Restoring Swat’s lights

Hamid Hussain on Swat's efforts to rebuild cultural life amidst continuing security threats

Restoring Swat’s lights
The scenic valley of Swat has always been at the epicenter of many man-made tragedies and natural calamities.  From the 1992 insurrection by Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) to the battle of 2007 and 2009 between Pakistan Army and Taliban militants, Swat has remained in the limelight. Swat has seen much violence in the recent past and still sporadic incidents of violence are still reported.

Though peace has been established to a great extent in Swat through continuous military operations, the targeted killing of the community leaders who helped the military in wiping out the Taliban militants has continued and it is a serious matter of concern for the local intelligentsia, poets, writers, and concerned citizens.

According to rough estimates at least 120 target killings and other attacks of violence have been reported since the completion of military operation that was started in the year 2009. More than four dozen political workers, police officials and members of the peace committees have been prime targets of attackers. Most of the incidents of targeted killings have taken place in Matta and Kabal tehsils of the district.

Speaking to a poetic symposium on peace in Mingora, the administration town of Swat, renowned Pashto poet Abdul Raheem Roghani said “Swat is a gem, it’s a beautiful tragedy and the tragedy is that there has not been peace in the region for the past many years.”

“So much has changed in Swat valley after the Taliban takeover and their subsequent ouster by military,” he said, adding that everyday life of common people has changed.  People are still terrified because of the non-stop target killing attacks in which dozens of local leaders, members of peace committees and police officials have been killed, he said.

Pashto poet Abdul Raheem Roghani
Pashto poet Abdul Raheem Roghani

Roghani says Swat can be termed as the cultural capital of Pashtuns because it has given birth to dozens of famous singers, musicians, writers and poets.  There are poetic councils, writers’ associations; organizations promoting culture, art, pluralism in society and this is the reason Taliban are trying to create chaos to destroy the enlightened atmosphere of the valley. “These small efforts of local people for a pluralistic society will not let the extremist mindset to win,” he hoped.

The renowned poet said, “Though the current circumstances are not very promising but he is very hopeful that there would be peace all around because the society is moving in the right direction and things will improve with the passage of time.” “This poetic symposium is evidence that one day Swat will have a peaceful society as people are not giving space to extremist mindset in the society which is a positive thing,” he observed.

Aqeel Yousafzai, a Peshawar-based journalist who hails from Swat says the law and order situation in Swat has once again worsened. Every week an incident of target killing is reported from the region. The federal and provincial governments have turned a blind eye to the situation. He said “The mysterious resurgence of target killers shows Swat is once again turning volatile, saying that the government should take serious notice of the increasing lawlessness before it’s too late.” Talk of the town is that the Taliban have returned to the valley as target killers and are taking revenge from all those who sided with security forces, he said.
Roghani says Swat can be termed as the cultural capital of Pashtuns

Yousafzai said security forces secured Swat Valley from Taliban militants during military operation in 2009. Apparently, and the overall situation seems to be normal in the area as there is no active battle between security forces and militants. There are no militants on the street, music and barber shops are open, girls are going to schools and women are visible in markets, however, People of Swat are still under the constant fear of target killers who resurface once or twice in a month and attack pro-government and peace-loving people in the valley.

“The positive thing is that the entire society is against militants and there is no space for them, he said, adding that it is now just a matter of maintaining law and order, however, government needs to stay alert so that the situation remains under control, he suggested.

On June 26 in Talegram Khwar Pati area of Malam Jabba a clash between army soldier and militants occurred, which left two attackers dead and two civilians injured.  In October 2014, ANP leader and member of peace committee Ashraf Khan was killed in the same locality by target killers. In fresh spree of violence, the nephew of Ashraf who was also ANP’s workers was gunned down by unknown miscreants in Matta tehsil of Swat on June 28, 2016.

Last year, eight incidents of target killings were reported. In January this year, police officer Assistant Sub-Inspector Waheed was attacked and injured in Tahirabad locality of Mingora city. A week before this, two police constables were attacked in Dherai Kanju area of Swat. On April 10, 2016, ANP local leader Syed Jamshaid Ali was shot dead by unidentified assailants in Manglore area of Swat. On April 11, Deputy Superintendent of Police of Shangla district Muhammad Ilyas was gunned down in Mingora. Police van came under attack in Totano Bandai area of Kabal tehsil in Swat on the night of June 13, leaving three policemen injured. They were identified as Assistant Sub-Inspector Rafiullah and Constables Azizur Rehman and Jahangir.

Sawar Khan, a social worker and human rights activists from Mingora, says “The escalation in attacks on peace volunteers, political workers and policemen is dangerous trend and could destroy peace that has been established after a long struggle.” “Such incidents prove the law and order situation is still restive and the government needs to take serious notice before it slips out of control,” he explained. hire software developers

Commenting on the security situation, President All Swat Hotels Association, Haji Zahid Khan said Swat has the potential to attract tourists from all over the world. He said there are more than 500 hotels and resorts which serve the guests.  However, the number of tourists to the valley this year is far below the expectations and this is solely because of worsening law and order situation.

Chairman Swat Nekpikhel Amn Jirga, Idrees Khan says the Taliban militants have been rooted out and now they are trying to take revenge by attacking civilians who had helped the security forces. He said people should help security forces against militants, adding that it’s the responsibility of every person to work for peace.

He said as long as Mullah Fazlullah is alive, these target killings will continue to kill people in targeted attacks in Swat. “The security forces must take action against Fazalullah as this is the only way to establish complete peace in the valley,” he added.

Khan said “Terrorists have local support, none can target and can escape without local facilitators, the security forces and concerned citizens would have to find out who are providing support to target killers.”

He further said that it is not possible for the government to provide security to each person. The peace volunteers, political figures that had helped the security need to stay alert and should not visit places where they can be easily targeted. “It’s just a matter of time as security forces are after the attackers and soon they would be wiped out,” he added, saying that people should extend their support to the security forces in combating terrorism.

Nabila Wadood, a young female singer from Banr, the locality in Mingora where musicians, singers and dancers live said now life has normalized as they can openly sing and can go to music concerts across the region.

She said during Taliban’s siege of Swat in 2009 the singers, musicians and dancers packed up and fled to Karachi and Lahore. She said everyone in Banr Street would close home doors at 8pm and had placed sign plates which would state ‘We have stopped dancing, please do not knock on the door.’

“The target killing of peace loving people of Swat is a matter of concern but now Taliban would never be able to gain control of the region because people have seen their real face and no one likes them,” the singer said.

“After ouster of Taliban militants the society of valley of Swat is restoring its enlightened image slowly and gradually, however, the return of the Taliban miscreants as target killers is once again posing serious threat to pluralistic society of Swat and government should take serious notice of the current situation,” she added.

Hamid Hussain is an Islamabad-based journalist. He tweets at @Hamidlawangeen