Terror returning to Swat?

Editorial April 21, 2010

Barely nine months after the military operation ended in Swat, the Taliban are back in the district exacting a terrible revenge against those perceived as having acted against them in any way.

Three people, including an ANP leader and two tribal elders believed to have been involved with pro-government defence committees have been gunned down. The message delivered is then a clear one.

In some ways it seems to fit in with a broader theme of vendetta, signified by other incidents such as the bomb blast at the IDP camp in Kohat which appeared to be directed against tribesmen who had raised militias against the Taliban. The signs in Swat are particularly ominous. For months local people have warned that the militants have not gone away permanently, that they lurk, ready to return.

There are of course reasons for this. The driving away of the Taliban to neighbouring areas means they remain poised for a comeback. Recent reports suggest that they are now based primarily in the Kala Dhaka area. So far, key leaders remain free. Still more fundamental a factor has been the failure to address humanitarian and developmental issues in the conflict-zone.

People complain of a lack of infrastructure, shortages of food and water and of schools in a terrible state. These conditions provide the perfect base for the Taliban to make a comeback, taking advantage of the disillusionment and desperation of the people. There seems little doubt policy needs to change.

Merely persuading people to raise militias against the militants is ineffectual. We must also question the morality of a strategy that forces citizens to defend themselves against highly trained outfits.