From Spark to Ashes…

Published in Us Magazine, The News International. February 06, 2009.

swat valley_travelguide-pk.1  

   Once upon a time, in the far north of Pakistan, there existed a blissful place. It spoke of silky summers and glistening silvery winters. With a divine aroma, its air was redolent of peaches and apples. With lush vistas to offer, here was nature at its best. Year after year, it brought in huge droves of masses. The innocent children of the valley would interestingly scrutinize the features of some foreigner. And then rush off playfully to spot another one. But the tourists won’t return this season.

    The children cannot remember Swat as their home anymore; we cannot recall Swat as the Switzerland of Pakistan anymore.

    It’s all gone now.

 

A Retrospective…

   I have never been to Swat myself. I regret it now. Occasionally, my relatives and cousins would come from Sahiwal and Karachi for a trip there, but I couldn’t make it. Once their way back, they would be rejoiced and freshened, with the garrulous ones effusively narrating their adventures. For me, it was always a part of my country – one I was proud of. Once a cousin brought me back two ancient unsymmetrical coins. I still have them. He also told me about the remains of the magnificent centuries old monasteries present in the district. In our college, the senior most class was always taken annually to a trip to Swat, but before it was my senior year, Swat was on fire. 

The Spark…

   The falling of Swat to the Taliban, besides being utterly unfortunate, is also erratic at its best. Unlike the other ailing region of our country, the north-western tribal agencies, Swat doesn’t share any border with the war-stricken Afghanistan. It was never alleged to home any Osamas – or the working members of any of the States’ favourite groups. For many years, it had witnessed nothing but peace. Then what went wrong, one wonders. Did the uprising Talibanisation really infect Swat by itself? Or is it all the outcome of the egoistic policies of the previous administration? Many claim that Musharraf, after bagging some whooping dollars from foreign agencies, assented to create tribulations in the region. Through an FM station, the local clerics of the area urged the people to donate for the construction of a Madrassa. The women gave in their jewellery. The men emptied their wallets. But the money never went for the school, it chose weaponry instead.

 

Dying in numbers…

  Since the day Swat is burning. All the areas comprising the district, including Buner, Saidu Sharif, and Mingora, have fallen factually to the Taliban. The atrocities and brutalities carried out by the Taliban in the region are unprecedented in Pakistan’s history. With the region no longer being under the administration of the state, even the politicians fear to go to there. About half of the 1.8 million population of Swat has fled. The constitution ofPakistan is practically defunct there. The Taliban cite the laws – the so called Sharia’ ones – and a bullet passes straights through the head that questions them. Throats of local vulnerable people are slit on daily basis. No one can monitor their actions. The military operation, launched in the fall of last year, has done little but deteriorated the conditions of the already suffering people. Even in the presence of Army’s check posts, the Taliban are getting stronger by the days.

   This Swat has literally ceased to be the place it once was. There’s blood gushing down the same serene streets. No children, no electricity, no laughter, no food, no education, no life.

     Nothing at all, just blood.

 

The woes continue…

   Some ironical events that have occurred recently in the valley, in the diabolical rule of the Taliban, follow. I came across these through various sources. A normal death, however, doesn’t make any news in Swat. More than 150 schools have been eradicated in Swat, leading to fears that about 80,000 girls might be deprived of education. All schools have been closed down in the wake of Taliban’s avowal. The children of the valley have started playing Taliban-Fauji. The ‘Khooni chowk’ of Mingora, once the Green chowk, daily carries hanging bodies. Seven MPAs and two MNAs have deserted the region. A mufti Sahab was told to leave Swat after he supported a widow who wanted to win bread for her kids, followed by her declaration as ‘prostitute’ and assassination. Pir Samiullah, a local leader was dug out from his grave and hung on a pole for about two days as he had denounced the Taliban. The Saidu Medical College, one of the four government colleges in the province, has been shut down. The Taliban besieged a house, the residents of which had opposed them, and brutally killed all, with the Army non respondent. The story continues…

   The Taliban still have control over a FM Station and narrate their orders through it. You cannot be a human in Swat. Depriving you of all your basic human rights, including life, the Taliban don’t think you are.       

 

No concerns… No protests…

   The children of Gaza know who’s bombing their houses. It was always anticipated from the side of the notorious enemy. The Kashmiris know who’s slashing them. The Afghans, Bosnians, Iraqis, all understand where the attack comes from. The destitute Swatis can’t even comprehend who to blame. On one side, there’s the Taliban’s assault, with the Army’s shootout being on the other. The Swatis and only they are the mutual victims of both the parties. Many claim that the Security forces and Taliban are associates, and actually two sides of the same coin. Even with the daily death toll, the politicians are least concerned. Whenever they take up the issue, it seems more like the traditional battle for power. The media has also done meager. But as compared to its initial role, which was negligible, things are brighter now. Adding to it, one hasn’t seen any protests in the bigger cities of the country. Not even the newly popular long-marches. We must bring up this issue immediately. It is the most prodigious carnage to hit our country, and all the members of our society are strangely ignoring it so plainly. The people of Swat implore us; they beseech us for their help.

 

The smile that once was…

  Our information minister, Ms. Sherry Rehman has declared the schools of the valley to reopen on March 1. The accounts, on which she made this statement, are obscure. But keeping in mind the doings of the current government, one doesn’t pin any hopes. It seems like the ruling parties and opposition have either succumbed to the Taliban’s fear, allied with them or have accepted their defeat beforehand. Moreover, even if the government adjudges to impose the so-called Sharia’ in the region, which many locals oppose, it will be emblematic of the government’s powerlessness in it’s own land and the defeat of one of the largest armies of the world by the hands of some militants who count only in thousands. Islam is a free religion, forcing it upon the masses is uncalled for. On the political front, the blame game is ever on. While the government holds some session in the opulent halls of the capital, the Taliban remain busy in spilling more blood in Swat. Moreover, one’s heart sinks when one hears of the government’s planning to rename to province to ‘Pakhtunkhwa’, which will pave the way for creating further rifts in the already suffering province. One wonders how can they so easily overlook the real problems and focus upon such disgustingly pointless issues, more so with many people dying in numbers in their vigilance. May God show us some light… May He bless us…

  Our love, sympathy and hope for the people of Swat, once know for their hospitality, composure and bravery.

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