In May of 2009, under tremendous pressure from the United
States, the Pakistani military began a large-scale military operation in the
Swat District of Pakistan to confront militants in the region. The UNHCR said
the operation led to one of the largest and fastest displacements it had ever
seen. Within 10 days, more than 2 million people fled their homes.
Now, a year later, our small delegation visited the Swat
District. After a breathtaking ride through the Hindu Kush mountains, traveling
in a pickup truck from Shah Mansour in the Swabi district, we arrived in Swat�s
capital, Saidu Sharif.
Saidu Sharif is a small town, ringed by mountains. The Swat
River, a few hundred yards in width, runs through it. It�s easy to imagine a
former time when tourists would flock to visit this scenic treasure. While we
were there, the town seemed tranquil. Stores were open and the streets were
bustling. Merchants, children, shoppers, bicyclists, goats, cars, donkey carts,
rickshaws, and tractors jostled for space in the narrow roadways. But, we also
saw dozens of uniformed men, carrying weapons, suggesting that tensions still
prevail in Swat.
|Hindu Cush Mountains on the road to the Swat Valley.|
We arrived at sunset, shortly before the evening call to
prayer. On top of a hill, we approached a modest home, a courtyard surrounded
by rooms which housed several families. Our host in Saidu Sharif operates three
small shops. He had purchased the house with money earned while he worked as a
shopkeeper in Saudi Arabia. Joining him was his close friend who had spent 10
years working in Saudi Arabia, also as a shopkeeper. Now, he has an
antique/specialties shop in Mingora. Both men hope that tourism will be
revived, soon, in the Swat Valley. They are finding it difficult to make ends
Our host family extended the warmest of hospitality. They
served us seasoned rice, yogurt, chicken, parata bread and, for desert, pudding
with the word �Welcome� spelled out in bits of coconut. We discussed life and
conditions in Swat until late evening. We learned that the brother of one of
our hosts had recently lost his spouse in an attack that had also destroyed his
home, an aerial attack by the Pakistani military that was supposed to be
targeting Taliban militants. Our host offered to take us in the morning to
speak with her brother, the other survivors of the attack and others in the
area who had been affected by the fighting. But the visit was never to occur.
The next morning, May 9, tragic news arrived that her
brother had just died. He had started his morning prayers, finished them,
walked into the washroom and took his last breath.
Despite such a horrendous loss, and although falling
headfirst into the sudden whirlpool of urgent funeral preparations, the family
continued to look after us graciously. They managed to arrange for us to meet
with a distant relative later that day in Swat.
We expressed our earnest condolences with our goodbyes and
in the afternoon removed ourselves from the circle of their bustle and grief. A
quick drive through town followed, and we were on the next stage of our
The relative they arranged for us to meet, Jamshaid Ali, is
a "Nazim" or "mayor" of his town's governing council. He is
a man of considerable local power and prestige, yet he had his own story of
violent loss to share with us. While one side of the family had recently faced
the careless injustice of the Pakistani military, this very wealthy Nazim and
his brothers had barely survived successive assaults by well-armed militants in
The account of the assaults, according to Jamshaid, went
In December of 2007, militants in the Malakand province
warned Jamshaid to resign from his public post, or else. He'd worked for years
as a contractor, managing large construction projects that added to his already
considerable inherited wealth. He says that while he served, for 10 years, as
an elected official, he obtained funding from the government for projects that
would benefit his district, and he added his own money into these projects.
The militants, however, had put him and all his brothers on
a hit list, targeted for assassination. On December 28, 2007, Jamshaid Ali
survived a remote control bomb attack that killed eight others. Starting the
next day, fighters used heavy weapons and mortars to attack his home and the
homes of his relatives in Barkala Bishbarn. The attacks lasted for two days.
A year passed. Jamshaid Ali had spent this time in constant,
wary vigilance. He and his family found housing outside of the Swat District.
On the 7th and 8th of October of 2008, attackers ransacked
and blew up the homes belonging to Jamshaid Ali and his brothers. One brother
told us that he and his wife had tried to fight off the attackers, his wife
helping to load the machine gun he was using. He told us about this in the room
where it happened. But when militants had launched a grenade into the house,
they had realized they were defeated and managed to survive only by hiding. The
militants killed one of the household servants (named Saeed Karim Bakhat
Wazir), the next day.
