The four-hour drive from Islamabad to Saidu Sharif, capital of the Swat Valley, and the adjacent town of Mingora is not long enough to prepare me for arrival. The world of Swat is altogether different; it’s a bit like a first-timer landing at Heathrow or the JFK airport in New York from a remote town in Pakistan.
I drove to Swat after the Pakistan National Assembly endorsed the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation on April 14, which was then signed by President Asif Ali Zardari. The resolution, passed without any debate in the assembly, was opposed only by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, which chose to walk out, and by a PML (Nawaz) member. The PPP (People’s Party), and the ANP (Awami National Party) agreed to the regulation, with the hope of achieving peace in Swat.
And there was peace while I was there. The bazaars were buzzing with activity till late at night, which was obviously not the case during the days of war.
The people appeared happy to me, but when I pointed this out to local friends, they replied this was to be expected after months of non-stop war. All shops were open but not a single female could be seen anywhere -- neither in the markets nor elsewhere in the Valley.
A few Taliban walked around, but with dandas instead of their usual Kalashinkovs. The police were absent, except for the two cops trying to clear traffic jams. The army could not be seen anywhere but one knew of their existence as their bunkers were perched on tops of many hills, and guns peeping from behind sandbags on the rooftops of a few buildings.
There is hardly a police station or check-post left in the Valley. Almost all the major buildings have been destroyed or damaged. Almost every second house had bullet marks, especially in the town of Kanju, outside Mingora.
The most depressing aspect is the systematic destruction of almost all the schools (more than 200 are said to have been destroyed); and it is not confined to girls’ schools. A few tented schools have been set up, but a majority of children have no school to attend.
All major hospitals were looted as the militants moved equipment, including the beds and medicines, to establish hospitals for their comrades, and to prevent the armed forces from using these facilities.
The agreement signed by the ANP-led provincial government in the frontier with the Tehreeke Nifaze Shariate Mohammadi on February 17 must be credited with bringing about the present peace. But it stipulates implementation of the Shari’ah in the Malakand Division, which encompasses more than one-third of the Frontier Province.
Militants have assumed control of a vast area in the neighbouring district, Buner. Private property is being seized and looted, and young men being asked to join the Taliban movement.
The people of these underdeveloped and poor areas are depressed, and have lost trust in the law-enforcement agencies to provide them security. Pakistani rulers have failed to give the people a stake in the system and the country.
If they do not have food, clothing, roads, electricity, jobs, schools, or hospitals, and now, not even security of life and limb, then what interest do they have in this system? What difference does it make to them who is in power in Saidu Sharif, Peshawar or Islamabad?
(The author is a freelance columnist, and an advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.)