Returning to a Swat I can't remember
As I head to Swat I can't bear to look at 'khooni chowk'. This is not the valley I remember. A bullet-ridden Swat is something my mind refuses to register.
Bracing myself for the worst, I started my journey to Swat. Before leaving, I had a prepared myself. The image in my mind was of piles of rubble, an area marred by blood baths and destruction with battered souls, lost children, broken widows and childless mothers I was anxious to go and wary of what I might find there. A bullet-ridden Swat was something my mind refused to register.
I hadn't visited my family in Swat for three years and then they had to leave their homes to take shelter in the rest of the province. The inhabitants of Swat were refugees in their own country. In 2007, Taliban took over, disseminated, and started growing like anemic parasites hungry to feed over the vitality of the valley. Crimes beyond human imagination were advocated and committed. Anyone who dared to dissent was disposed of quite conveniently
Swat was wounded, it bled and now slowly it had been resuscitated. That was the only thought which kept me occupied throughout my recent trip to Swat.
Crossing through Malakand, I reassured myself that it still sees eye to eye with the sun. It is unmoved and it stands tall ready to face to any calamity that might think come. One hour later, I was at Mingora – to be more specific, 'Khooni Chowk' which had became an altar where human beings were sacrificed like animals. Every day, people used to witness the Taliban's horrific deeds in the form of dead bodies with severed heads. There isn’t a single family in Swat that has not gone through torture, depression and humiliation because of these brainwashed individuals who made it their business to inflict their morals on everyone. I couldn’t look at the 'khooni chowk' directly. I closed my eyes as we sped through it.
Mingora, however, buzzed with activity. The shops were open like they used to be, women draped in long, white chaddars were shopping. An old fisherman looked at me and offered me some fish. He smiled and said "Army throwing Taliban in River Swat is a lie" and told me I should buy fish from him.
CD shop owners and barbers, the two businesses specifically targeted by the Taliban, sat in their respective shops. I could not detect a speck of fear in their gestures as they went about business. The traffic, I am told, has steadily returned back to normal. It moved at a snail’s speed, yet I didn’t mind that. It was bliss compared to the empty roads before and during operation Rah-e-Raast.
The valley is lush green; River Swat flows with all its might and orchards of peach and apricot brace the valley as if hiding the scars from distant past. Homes have been rebuilt, markets erected again and students in schools are gradually catching up. Swat wasn’t as I had remembered it but it was recovering fast.
Four years ago, I expressed horror at the self-imposed "law-makers” in every village. They roamed around on motorbikes with heavy guns in their hands. Their long, oily hair and beards a tribute to what they were supposed to be. A few months later, one of the most peaceful regions in the country was at war. Now, they are either dead or have vanished like rats in the mountains. They do attack the peace of the region whenever and wherever they can. Yet, Swat has bravely and gracefully sustained it all.
Visiting Swat has left me with feelings of both utter delight and an inconsolable sadness. Delight at the fact that the valley has survived one of its worst ordeals and sadness because innumerable innocent people, young and old, have lost their lives in the process.