradually rippled to faraway areas like Swat, much like the movements that had spread during the 1980s and 1990s.

Since the heinous incident of dragging and burning a tourist accused of a sacrilegious act in Madyan, some peculiar reactions have been witnessed coming from the residents of Swat. Initially, a racist element was tacked on to the incident by continuously writing 'Punjabi tourist' with the accused/victim. Many attributed this to the Punjab or pro-Punjab lobby and thought this could be part of conspiracies against tourism or peace in the region. Some writers from Punjab also delved into this debate - just as they did back in 2008-09 - by painting all the locals as 'extremists', 'conservatives', 'uncultured' or 'uncivilised'.

Locally and nationally, a justification provided for the mob taking the law into their hands during the Madyan tragedy was by repeating some cliches used in the past, such as the law not being strong enough. Detractors argue that if the law was strong, this tragedy would never have happened. In other words, this narrative suggests that anyone who can mobilise a crowd and charge it can do whatever they like with no accountability because they think there is no law or the law is too weak to stop them and punish a 'culprit'. In the Madyan incident, the law (the police) had taken action. They took the accused into custody and started the legal process. The mob, however, attacked the police station, dragged the accused out and killed him. They then torched his body, thinking they were doing the right thing by punishing an accused according to their interpretation of justice. Repeating that the 'law is not strong enough' narrative is somehow meant to justify the heinous incident. This narrative, in stark terms, is a moral justification for the mob to become its own judge, witness and executioner. 

There is a need for some introspection and to think about just what has gone wrong in us which triggers such terrible events. To point our fingers at others for all ills is actually rationalising our guilt and faults.