Swat Continues to Implode, to Shrugs

by Joshua Foust on 1/26/2009 · 1 comment

The NYT has the latest on Swat’s implosion:

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Every night around 8 o’clock, the terrified residents of Swat, a lush and picturesque valley a hundred miles from three of Pakistan’s most important cities, crowd around their radios. They know that failure to listen and learn might lead to a lashing — or a beheading.

Using a portable radio transmitter, a local Taliban leader, Shah Doran, on most nights outlines newly proscribed “un-Islamic” activities in Swat, like selling DVDs, watching cable television, singing and dancing, criticizing the Taliban, shaving beards and allowing girls to attend school. He also reveals names of people the Taliban have recently killed for violating their decrees — and those they plan to kill.

“They control everything through the radio,” said one Swat resident, who declined to give his name for fear the Taliban might kill him. “Everyone waits for the broadcast.”

There is a dark side to this: the complicity of the Pakistani military. They know where those transmitting radios are. They can track them. We have given them the technology to track them. For whatever reason, they choose not to stop them. I remain half-sanguine about events in the NWFP and FATA, as I think there is a cyclical element (see here, for example, and here) and other nuances to the uprising that goes underappreciated in most English-language commentary on the topic.

HOWEVER, just because the rebellion appears cyclical and not necessarily topical (if that makes sense), that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to defeat it. That’s why, when Rabia (for example) posts that the Pakistan Taliban has published a death list of supposed collaborators in the resistance to Taliban rule, my heart sinks. These people are now named, in public, as being at risk of summary execution for failing to obey Taliban demands, yet I would bet a large sum of money that the Pakistani government will do nothing to protect them. No, they’re too busy threatening to execute violators of the night curfew—a petty and meaningless gesture that does nothing to get at the root of militancy, and much to trap the people of Swat between two heavily armed camps.

How appalling. The government of Pakistan—all its many dysfunctional elements—deserves every ounce of scorn it receives.


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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 Registan.net. 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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{ 1 comment }

Joshua Simeon Narins January 27, 2009 at 4:39 am

OMG! Aliens have come down to Earth. They consider life-in-prison (which they call “prisonry”) _worse_ than slavery. They have vowed to bomb us until we stop it. Innocent civilians, such as my girlfriend, might be killed, but it is all for the greater good.

And, after all, what makes you think they don’t have the right to stop what 10 thousand centuries of their civilization has taught them is deeply wrong?

By the way, your first para starts “There is a dark side to this” and I am wondering what the “light” side is.

Also, considering its use by the evils of the Nazi leadership, the Hutu genocidaires, Rush Limbaugh and now these guys, I wonder if there isn’t something inherently dangerous about radio, making it worse than any other form of media, as it amounts to a voice beamed straight to the brain without the face attached (and all the extra information an honest face conveys).

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