My life in Swat — under the Taliban

Published: September 23, 2013
The writer is executive director at the Institute for Education and Development in Swat. He is currently on a fellowship 
in Japan

The writer is executive director at the Institute for Education and Development in Swat. He is currently on a fellowship in Japan

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.

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Reader Comments (29)

  • np
    Sep 24, 2013 - 12:48AM

    “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. “

    Well the TTP apologist party have already agreed to close down existing co-ed schools down if TTP wants that. Will they shut the school and open one boy and one girls school instead? No. They will simply convert a coed school into a boys only school. This with a leader who talks about education emergency.


  • Pakka Musalman
    Sep 24, 2013 - 1:08AM

    wonderful article sums up what needs to be done in a nut shell


  • Nadir
    Sep 24, 2013 - 1:11AM

    No you see people who have never visited Swat have already made their conclusions about how the people of Swat are honorable, simple folk who wanted the Taliban to takeover. No one is listening to people from there.


  • Raja Islam
    Sep 24, 2013 - 1:22AM

    It is a question of literacy rates and isolationism. All this is not necessarily about religion, but is about the illiteracy and the Pashtun culture. Why do you think that almost all the Taliban are Pathans?


  • Syed
    Sep 24, 2013 - 1:32AM

    I wish we had sensible people like yourself in the Govt. There is no point talking to non humans. Eliminate them or they will keep eliminating innocent civilians


  • Dasmir
    Sep 24, 2013 - 2:50AM

    PTI leaders are touting their official line that we have fought for ten years and essentially lost.Then probably Imran Khan is going to talk about terms of surrender.
    It is nothing but capitulation.
    Get behind PPP/ANP /MQM.
    Only these parties have courage to stand and fight.
    rest are ally and apologist or closet talibani.


  • F
    Sep 24, 2013 - 3:01AM

    How can you crush this hydra when majority of the populace believe in supremacy of religion over everything? It is this belief system amongst the majority that supports the LET, Taliban etc. Besides that, how can the Army act, when it harbors and nurtures “strategic” assets?


  • Ch. Allah Daad
    Sep 24, 2013 - 3:35AM

    Blind and insensitive public and their leaders won’t understand until ropes are tied against their necks.


  • UmEr
    Sep 24, 2013 - 3:36AM

    I don’t know what excuse will PTI and PML-N’s Taliban apologists come with now, after reading this.


  • csmann
    Sep 24, 2013 - 5:08AM

    Taliban is like a cancer to the body of Pakistan.It lives in the body,gets its nourishment from the host,and then starts spreading first locally,then to far places until it has sprung up anywhere and everywhere. Now it is ready for the kill.
    It needs to be taken care of while it is still in one place.There are sanctuaries all over Pakistan harboring a few her and a few there.They are biding their time.There is an urgent need for surgery.


  • Water Bottle
    Sep 24, 2013 - 6:27AM

    @ Zubair Torwali,

    You maybe right, but Afghan Taliban were peaceful people. The only time when peace existed in Afghanistan was during Taliban rule. They never harmed anyone. Contrarily, they brought in good governance and discipline to Afghanistan.

    Afghan people were, for the first time, had full independence and self rule under Taliban. Because Taliban were their own people.

    Afghan Taliban is fighting today only because the freedom of the people of Afghanistan has been suppressed by America.

    Don’t believe me?

    Ask Imran Khan, Zaid Hamid, Hameed Gul, Orya Maqbool Jan, Sheikh Rasheed, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Hafiz Saeed…ask any talba of any Madressa in Pakistan. Ask any Mullah in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Anticorruption
    Sep 24, 2013 - 6:55AM

    Good article. Our media should publish more such writings by people who have experienced life under the Taliban


  • Usman Ali
    Sep 24, 2013 - 11:14AM

    Very good article.
    @Water bottle. I was first surprised by your comment but later got that its a satire. You are right. Regarding peace and prosperity in Afghanistan, can someone tell us, how many Afghans quit their residencies in other countries and left for Afghanistan during Taliban regime? As their was complete peace and tranquility during Taliban regime? In fact, there was more emigration during Taliban regime, they were continuously fighting during this.


