First published in Islamabad Dateline.
People of Swat faced the most brutal atrocities known in modern times. From slitting throats to public flogging and burning girl’s schools, from handwritten notices condemning shaving beards to banning women from visiting markets, almost every local narrates horrible stories of terror, horror and of the infamous Khoni Chowk.‘We had invited them for talks in our local mosque with our elders. We lived up to our promise and brought no weapons but they broke their promise and butchered everyone’, narrated Fazal from suburbs of Swat.
‘Whenever I saw them (Taliban) moving in streets, my legs started shaking’, a youth activist Yasin recalling the time of duress.
In May, 2009 Pakistan launched a second, but this time a full fledged military operation to cleanse radical elements from Swat. 2.3 Million people were displaced and hundreds of soldiers and civilians lost their lives.
Two years later, Pakistan Army organized ‘National De-radicalization Seminar’ here in Mingora, Swat from 4th-6th July, 2011.
Governor Khyber Pakhtunkhua Masood Kausar in his inaugural speech stressed upon the need to re-integrate former militants into the society. Major General Asif Javed, the GOC Swat gave insight into the military offensive whilst Lieutenant General (R) Mustafa Khan gave an overview of Pakistan’s contribution in war against terrorism quoting figures which revealed Swat was largest counter-insurgency operation involving 03 districts and also largest airborne operation In South Asian history. He told the audience that 150000 troops are deployed in WoT operations with 80 % aviation resources focused to battling terrorist elements. He said the world must acknowledge the sacrifices Pakistan made as only military casualties surpass 3000 men, and 9000 injured, greater than any country’s contribution in global war against terrorism.
Renowned experts like Khalid Aziz, Rasul Bakhsh Rais and Dr. Farrukh Saleem gave insight into the roots and causes of radicalism in Pakistan. Professor Miraj ul Islam presented an Islamic perspective of de-radicalisation.
Dr Savage. MS Malkhanti, Prof. Tahir Abbas, Dr. Maria Sultan, Dr. Zebloun Tainter and Babar Sattar talked about the UK, Saudi Arabia and Srilanka’s de-radicalisation models and also discussed legal hurdles in convicting terrorists.
Politicians like Ameer Muqam, Mushahid Hussein and Iftikhar Hussein also addressed the attendees. Members of civil society of Swat, Mussarat AhmedZeb and Zia-uddin Yousuf Zai gave a local perspective of happenings in Swat in the last two years.
Ziauddin articulated that Swati people were very tolerant and the local tappa translating as ‘I’m Muslim, my friend a Hindu; for my friend, I sweep the temple’ underlines the culture of inter-faith harmony in Swati folklore.
DIG Malakand division, Qazi Jamil gave a revealing presentation of the current situation of jails in his domain, asking for the much needed help. Most of the thousands of arrested radicals, he said are in our jails and if we don’t initiate de-radicalization programs for prisoners they will end up radicalizing their fellow prisoners.
The attendees and media were also made to visit de-radicalisation rehabilitation centers run by Pakistan Army called Saboun, for juveniles and Mishal for adult former extremists with militant ties. The aim of these facilities was to provide mental, theological and educational help to former extremists and also present a counter-narrative to radical ideology. These facilities also impart vocational training which helps them earn livelihood.
Dr Fareha Peracha, Director of Saboun said that in total around 100 graduates have already been successfully re-integrated as useful members of society. Currently 13-17 years old students enrolled students in Saboun number at 129.
Most of the kids, when inquired as to why they were brought here bowed their heads in regret, which clearly showed they were repelled to what they used to do before.
Nawab, a 15 year old Swati was a member of a right-wing religious-political party before joining Taliban as a cleaner. He said he wanted to become a civil engineer.
Another 14 year old said he had no choice but to join extremist elements as they had threatened to kill his family if he did not oblige. He wanted to become a solider and when asked why, he said ‘because I want to be able to protect my family’.
A bright young fellow Arshad had a similar story as I disturbed him during computer class. He said he loves Pakistan to the core and will not take part in any anti-state activity in future.
The seminar concluded with speeches from COAS, General Kiyani and the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Yousuf Raza Gillani.
Swat might serve as a perfect model for counter-insurgency, return of over 2.3 Million IDP’s within months of military offensive being launched might reiterate the resilience and resolve of Pakistanis but will Swat post military operation be able to serve as a potent force against religious extremism? Only time will tell.
The absence of honest and upright leadership gives space to anyone with a strong agenda to take over the minds and consequently the streets of our neighborhoods. FazlUllah used FM radio to spread his venomous agenda; many other mediums are also available and used by radical elements without any checks from state institutions.
The blood soaked streets of Pakistan with nearly 40,000 deaths convey a silent protest: Why have we still not been able to enact a national level counter and de-radicalization policy? How many more Swats will it take to realize that the need for de-radicalization might not arise if we instigate grass roots counter-radicalization programs?
Swat was reclaimed; let’s hope we as a society don’t have to grow through the ordeal anywhere, again.