It was April 1, 2009. I was back home after being on the run for almost three months following the publication of my op-ed piece, “From Swat — with no love” (The News, January 8, 2009). The piece was about life under the Taliban in Swat and how it had changed for most people, who had been left by the state at the mercy of the militants.
On January 15, 2009, the Taliban of Swat had declared that all girls’ schools in Swat would close down. The Taliban also said that any girls’ school found open after a stipulated deadline would be razed to the ground. Those were the days when Muslim Khan, the ferocious spokesman for the Swat Taliban, would threaten people openly via a local FM channel that the Taliban were running. These were the days when decapitated bodies were found on the roadside, hung from electric poles and trees. This would happen so much that local people changed the name of Mingora’s busiest square from Grain Chowk to ‘Khooni Chowk’.
On the same day, April 1, a month after a peace deal was made between the government and the Taliban through their godfather, Sufi Muhammad, I got an SMS from a friend and it said: “Taliban aa gaye” (‘The Taliban have come’). I ignored it and thought it must be an April fool’s joke. After a while I made it to the town’s main bazaar and found it shut. However, many Taliban were standing in it and I then learnt that they had set up their ‘markaz’, which included a court, jail, training camp and accommodation, all in one building which was done by taking over some residential homes in the area. Their ‘amir’ had called the elders of the villages and town for a meeting and this was being done to tell everyone that the police station was now of no use. So we had a situation where a non-local man in his 30s was going to order all the local respected elders. I was speechless when I found out how meek my elders were before the Taliban.
Once they established their writ in the main Swat area — in and around Mingora — the Taliban began to move forward to other parts. Every day they would catch somebody, and detain him for a day or two at their markaz. This they did for no particular reason other than to humiliate the elders and show them who was now in charge. The Taliban amir in the area was a non-local in the sense that he originally belonged to Indus Kohistan but had fled his native village along with his family to avoid some tribal enmity. He had also been associated with Jaish-e-Muhammad. During 2007-8, the Taliban were busy fighting security forces but it was the so-called peace deal of 2009 that allowed them to not only establish Swat as a base but also extend their writ to neighbouring areas such as Buner, Dir and Shangla. After establishing their authority in my area (I am from Bahrain in central Swat), the Taliban went further north, to Kalam, Utror and Usho.
Interestingly, the Tableeghi Jamaat seemed quite visible and was behind the Swat Taliban gaining many young men as supporters. The elders among them were admirers of Maulana Taib, also known as the Panch Pir Sheikh as he belonged to Panch Pir in Swabi district (he was also the brother of the infamous Major Amir — known for his role in Operation Midnight Jackal).
There was some resistance initially, especially in Kalam, where a section of the local jirga did successfully fight them off, only to lose when their family members (returning after vacations in Charsadda) were held hostage by the Taliban. My friend’s uncle was also detained, and his crime was that he had helped some local policemen escape — for that he was taught a lesson and beheaded. This is one of hundreds of thousands of stories of pain and suffering that emerged during the days the Taliban controlled Swat.
Those who are pushing for talks with the TTP, especially those in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, need to understand that the Taliban will only use the peace to expand their power and areas of dominance. The Taliban have never accepted any dialogue nor do they want peace. The only way forward is for the Government of Pakistan and the Pakistan Army to crush the hydra once and for all.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 24th, 2013.