If lack of education and poverty are the main causes of militancy and terrorism, then how does one explain the Lal Masjid brigade playing havoc in the midst of the educated and well-off population of Islamabad? The exponents of such narratives tend to ignore the fact that the poor and illiterate often do not have the capacity to generate and operate the sophisticated and complex conflicts of the 21st century.
The Swat Valley has been bleeding even since the emergence of Mullah Fazlullah’s Taliban and the subsequent military operation (2007-2009) against militants. Ironically, after the operation, the guards changed in the Valley but not the security, political and social environment for its dwellers. The widespread fear and the mysterious targeted killings go on unabated as so far about 26 members of peace committees have been killed in the current year. People of Swat still wonder why they were subjected to such savagery on the basis of lumbering narratives, which were presented as fait accompli.
The most common narration is that the people of Swat are still nostalgic about the era of the Swat State and its justice system. While that system was indeed characterised by quick disposal of cases, it was not necessarily characterised by merit. The reason for disenchantment is that Swat, a relatively developed area, was clubbed with the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (Pata), wherein the Valley was subjected to a retrogressive law, the Pata Regulation. The law summated judicial and administrative powers in the hands of the bureaucracy after six years of the merger. This law created a vacuum and complexities as it was neither compatible with traditions nor did it meet the basic tenets of justice. On top of that, it was in the hands of inept and unresponsive bureaucrats.
Another oft-repeated narration is the lack of education and poverty in Swat. Mukhtar Khan Yousufzai of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party recently aptly remarked that if lack of education and poverty can breed terrorists, then the situation should have reached this state a century ago when there was less education and more widespread poverty. Till the late 1960s, Swat used to experience recurrent famines. Even then, the painful hunger did not result in terrorism, but in fact further stimulated altruism and egalitarianism in society.
The most ignorant argument is that people of Swat followed Fazlullah on the basis of their religious ideology. Ideological movements tend to require a long period to take hold, as well as a meticulous process to produce cadres that follow them. Initially, Fazlullah restricted his speeches to his self-styled religious teachings but after a few months, when the elders of his village smelt danger in them, they lodged a complaint against his FM radio station, as well as his activities with the local police, but the state did not wake up. Fazlullah also announced the construction of a big mosque-cum-madrassa. People’s contribution towards building the mosque was portrayed as support for militancy. Mosques and madrassas are considered community centres in the area and that is why communities often take responsibility for them. Why did the media fail to inform the public whether the people of Swat contributed to Fazlullah’s movement when he actually took up arms? If Fazlullah had an ideological following, then how many out of the nearly two million people of Swat adhered to his ideology? Why were the Taliban fought and pushed back by the religiously and socially conservative Kohistanis of Kalam? And if the people did adhere to his ideology, why did they abandon it in such a short span of time after Fazlullah was pushed out?
According to the bureau of emigration, statistics of July 2013 for Swat, and upper and lower Dir state that these areas contributed the highest number of migrants who go abroad from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Findings of the bureau on migration history and impact of remittances show that the majority of households in Swat send their adult males abroad as economic migrants. Therefore, the frustrated youth theory also does not hold water as most youth join the migrant stream immediately after reaching adulthood. Remittances from abroad have changed the socio-economic landscape of the Valley for the better, which has resulted in a change in economic status for many.
People of Swat still live in fear. After more than four years of clearance of the Taliban, normalcy in the social and political life of the Valley is still a far cry. The government and the security establishment need to answer why this is the case.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 5th, 2014.
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