One often hears politicians of
every stripe nauseatingly proclaim every time they are near a microphone or a television camera how “every inch of Pakistan’s sovereign territory will be defended with every ounce of our blood.”
How about taking back almost five and a half thousand square kilometres that make up the once tranquil valley of Swat for starters?
I have to confess that I am probably one of those few people who, although having grown up in Pakistan, never got around to visiting what is one of its most picturesque valleys — Swat.
And now, I probably never will. Not in this lifetime, at least.
Swat was our Kashmir, in tourist attraction terms that is. That comparison must end here though. I heard Omar Abdullah, the newly elected rather young Chief Minister of Indian-held Kashmir, say that their Kashmir was “peaceful enough for actor/producer Aamir Khan to come and film there”. I am not aware if Mr Khan took him up on his offer.
I very much doubt if Mr Ameer Haider Khan Hoti, chief minister of the North-West Frontier, can say that to a filmmaker in Pakistan. We all know what nearly happened to Shoaib Mansoor when he was making “Khuda kay Liye”. That he somehow completed his film and lived to tell about it is in itself a miracle. Nevertheless, I am grateful to him for having given my young niece Sarah Tareen a chance to be his understudy on the project.
Swat was universally accepted as breathtakingly beautiful, calm and remote. Its gentle people, who trace their ancestry to the times of Alexander and Chandragupta, stood out from their cousins living in the alluvial plains with their blue eyes, fair skin and light hair, and are considered the most peace loving and hospitable people to be found anywhere in the region.
Those cousins have now become “distant cousins” simply because someone at the post was asleep and neglected to read the message written in the winds that a dark shadow was about to envelope this unsuspecting valley. That it has with such chilling ferocity and cold blooded brutality is something that should be borne in mind by those who still think that Swat is a long way from their apathetic way of life.
Today, this beautiful valley and its people have been subjugated and are being remorselessly terrorised by a cruel horde seeking to impose its brand of Islam on Swat’s inhabitants and turn in to an “emirate”. Never mind that Swat is sovereign Pakistani territory. Or is it?
That sovereignty is today being challenged, the writ of the Government flaunted, leaving the tranquility of this paradise on earth irreparably shattered. Sniper fire, bomb blasts, public hangings of peace loving elders, summary executions of defenceless women, demolition of children’s schools, and sharia courts have turned Swat into Death Valley.
The Pakistan Army is engaging this enemy of many faces, which seems to have infiltrated every sinew and strand of Swat’s tranquil life and scenic splendour, turning it into a vast killing field. It all seems too little too late. One doesn’t have to be a military tactician or a strategist in the Rommel or Guderian mould to have divined that Swat was eminently qualified to become the tantalising soft underbelly of the region where the Taliban would eventually strike.
No pre-emptive moves seemed to have been made to safeguard this strategically vital valley from those who hold sway there now. The historical and military significance of why invading armies — from Alexander to Mahmud to the Mughals right up to the British — found this valley in the foothills of the Hindu Kush a formidable and prized geostrategic natural fortress seemed to have been lost on those who ought to know better.
The result: every forest today is infested with the Taliban who are equipped with the most modern weaponry and a brutal extremist agenda to terrorise its people. Everyday brings in more of these marauders from the hills and the mountain passes. This valley is under siege.
Maulana Fazlur Rehman proclaimed in a speech carried by most of the satellite channels that the inadequate and belated response of the present government has led to the Taliban tweaking Islamabad’s nose by holding large swathes of the frontier province. Implicit in his lament is that the mandate of the “Federally Administered Tribal Areas” has been reduced to the status of a paper tiger and the once all powerful “Political Agent” is now a toothless tiger being held hostage by the trappings of his own office.
No surprise here when you consider that the authorities have been unable to search, jam and destroy even the FM radio stations that the Taliban continue to use effectively with
mobility for their propaganda. The Maulana is not exaggerating.
Prime Minister Gilani has categorically stated that “parallel courts” [read sharia courts — a declared Taliban stratagem in Swat] will not be permitted.” Good thinking that, Prime Minister, except their “chief justice” and his cohorts have already shown that their “dharna” is already firmly embedded in the region. It is going to take much more than a long march to snuff out their “oxygen”, sir!
Mahmud Sipra is a best selling author and an independent columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Reproduced by permission of the author and DT