  • tornado
    Sep 24, 2013 - 12:51PM

    the writer has summed it up well. these beasts don’t deserve table talks. we have seen what happened in swat in the name of religion. these animals don’t have any respect and want to move their barbaric agenda forward. the only solution to this is a grand operation to eradicate them (and their apologists as well) from the land of Pakistan once and for all. if we want peace for our generations to come then we have to unite as a nation against this evil or keep taking crap from their apologists and be ready for incidents like these in future.


  • Irshad Khan
    Sep 24, 2013 - 12:59PM

    A wonderful analysis. Carpet bombing of the areas is to be done where militants and human bombers are trained; These areas should be well known to JI, TIP, Hameed Gul and also intelligence agencies.


  • Haider
    Sep 24, 2013 - 1:43PM



  • saleem
    Sep 24, 2013 - 1:58PM

    A timely read for those who consider these butures as warriors of Islam from far away places on the other side of the Indus. This is time to tell the stories first hand. Win or lose, there is no option but to fight. Legitamising terrorists and terrorism and their narrative under the guise of ‘giving peace a chance’ is a crime which can’t be pardoned. But only history will do that. As for us, lowly individuals, we should carry on with the fight.


  • kamran
    Sep 24, 2013 - 3:40PM

    Fruits of special relationship with Saudi Arabia.


  • LOK
    Sep 24, 2013 - 8:24PM

    Trouble is that masses in Pakistan are not your followers. They are behind PML-N and PTI leaders, especially IK, who in the words of Sarrop Ijaz, has gone from an apologist to an ally of TTP. I am with you but sadly it doesn’t count for anything.


  • fawad
    Sep 24, 2013 - 8:29PM

    Swat had nothing to do with TTP. You cannot categorize 30 odd groups of Taliban in one category and then decide to kill them all. If that is the case, then categorize the killings in karachi in the same way, because 30 people die per day in karachi due to target killings and they are also animals and cannot be called human beings and call drone attacks over karachi as well. Then I will agree with your point of view.


  • Sohail
    Sep 24, 2013 - 9:10PM

    @Water Bottle:
    I like your extreme sarcastic tone :).


  • aa
    Sep 24, 2013 - 10:09PM

    please translate this article and publish in urdu. please!


  • Sep 24, 2013 - 10:47PM

    If Taliban are good enough for Afghanistan, why not Pakistan?

    If Sharia imposed by Taliban is good enough for Afghanistan, why not Pakistan?


  • Last Word
    Sep 25, 2013 - 10:43AM

    @Water Bottle:
    A good one for the laugh. Laughter is the best medicine and that is why both Indians and Pakistanis enjoy Bollywood masala movies to overcome monotonous and depressive atmosphere prevailing in the respective countries. Sorry for the belated reply.


  • ABC
    Sep 25, 2013 - 4:05PM

    Its surprising that while KPK is considered the most conservative Pakistani province the support for taliban is higher in Punjab and some areas of Sindh. I guess people here have never been in direct contact with Taliabn and don’t know their reality.

    I read an article about a soldier from a village in Punjab going to fight the militants in the North. He asked his father to pray for him and his father said that he was going to pray for his son as well as the Taliban!! Can you imagine defeating taliban where such a mentality exists.Recommend

  • Reason
    Sep 25, 2013 - 4:52PM

    I don’t understand the logic of people like you. Which of these 30 odd groups have condemned this. They all agree with this even if they have not carried this out. Give me one statement from any of them condemning violence. All these 30 groups have carried out attacks and furthermore it is not like there is a good taliban group helping people and other groups are misusing their name. If you can’t kill them all how can you talk to all of them.Recommend

  • Last Word
    Sep 25, 2013 - 7:04PM

    An eye opener article by the author who has penned a chilling account of his experiences under Taliban rule. It so appears that IK has not read this article has suggested that Taliban be allowed to open an office in the country for holding talks. Such an appeasing gesture is an endorsement to the recent mayhem and would only embolden them to continue their barbarities.


  • Sep 29, 2013 - 9:38PM

    @BruteForce: nothing good has been achieved from these stone age brutes,,,read the Kite Runner if you think its glorious to live in Taliban Islamized Afghanistan


  • Sep 29, 2013 - 9:39PM

    Please Translate in Urdu and publish…must


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