Swat: Pakistan’s lost paradise

At Landikai check-post at the start of Swat a board installed by army reads, “Long live people of Swat.” The message is self-explnatory as the people of this idyllic valley definately deserve praies for facing the anarchic force of terror and prescution for around two years.

Mingora, the capital of Swat lies in ruins. Buildings pockmarked and blemished with bullets and blasts narrate their own woes. The narrow lanes of Bunrh quarter on the eastern tip of the city are deserted while its occupants- fair skinned dancing girls of the valley left for safer places to eke out a living amid persecution and killing. They left behind empty streets where unusual silence pervades in a sharp contrast to past when harmonium and Rubab melodies reverberated till late night.

Close to Bunrh is situated Green Chowk, which earned notoriety after militants started to throw beheaded bodies of their opponents in this square. Towards the northern end of city, at Fizaghat picnic point one walks by a deserted park on the banks of river Swat. Across the river Fazlullah’s sprawling Mamdheri complex overshadows the houses of in the village of same name.

This is the way story of Swat is being re-written in blood and it is not yet over while provincial government has enforced the Niazm-e-Adal Regulations in the district in a desperate bid to restore peace to the valley. Now Taliban are making emboldened strides towards Buner and other parts of the Malakand division.

Savastu to Swat

Swat valley is situated some 135 kilometers north of Peshawar and the river of same name runs through it. The valley is famous for its orchards, fascinating landscape, gushing and crystal clear streams, historical sites, alpine lakes and modern tourist resorts. In ancient texts Swat appears as ‘Savastu’ meaning ‘good dwelling place’ and Sanskrit texts describe it as ‘Uddiyana’ or ‘garden’.

In 327 BC, Alexander the Great army conquered Swat and it remained under Greek administration till 307 BC. The Greeks were followed by Murayans and Chandra Gupta annexed this area into his kingdom and Swat prospered under his grandson Asoka. Following the collapse of Muryan dynasty, Bactrian Greek, Scythian, Parthian, and Kushan ruled over the valley. Kushans were overthrown by the White Huns that were followed by Turk Shahi and Hindu Shahi rule.

In 11th century armies of Mahmud of Ghazni overrun Swat and later Ghurides and Mughals also ventured into Swat. Babar, the founder of Mughal dynasty tried to conquer Swat, but the war ended on peace deal. It was Akbar who attacked Swat and two of his famous aides Birbal and Abul Fazal were killed in the war and Mughals never become masters of Swat. In 1917, Miangul Shahzada Abdul Wadud, grandson of Saidu Baba, founded the state of Swat and it was also recognized by the British. In 1947, Wali of Swat decided to join Pakistan and it was finally merged into Pakistan on July 29, 1969.

Mad Mullah to Radio Mullah

Throughout history Mullahs have been dominant factor in Malakand. During the Frontier uprising of 1897, Mullah Mastan, whom British dubbed as ‘Mad Mullah’ rose up in arms against British.

During the crisis of Chitral in 1895, British occupied Malakand and Chakdara, which generated much resentment in Swat and in the mean time Mad Mullah declared war on British in July 1897 and tried to capture Malakand Fort. He claimed to have the help of invisible army from heaven, making himself invisible and feeding multitudes with a few grains of rice. Though his rebellion failed to achieve its objective of overthrowing British from Chakdara and Malakand; however, for a long time he continued to harass British in the area.

In 1994, around a century or so after Malakand uprising another Mullah, Maulana Sufi Mohammad chief of Tehrik Nifaz-e-Shariat Muhammadi (TNSM) took Malakand by the strom. Sufi, a Jamaat Islami (JI) activist in his early days, fought against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in early 1980s. In 1992 he founded his own organization TNSM which come to be known as ‘Black-Turbaned Brigade’ after its black flag and black turban of its activists. The aim of the organization was the implementation of the Shria in Malakand agency.

Sufi led an armed revolt against the government for the implementation of Islamic laws in Malakand agency in 1994 and the provincial government of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) accepted their demands and promulgated laws providing Qazi courts in the agency. In 2001, he led around 10,000 people into Afghanistan to fight against US forces along Taliban and most of his followers were either killed or captured and he was arrested upon his return in 2002 and was sent to prison for seven years and his outfit was also banned.

Sufi’s detention paved way for the emergence of his son-in-law Fazlullah, and in 2006 he setup an illegal FM radio station and earned fame for his fiery anti-western and Mushrraf speeches. His fiery broadcasts earned him the title of ‘Radio Mullah.’ Fazlullah’s growing power and increasing militant activities of his followers compelled government to take military action against him on October 27, 2007.

Niazm-e-Adl Regulations and beyond

In May 2007, the Mutthida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) government of NWFP and Fazlullah entered into an agreement. The agreement allowed Fazlullah to operate his radio channel in return for stopping opposition to polio vaccination and ban on display of arms in public. However, the agreement collapsed after army stormed the Red Mosque in Islamabad and it led to Swat Operation on October 27, 2007, after the district drifted into lawlessness.

The Awami National Party (ANP) government which took over after February 2008 election signed a peace deal with militants on May 21, 2008, after a series of negotiations, but it collapsed on July 29. On February 16, 2009, the government agreed to enforce Sharia in the area and Taliban agreed to ceasefire.

On April 13, 2009, Presdient Asif Ali Zardari signed the Nizam-e-Adl Regulations in Malakand agency after parliament rectified it. This regulation is continuation of Qazi courts established in the agency by Aftab Ahmed Sherpao in1994 and has generated much debate in the country. Many observers termed surrender to militants, while the ANP and PPP governments are defending it on the grounds that it would restore peace in the area.

Apart from the heat it has generated, this move has emboldened the militants and they advanced on Buner, Lower and Upper Dir and will also try further territorial gains. Government for the time being playing down the threat despite international pressure; however, it would be impossible for her to ignore external pressure and Taliban encroachments and this may put the precarious peace deal into jeopardy.

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