Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

When the meek inherit the earth

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In Swat there is no dissent on one thing: the good governance provided by the wali of Swat. This is one thing the oldest resident of the district will vouch for from memory of the time under the benevolent dictator, and this is also what any youngster will tell you from the stories gleaned from elders.

The wali was as a father to the district, they say. He provided education to all regardless of gender and established two thousand schools in the district. He gave justice without bias and he gave it swiftly. In his age, the civil servant was just that: a servant of the citizen.

Misdemeanour on the part of an employee of the State of Swat could be reported and action brought down speedily against the miscreant. In his time, no one could so much as cut a twig, leave alone poach a whole tree. Best of all, there was peace and rule of law in the country under the wali’s rule.

In 1835 a man called Akhund (teacher) Abdul Ghafoor took control of an anarchic Swat. Ruling through Islamic law, he brought stability to the district and came to be known as Saidu Baba out of affection. His death in 1887 was followed by another period of turmoil until grandson Miangul Abdul Wadood rose to the occasion. By 1917 this remarkable administrator was fully established under the title of Badshah or king. It is a testament to his diplomatic acumen that in 1926 the government of British India officially recognized Swat as a princely state and Abdul Wadood as its ‘wali’ – a word that signifies guardian, owner or keeper.

The energetic Miangul Abdul Wadood set about modernising his kingdom. Revenue collection, administration, communications, education and healthcare were organised along modern lines. While rulers of neighbouring districts frowned upon education for their subjects on the whole, this foresighted man opened the first girls’ school in Swat as early as 1922.

In 1947, the State of Swat readily acceded to Pakistan. Shortly afterwards, in December 1949, the able Miangul Abdul Wadood abdicated in favour of his son Miangul Jehanzeb. The new ruler took his father’s work several notches forward and by 1960 Swat was the most advanced and prosperous among all princely states of Pakistan.

It is a measure of Miangul Jehanzeb’s administrative ability that in a mountainous country where the populace was spread across largely inaccessible areas, the writ of the State was never missing. The arm of the law was long and omnipresent in virtually every inch of the kingdom.

But Swat had its share of disaffected persons and Miangul Jehanzeb may have irked some of his subjects. In the 1950s, his rule saw a protracted period of civil troubles echoing with the call to merge the State of Swat into Pakistan. Things came to a head and the inevitable was effected by a Government of Pakistan proclamation of 28 July 1969. At that time, the new district of Swat had the highest literacy in the country.

If the malcontents of the erstwhile state had thought the merger would spell greater opportunities for Swat, they were grossly mistaken. The Commissioner of Malakand Division, a certain Syed Munir Hussain, wrote a memorandum at the time saying, ‘Further developmental works are no more needed in Swat. They are more than sufficient; we should only have to maintain them.’ Compared to the foresight of the rulers of independent Swat, this was blighted lack of vision.

Maintenance of infrastructure as it existed under the Wali ceased. Facilities of free healthcare and education were withdrawn. Instead of Pakistan catching up with a modern and functioning Swat, the old state was dragged into the vortex of Pakistan’s bureaucratic corruption, inefficiency and dysfunction. With wanton abandon, every system that the Wali’s government had established was permitted to decay and fall into disuse.

Pakistan failed to provide the people of Swat the standard of governance that the erstwhile state did. Though the people of Swat stoically put up with everything else, what they could not fathom was the new justice system. Whereas in the Wali’s Swat, a case could be decided within weeks, under the new system it took years and even decades to reach its logical end. An elderly man in Mingora was spot on when he recently said, ‘If we don’t have enough food, we make do with what we have and survive. But no one can live without justice.’

It was this essential need of the people that Sufi Mohammad, the bigoted and ignorant founder of the Tehrik e Nifaz e Shariat e Mohammadi played upon. His sermons were all about the failure of Pakistan to provide its citizenry with justice and that under the Islamic rule he envisaged, justice would come as speedily as it did in the time of the rightly guided caliphs. Of course, he also promised a new era of milk and honey if he were to introduce his brand of Shariat to Swat. How he was to make that new age dawn, he had no clue. And his simple-minded audience never asked.

