Reporter’s Notebook: Swat

Jan 2013

Some time in 2008, I met Lalaji (Khan Sahib) and his nephew, refugees from Swat who had fled to Brooklyn. Reading the Amnesty International report on the abuses of the Pakistan Army, their stories come back to me now, along with others I heard when I finally went to Swat in 2009 shortly after a Pakistani Army operation. So, I dug up my old notebooks and harddrives on Swat. What follows are fragments of notes and video, stories and lives. 

A large version of this video, here. Another video is here.

A second video, Swat Stories: a poet’s song.

By 2009, the Pakistan Army had decided on Operation Rah-e-Rast (Righteous Path), a move heralded by Pakistani liberals and the US. Both camps had been unsettled by the irenic tone of the secular, provincial Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government as it struck a peace deal in February with the militant turned questionable peacemaker, TNSM leader Sufi Muhammad. The deal quickly soured, and a feverish clamor for an army offensive took over.

Militants had been attacking civilians as early as 2003. Local ANP politicians were killed with impunity and their mutilated bodies left in public to serve as a warning. On several occasions, ill-trained policemen surrendered to the Taliban rather than defend their towns. By 2007, the TTP already controlled sections of Malakand division, the larger district of which Swat is a part.

Rah-e-Rast was to be purgative, clarifying. Approximately 20,000 regular Army troops were deployed to Swat to fight an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 militants. In mid-October finally, Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik declared,  “Operation Rah-e-Rast in Swat was successful.”

It takes us over five hours to get to Swat from Islamabad.

After the war—if it can be called a war—Swat also has the startling runic quality of a Dali painting.  Shots of fuschia flowers peek furtively throw a window in a crumbling lone brick wall standing mysteriously at the edge of a field. A few miles on, a soldier peers out of a sand sack fort by the side of a dappled road. Directly across him, a staircase plateaus to the open air like an unfinished thought. Driving through Swat is like that now, a series of questions, punctuated by the Army.

Checkpoints dot the road with increasing frequency as we near the capital, Mingora. The soldiers are by turns surprisingly hospitable and gruff. At one checkpoint, we’re offered tea. At another, a soldier speaks roughly to my guide and demands to see the medicines in my bag: allergy pills.

The security is simultaneously high and thoroughly penetrable. At still another checkpoint, the soldier on guard dismisses our government issued ID cards demanding instead to see a business card for verification. The latter can be easily printed for less than a penny.

First Britain, now Pakistan: the army is here again. Read on>>

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2 Responses to Reporter’s Notebook: Swat

  1. […] Madiha Tahir looks at Swat after the Pakistan Army’s operations there in 2009. Article and another video here. […]

  2. […] Swat after the Operation […]

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