After relative peace since 2009, the Taliban are back in Swat Valley – at least on the airwaves.
Almost three years after battle-hardened militants loyal to Maulvi Fazlullah or ‘Mullah Radio’ were flushed out of the region in a military operation, it appears they are now trying to gain a foothold once again by re-establishing FM broadcasts.
The broadcasts had earlier been used as a propaganda tool to galvanise public support through a mixture of terror and persuasion.
“The same voices we used to hear four years ago when the Taliban started their campaign are echoing in the valleys again … it’s scary,” said a local resident from the Matta subdivision of Swat, who runs a small business in Mingora.
Matta was one of the towns where militants first established their bases and remained in control till they were chased out of the region by the army in 2009.
The Taliban insurgency in the valley, like in the neighbouring Mohmand and Bajaur tribal regions, began with several FM broadcasts.
These were used so regularly and effectively that Fazlullah, who led the militants in Swat and is reportedly hiding in Afghanistan’s Kunar province now, was given the title of Mullah Radio by the international media.
Several locals who spoke to The Express Tribune said the Taliban radio broadcasts were once again threatening people for siding with the military and claimed they would soon be making a comeback to the valley.
None of them was willing to give names in fear of their lives.
They added that the speeches of Taliban leaders could be heard in the upper parts of the valley including the former militant strongholds of Peochar, Matta and part of Charbagh. The FM broadcasts, however, did not last for more than an hour or, in most cases, less than that.
When contacted, a military spokesperson admitted ‘some activity’ was reported in parts of Swat in the recent past but said it wasn’t a ‘serious threat’.
“There are some elements, Taliban remnants who keep on giving an impression that they can still reemerge but they can’t,” said Brigadier Azmat Abbas, an Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) official.
Others, however, said the mere presence of the Taliban and their attempts to communicate to the people of Swat that they were still around were worrying in a way that it could lower the morale of the locals.
“Just when the people of Swat started thinking their valley is free of those who made their lives hell; such things may not help. It will shatter their confidence even if there is no substance in it,” said journalist Fida Khan, who has been travelling through the region as part of his reporting assignment for a Japanese publication.
“There is an administrative and political vacuum in Swat. Civilian authorities should step forward to fill in this void; everything shouldn’t be left to the military,” added Khan.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 9th, 2012.
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