[Marxism] Political situation in Pakistan's Swat valley

Politicus E. epoliticus at gmail.com
Wed Apr 22 05:17:50 MDT 2009

This is the draft for the editorial Aniket Alam wrote about the Taliban's
takeover of the Swat valley and the Pakistan Government's deal with them.
The final version was to be published in the Economic & Political Weekly (28
Feb - 6 Mar 2009, Vol. XLIV No. 9).


On 16 February the Government of Pakistan entered into an agreement with
representatives of the Taliban for a ceasefire in the Swat valley of the
North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and further agreed to enforce Sharia
based laws in this region. This agreement comes in a wake of a two year
conflict in the Swat valley where the Government forces have fought a losing
battle with the local Taliban to control the region. As of the end of last
year, the forces loyal to the local Taliban leader, Maulana Fazlullah
controlled the entire Swat valley and had been imposing their version of the
Sharia. This included destroying about 200 schools and banning the education
of girls. They have also destroyed government offices, police posts and
tourist infrastructure. While cable television was banned, Fazlullah himself
became well known as “maulana radio” for his FM broadcasts through an
illegal transmitter which became the chief means of enforcing his dictat in
an area where regular communications had been badly disturbed. The barbarity
of these fundamentalists has been matched by the ferocity of the Pakistan
State’s armed interventions which included carpet bombings, artillery
shellings, cutting off of electricity and blocking roads. The people of
Swat, crushed under this pincer attack, have been left defenceless. There
are some estimates that almost five lakhs out of its 12.5 lakh population
has left Swat and become refugees in other parts of Pakistan.

Given this context, it is no wonder that this peace deal has caused public
jubilation in Swat and its neighbouring areas. Outside of Swat and the NWFP,
the reaction to this deal has been uniformly adverse with most commentators
stating that it would strengthen the fundamentalists and provide the
terrorists with a safe haven. Even within Pakistan, many commentators have
reacted negatively to this deal pointing out that it strengthens the Islamic
fundamentalists and forces the people of Swat to live under medieval

While the danger from the growing hold of the Taliban cannot be minimised
and neither can there be any doubt about their utterly reactionary agenda,
it is also important to understand the reasons why the deal is being
welcomed by the people of Swat. One reason, no doubt, would be the war
weariness of those caught in the crossfire. But the growth of the Taliban is
not merely a function of an effete State. There is evidence of a growing
acceptance, even popularity, of the Taliban in the contiguous Pashtun parts
of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The most common explanation for the increase in the political strength of
the Taliban revolves around the weakness and complicity of the Pakistani
State with these groups which have been used for Machiavellian purposes in
Afghanistan, Kashmir and also to quell progressive movements within
Pakistan. The active role of the Americans in creating, funding and arming
these fundamentalists for the past three decades is also well known.
Moreover, in the current phase, the exclusive reliance on military means by
the Americans in their “war on terror” has killed and maimed thousands of
civilians and destroyed many more livelihoods in these regions. All of these
have contributed, in no small measure, to the rise of the Taliban.

But the events in Swat can only be understood when placed in the context of
the history of the post-colonial state in south Asia. Swat was a part of the
tribal areas of British India where colonial laws and administration rarely
entered. Even after 1947, Swat remained a largely independent territory,
ruled by its king and administered by its own set of laws. Though the people
of Swat claimed that these were based on the Sharia, this customary code was
rather loosely related to Islamic jurisprudence. Adultery, murder, sodomy
and theft were all punished by simple fines and not by executions or
amputations. Justice was quick, inexpensive and substantive. Village and
clan assemblies, composed on male representatives from each family were
empowered and active. This ended with the incorporation of Swat State into
Pakistan and the imposition of the Pakistan’s administrative machinery,
personnel and legal codes on the area. Given the class character, corruption
and incompetence which has marked the south Asia’s post-colonial States, it
was but a matter of time that the people of Swat, whose popular memory
recalls their having fought Alexander two millennia ago, would rise in

It is important to recall that the call for the restoration of Swat’s
Nizam-e-Adl has been a popular demand in that valley ever since its
incorporation into Pakistan. Even the present agreement is to restore this
Nizam-e-Adl in Swat and its neighbouring regions. In a context where
progressive, secular and leftwing movements have been systematically
decimated by the Pakistani State, it is but natural that fascistic elements
will give voice to this popular demand and couch it in their own ideological
straitjacket. While the people of Swat have lived with low levels of
literacy and employment, with loss of control over their resources to men
from the plains, the region became the playground for the elite as the
“Switzerland of Pakistan”. The close parallel with Kashmir – the
“Switzerland of India” – with its same story of political mismanagement and
oppression, low economic development and the rise of extremism, should not
be lost. The rise of fundamentalisms in south Asia is surely a common threat
but the solution cannot be only military but has to be found in democratic
governance which addresses the basic demands of the people.

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