BAHRAIN, SWAT: What is one to make of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP) accusation that the media sensationalised the Kohistan jirga issue? Wasn’t it thanks to the media’s coverage of the issue that the Supreme Court stepped in and took to task the local administration? I am also reminded that the media’s role in the Swat crisis, after the Taliban had virtually taken over the district, was vital in bringing about the change that was needed to rally society to demand that the state rid the area of militants.
It was after the infamous flogging video found its way to the media, that public opinion mobilised against the Taliban who were going about their activities unchecked. The change in public opinion was so significant that it compelled the state to diverge from its larger narrative on extremism and launch a full-scale military offensive against the militants. In fact, even before the flogging video went public, the media played a remarkable role — and the impetus started with a single op-ed piece by a resident of Swat in a leading English daily.
Once again, a video is in the headlines. This time it is about an extremely poor, secluded and neglected district in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa — Kohistan. The video has shaken the nerves of all stakeholders, especially the people of Kohistan, who till now would have thought that the rest of Pakistan wasn’t interested in the way they ran their society and treated their womenfolk.
The administration insists that the girls are alive and indeed the four activists who flew to the area, in accordance with the apex Court’s directive, also said that they spoke to two of them. But what about the other three? The female activists don’t speak the local language and it is possible that they were misguided by the very local administration, which has been accused by some of trying to hush the whole matter up. Also, since the activists couldn’t speak the local language how did they know for sure that the two girls actually said that they were “happy”?
The local people are too scared of the jirga and the clerics and cannot speak the truth. I myself tried to gain first-hand information from a number of contacts but they refused to talk about the whole issue. Now there is no way left to assess the real situation other than through mediation. For that, one has to understand the norms and traditions of the area. The Shartai village in Palas tehsil is inhabited mainly by Shina speakers, while in other areas like Khandia and Duber, people speak Kohistani. The Shina-speaking people are ethnically and geographically connected to the Shina in Gilgit. They also have a link with the people of Swat-Kohistan, with many people from the latter going to Indus Kohistan and working in the timber sector.
A delegation comprising notables from Swat, Gilgit and from Khandia and Duber in Kohistan, along with rights activists should be sent there to find the facts, negotiate and mediate.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 10th, 2012.
More in LettersWell done, Aamir!