Jamshaid showed us a newspaper with his photo: one of about
a dozen men shown out of 86 that the Taliban had ordered to appear before a
Taliban Shura Council which would hold them accountable for their wrongdoing.
The council was held in the meeting house of a Taliban-run section of Swat. He
had refused to attend.
He said that the militants destroyed forests, fruit gardens
and trees belonging to him and his brothers. Four pipelines for water were
destroyed, ruining crucial infrastructure for the masjid in the village, the
Government Primary school and the home of one villager. They also blew up the
Girls Primary School.
Jamshaid and his brothers have applied to the Pakistani
government for hundreds of thousands of rupees, each, in compensation for their
losses. As wealthy landowners, they're lucky: they have the resources, chief
among them security, with which to document their losses. Most Pakistanis
living in Swat, suffering through grief for loved ones or the sudden homelessness
of displacement, are not able to document their circumstances. Nor have all
those who have been displaced been able to return home.
Jamshaid was able to produce a booklet presenting tables,
photographs, medical reports, news clippings and detailed accounting of the
losses sustained by him and his family members. In all, 16 houses were
destroyed. The �before� photos show picturesque villas nestled in the
mountainside. The Pakistani government has not given one rupee of compensation,
at this point, to Jamshaid Ali and his family members. We imagine how hard it
must be for Swatis who aren�t prosperous to petition their government for
Rumors are still flying, in the Swat District, as to who
attacked Jamshaid and his family, and why. Some believe that that the militant
activity which destroyed Jamshaid�s home was more the result of a family
rivalry than �Taliban� activity. In an area with very striking economic
inequality, there are still feuds between wealthy landowners for dominance of the
With the external pressure put on the Pakistani government
to violently confront militant groups in Swat and other districts in Pakistan,
there have been reports of families attempting to use the government forces to
knock off their rivals. There are also instances of similar tactics being
employed in Waziristan, where locals will feed the U.S. false intelligence,
hoping the CIA will use a drone strike to eliminate a rival.
Whatever the truth is about these specific incidents
concerning Jamshaid, we left the Swat district with strong impressions of
inequality and insecurity afflicting residents throughout the area. Numerous
people accused of being militants have been imprisoned. Several women in
Jamshaid Ali�s family acknowledged that torture was regularly used to extract
confessions from the accused prisoners. One of them insisted that electric
shock and beatings were necessary, "otherwise no one would be so honest as
to confess what he has done".
According to the Pakistan Human Rights Commission, militant
groups conscript youngsters, telling a family that they must either pay a large
sum to support Taliban projects, or send one of their sons to join as a new
militant. This is a horrible reality, reminiscent of the conscription of child
soldiers in Uganda. In fact, many of these forcibly enlisted children are the
ones who are often attacked or imprisoned in the Pakistani government�s efforts
to sweep the area and rid it of Taliban and other militants. In the face of
such tactics, the Pakistani military and Frontier Corps militias have hardly
distinguished themselves from non-state actors like the Taliban. .
Mr. I.A. Rehman, head of the Pakistan Human Rights
Commission, told us that he is very worried about the way the military carried
out operations in Swat. There have been credible reports of civilian losses,
mass graves, extra-judicial executions and mysterious disappearances. He said
that the government is holding over 1,000 people incommunicado, while refusing
to take any of them to trial. It�s likely that many of these prisoners were
taken from Swat and Malakand, during past seasons of military offensives here.
People living in Swat have borne the brunt of military
offensives, forced evacuations, militant attacks, reprisals, destruction of homes
and livelihoods, economic decline and ongoing insecurity.
The government offensives, the militants, the landowners and
the United States insistence on crushing the Taliban have all made life
unbearably difficult for the people of Swat. A hospital administrator in the
region, Syed Muhammad Ilyas, said it will be 10 years before Swat will return
to normalcy. Yet we are inspired by the hospitality, resilience and courage of
Swati residents who carry on in their daily lives through such turbulent times.
As we continue our delegation, we�ll try to relay more about people who have
suffered acutely from war, displacement, and neglect in a land of incredible
Kathy Kelly and Joshua Brollier are
co-coordinators of Voices for Creative Nonviolence.