Following the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, this man took as many as eight thousand young and old men to fight the Allies in that country. More than half died miserably; some ended up in Guantanamo. Upon his return Sufi Mohammad was incarcerated. His mission was taken up by his son-in-law Fazalullah. A drop out from a seminary in Swabi, he became famous as Mullah Radio for his broadcasts on an illegal FM radio. His focus was on doing good which appealed to the masses. This person of no means was soon riding an SUV worth five million rupees. Presently he had an escort of, first two, and then four vehicles loaded with armed hoodlums.

The government of Pakistan failed to ask questions about the source of the money. In 2006, this man began construction of a huge seminary in Fizaghat, a short distance north of Mingora. This institution reportedly had a floor area of nearly one hundred thousand square feet. At the time of its construction this building reportedly cost fifty million rupees. Still no questions were asked concerning the source of funding. The edifice that should never have been permitted in the first place was eventually destroyed by the army during the action of 2009.

Then in 2007, the man rode on the shoulders of terrorists who ‘spoke a southern dialect of Pashto’. By and by, the lure of salaries as high as fifteen thousand rupees for a foot soldier attracted many from the local scene. Those who flocked under the banner of Fazalullah were known to the people of Swat as the Parachgan and the Naian – the Parachas and the Nais (barbers). The former are poor labourers who collect sand from the Swat River for the construction industry and the latter, as the name indicates, a rank considered to be the lowest among the working classes. Though they spoke Pashto and affected the Pakhtun mannerism and dress, neither caste was Pakhtun. They were therefore on the lowest rung of the social order.

Those who bowed to all from the lowest police constable to the Khans of Swat were now in power with AK-47s and the license to kill. They were fired not by Islamic zeal but by unremitting envy and hatred for those whom fortune had placed above them. And so they went into a frenzy of destroying the social order. The homes of the rich were bombed and their elders murdered. It is estimated that no fewer than two hundred respected elders of Swat were assassinated in the two years of Taliban power in the district.

One informant in Swat said, ‘Those who once never dared look up to the windows of the homes of the rich, now swaggered into those same houses and took away young women to be “married” to some talib or the other. This was organised rape, but no one raised a voice because the State of Pakistan had abandoned us.’ Families who could not offer daughters, were deprived of sons to be brainwashed and used for the Taliban and suicide bomber ranks.

Even after the ouster of the terrorists, families that suffered the ignominy of the kidnapping of their daughters and sons continue to bear pain and loss as their children have not returned. There is neither a census of the number of families that suffered this new version of the partition riots, nor has any effort been made to recover those hapless souls.

Business suffered; the tourism industry was the greatest sufferer. Once prosperous hoteliers and restaurateurs were reduced to utter poverty in two years. Many public and private properties were commandeered by the terrorists for billeting, others like the famous Malam Jabba ski resort were sacked. Farmers in rural Swat were also not spared. It was gleaned from several villages that once they took over, the terrorists did not permit free movement of locals even within the village. Standing crops that needed daily tending withered on the stalk. In some villages, the wheat and maize harvest was also not permitted. Others picked and packed their apples and peaches for transportation to down country markets. But no transport entered Swat and thousands of fruit growers watched over their crated harvest rotting by the roadside.

This was a well thought out strategy to reduce the populace to poverty and then recruit impressionable youngsters to their cause.

The arrogance of the meek knows no bounds when they get the first taste of power. In Kishora village, the terrorists destroyed the local government health facility after which there was an exchange of fire between them and the villagers. Thereafter a hundred and thirty men from the village were taken hostage. These men were repeatedly told, ‘By firing at the Taliban you have fired upon Allah and the Quran.’ For three days they watched the terrorists sharpen their knives and every evening they were told that in the morning they would all be slaughtered. On the second night each man was instructed to write his name on his forearm so that the body could be identified after decapitation. Then by a bizarre and inexplicable stroke of good fortune they were released without loss of life.

Today, a year since the liberation, the people of Swat tell you that they now know what the terrorists mean by religion. If the state balks from its responsibility of providing them security, there is every chance that the defenceless will be cowed down by the thugs. It is up to the state to ensure that a repeat does not take place in Swat.

Postscript: The Taliban terrorists caused extensive infrastructural destruction in Swat. It is noteworthy, however, that the properties of the wali of Swat remained singularly unscathed. Compared to that, properties owned by the government of Pakistan were not spared. Memory of the long arm of Swat State was still alive. In comparison, the paraplegic government of Pakistan could be punished any which way the terrorists wished.


posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 4 May 2015 at 17:12, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very frightening........


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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days