The Long Fall of Swat

by Joshua Foust on 1/19/2009 · 3 comments

Over the last year, the insurgents in Swat district of the NWFP have come to control nearly 75% of the territory. However, lest we think this is a recent problem, or that it is all Pervez Musharraf’s fault, the real answer is much more complex:

But the truth is that Swat saw its trouble first in the mid-1990s with a radical cleric Sufi Muhammad asking for sharia. In 2001, the Sufi joined the Taliban in Afghanistan to fight the Americans. After his arrest, his son-in-law Maulvi Fazlullah unfurled the flag of jihad in Swat and was soon taking orders from the South Waziristan warlord Baitullah Mehsud. Today, Swat lives under the sharia of Fazlullah. Civilian collateral damage has been considerable, and may have caused rebellion in some cases, but most of the “obedience” observable in the valley is because of the fear of beheadings by the terrorists.

The measure of lack of success of military operations in Swat can be had from the fact that the terrorists now have an autonomous state of their own, complete with running sharia courts and an FM radio station exhorting the people to accept the new order or die.

Things are not helped by the confusing and contradictory reporting of the military offensives into the area. The rumored involvement of ISI agents in the fighting—in whatever capacity—does not help the Pakistani government build the case that it is really, pinky-swear opposed to militancy.

That being said, the push to destroy girls’ schools continues almost unabated, as death threats are regularly thrown at both students and teachers, prompting a shut down. Or maybe not. The government claims it wants to reopen them. Which is all well and good, but so far the government has proven itself completely incapable of protecting the non-insurgent citizens of Swat from the extremists levying threats and cutting off heads.

The most heartbreaking aspect of this is that the attacks are in Mingora. A few years ago, it was a tourist haven—Swat hosted some exceptional ski resorts, and Mingora was a wonderful jumping off point for hikers exploring the mountains of northern Pakistan. It is slowly becoming more like the Kabul of 1996 week by week—as some have argued, becoming a Wahhabist state.

In a final bit of irony: Saudi Arabia, the progenitor of Wahhabist Islam and (let’s be honest) one of the world’s great exporters of Islamic extremism, actually allows girls to be educated, even if the students remain gender-separated. Even in Deobandi India, which is one of the ideological heirs of Taliban ideology, girls can attend school—again, even if segregated. So where does the Taliban get off thinking girls don’t have the right to go to school?

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Ali G. January 19, 2009 at 11:48 am

At the least, it’s the fault of the Pakistani army as an institution. Three Cups of Tea (not a very well-written book but widely read and cited) does provide an insight into the creeping fundamentalism of the area, and also by invoking “girls education” as a symbol of modernity and progress and American benevolence, the issue has been transformed into a ready target for the Taliban (whatever the mullahs in Deoband or Riyadh may think). Too bad for the girls though.

Sunni extremism was entirely condoned by the Pakistani army because they feared that the Shi’a in the region will become the cat’s paw for the Revolutionaries in Iran. (Americans rejoice – you are not the only ones kept awake by that none sense.)

Hossp January 20, 2009 at 2:27 am

Swat has an old history. It was under a Nawab or Waali and he promised sharia system to the people.Sometime around Bhutto or Zia(70s-80s) his powers were curbed and he lost the political support in the area. Since then things are going downhill.
Attacks on Schools make headlines and that helps the militants. I am not sure they actually control 75% of the area. Most of it is hit and run. The problem is that most of the people are not really averse to Sharia laws and when the Militants invoke that law, they neutralize opposition in the conservative area.

Whatever opposition is left is intimidated through beheading and random killing.
Some fault lies with the Pak army for baby sitting these mullahs to mostly portray a picture to the West that helped the Army rule. Now these militants are out of control OR are being kept in picture to be used later in bargaining with the west.

Audie January 20, 2009 at 4:23 am

I think, all people have the same rights, it doesn’t matter in which country they live and what their sex is; so I am very sorry, that the war ruin resorts such as Mingora and don’t give children an opportunity to have an education, these children don’t have future and a lot time will do, when people can forget consequences of this war.

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