Feb 20, 2009

Scarred in Swat

by Fasi Zaka
A week ago I went to Peshawar to deliver a seminar at a business school. By the parking lot I had an undergraduate student waiting for me. He stopped me and said, "I read your columns, and I am disappointed. You don't write about the slaughter in Swat." We agreed to meet in an hour's time so I could hear him out.He arrived on time, and his mood was subdued. A tall and handsome young man, his face was blemished near the edge of his lips and eyes. I thought they were birthmarks of some kind; he told me it was from a bomb by the Taliban in his city. Shrapnel was lodged in his chest near his heart, and in his legs. His calm demeanor wouldn't lead one to believe he was a survivor of something so tragic and violent.Like some of the Swatis I had spoken to, he was desolate. He felt abandoned, and the most apt way to describe him would be to say he and his people were trapped in a crossfire between the Taliban and the army, both of whom they distrusted. Once a proud Pakistani, now the title felt like an identity badge, a titular title, no pomp, no authority, no recourse or empowerment.This particular boy had an uncle who was killed. He could not go back to Swat because the Taliban had set up check points with long lists of names of people they would abduct, or do worse. He had been marked for death. Whenever he could, he would visit Swat to avoid the roads where the Taliban roamed. He said even in the idyll of the evenings the air was filled with terror.Young children not old enough to be at a funeral had seen dead bodies in the streets. The slightest offenses mandated death. His gripe was the same refrain, he had never seen dead militants, every action whether by the Army or the Taliban seemed to result in the loss of life for civilians. The colour green had bled to red, the green chowk now known as the Khooni Chowk. His old school was gone, the entire middle class with enough money to do so had taken their daughters out of the city. Schools were either occupied by the Taliban or the forces, and those that weren't had been destroyed. Those that remain face an uncertain future. He didn't believe the government was serious at all in doing anything for them.For him, and several others I had spoken to, it seemed like they were watching their memories being washed away in front of their eyes, the warmth of the place they called home now unrecognizable. He asked me to put his name in my article; it was the only way to show his defiance. I told him I wouldn't; he was too young to attract any more attention. But, at the time I was confident that things would change.Rehman Malik, Asif Ali Zardari and Yousaf Raza Gilani had begun to give unequivocal statements to the country at large that they would no longer stand by the abandonment of Swat and the extinction of government writ in the area. They were going to conduct an operation that would end the mayhem once and for all.And now we know. Their "swift and decisive" victory was a compromise of capitulating to the demands of the Taliban to enforce Sharia. By giving in, they have legitimized the Taliban.I read Ansar Abassi and Rahimullah Yousafzai's pieces on the development, citing it as favourable. I have a great deal of respect for both, especially in Ansar's case, because their reporting is literally singlehandedly helping drive the national agenda in terms of highlighting the failures of the government. But I disagree.Yes, the nuances they highlight are true. Swat always had a judicial system similar to the one proposed, yes Maulana Fazlullah and Sufi Mohammed are different in their approach, yes some of the people want a new judicial system that is more effective in solving their issues.But, are the problems of the people of Swat with the judicial system truly different from that of the rest of the country? Everyone in Pakistan wants speedy justice. No one wants to wait ten years for a decision. So doesn't that mean we should apply the solution to Swat's problems to the rest of the country? If not, why not?The government's solution is insincere. If anything we need to make the whole country uniform in the writ of the law, and that includes the tribal areas. This "settlement" is basically a stop gap solution to ensure that the government has some breathing space rather than do what is truly necessary, bring to retributive justice those who indulged in the killing spree in Swat and restore order.Yes, people point out that there have been peaceful marches for the new "judicial system", but if a man like Sufi Mohammed can send thousands of people to fight in Afghanistan, surely he can manage a few rallies in his neighborhood? What of the other Swat, the people still afraid to come out of their homes, and those who have left their homes, is this what they want? This concern for the judicial system in Swat should also extend to the deposed Chief Justice, to the Farah Dogars of this world as well. The insincerity and incompetence with which this issue is now being resolved will not solve anything in the long run. Will Maulana Fazlullah now redeem all his arms and ammunition to the government? Will a Sharia that is of Malauna Fazlullah's liking allow girls to go to school beyond the arbitrary cap of the fourth grade?It's best summarized by what one reader wrote to me. He said, "Please we cannot take this anymore, from the savagery of the Taliban to the indifference of the government. Please use atom bombs on us, it will end our misery."The writer is a Rhodes scholar and former academic

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