Pakistan: Swat - a paradise in peril

The myth encouraged by the mainstream media is that the Islamic fundamentalist forces operating on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan are enemies of "western culture". This interesting article from Pakistan highlights the fact that these forces are not in contradiction with capitalism, but are seen as a useful tool in combating any genuine struggle of the oppressed and downtrodden masses.

Swat is one of the most beautiful valleys of Pakistan but today it is being ravaged by the barbarism of fanatics decrying the rottenness of a decaying capitalist system. Today the Taliban are governing this beautiful valley. Sections of the Pakistan Army under the guise of a military operation against them are in fact supporting this fundamentalist reaction. On top of this, the aggression of the imperialist forces in the name of the so-called "war on terror" propels these forces further.

Map of the North-Western Frontier Province in Pakistan with Swat highlighted. Made by Pahari Sahib.
Map of the North-Western Frontier Province in Pakistan with Swat highlighted. Made by Pahari Sahib.

The beautiful valley of Swat, which was a few years back a tourist's paradise with its eye-catching landscapes, is now a haven for criminal gangsters joining the Taliban forces. In Lower Swat one can see terraced fields, startlingly green rice paddies, abundant fruit orchards, and views of snow-capped peaks. In Upper Swat the river narrows into turbulent gorges, the mountains tower above and pine forests cling defiantly to the slopes. It is an excellent place for fishing and climbing. For the historian and amateur archaeologist it has several thousand archaeological sites spanning 5,000 years of history waiting to be explored. The other side of the picture, however, is the fact that the 1.7 million population of this picturesque valley is living a life of hell. Nearly 700,000 have emigrated to other places or have been forced to move away.

The Taliban forces led by Fazlullah are imposing the most barbaric laws on the local people and are slaughtering the innocents for not obeying their obscurantist orders. Fear reigns supreme. The Islamic militants have banned girls' education, forced women indoors and have resorted to murder to enforce their version of Islam.

The Green Chowk (Crossing) in Mingora, which is the main city in the valley is now called the Zibah khana Chowk (Slaughter Crossing) as one or two slaughtered bodies of innocent people of the valley are hanged their daily from an electricity pole. A note accompanies the body which says that whoever dares remove the body before sunset will get the same treatment.

Fundamentalist forces are terrorising the beutiful valley of Swat. Photo by Scott Christian.
Fundamentalist forces are terrorising the beutiful valley of Swat. Photo by Scott Christian.

These Islamic fundamentalists regularly blast government girls' schools and shops which sell Audio and Video CD's. Also the barbers are slaughtered if they shave anybody in the valley. Many other similar barbaric acts take place every other day.

According to the Dawn of February 3, 2009: "The journey upwards from Mardan these days is forbidding. The entire route is a picture of utter desolation. Fear of the unknown has overtaken a place fabled for its fertile fields and majestic mountains. Even a flying visit is enough to fill one with a sense of foreboding that religious extremists would overrun the valley before long. Most people, especially those living in urban areas, seem to have lost the will to live."

The Pakistan Army has started an operation named "Rah-i-Haq" against the Taliban forces, but in actual fact it is aimed against the civilian population and is giving strength to these forces of black reaction. This operation was launched on July 29, 2007. At the launching of this operation the spokesperson of Pakistan Army Brigadier Javed Nasir had said that there are only 700 to 800 Taliban in the Valley and that they could easily handle them.

Now the Operation is in its third phase with two full divisions of the Pakistan Army, the 17th and 37th, in the Valley and yet the conflict is nowhere near an end. According to a conversation with a reporter of Aaj TV in Batkhela, the presence of 45,000 army personnel in the valley would be more than enough to handle the less than 1000 Taliban fighters. The Army is using Gunship helicopters, heavy artillery and mortar guns. But still the Taliban are holding the key areas in the Valley.

The main leader of these fundamentalists, Maulana Fazlullah, systematically uses FM Radios to convey his orders and sermons to the people of the Valley. Four FM Radio channels are being run in separate areas in which messages of the Maulana are conveyed by his deputies. Separate broadcasts are being aired for the Malakand and Shamozai, Matta and Khawaza Khela areas in Swat.

Taliban forces in Swat are imposing taxes on local traders and businessmen. Photo by Scott Christian.
Taliban forces in Swat are imposing taxes on local traders and businessmen. Photo by Scott Christian.

Despite the presence of the Army, the Taliban are spreading their message in the same way as they did, and still do, in Swat. The medium of the message is fear. In fact, fear itself is the message.

In Malakand Shah Dauran a deputy of Fazlullah can be heard in the evenings from around 8.30pm to 11.00pm. In his broadcast Shah Dauran first points out various people in the area who are not obeying obscurantist Islamic laws and announces punishments for them. These punishments are carried out the very next day which include death. Then he announces the names of those who have confessed their mistakes and have come back to the "right" path. In the end there is a segment of "Good News" in which news of bomb blasts and suicide attacks on various places is given. The programme ends with songs of holy war. Shah Dauran has also given his mobile phone numbers where he can be reached and complaints can be placed.

The transmission of radio channels, the continuous supply of arms, ammunition and strategic support for the Taliban and their minimal losses clearly show that sections of the Pakistan Army and Intelligence agencies have no intention of curbing this savagery, rather they support them by all means.

According to newspaper reports, so far 207 Islamic fundamentalist militants have been killed while 325 security personnel and 2000 civilians have lost their lives. According to the Dawn newspaper, "The Maulana's followers hold sway over no less than 80 percent of the Swat valley."

Taliban forces in Swat are also imposing taxes on local traders and businessmen and are operating their own courts. Also mobile companies are paying Rs 30,000 (US$400) per month for each mobile tower in the valley to the Taliban for security. The civilian population is also being charged taxes in the form of cash payments or in the form of arms.

These Taliban forces are actually local criminal elements who have been sponsored by the ISI (Pakistani secret services) and the American CIA to disguise themselves as fundamentalists and ravage this beautiful area only to threaten the workers and peasants of Pushtoonkhwa and curb any form of resistance against this exploitative system. Also this area has become a safe haven for criminals of the whole region and they are coming in big numbers to take their share of the plunder.

The main leader of the fundamentalists, Maulana Fazlullah, systematically uses radio broadcasts to convey his orders and sermons to the people of the Valley. Photo by salimswati.
The main leader of the fundamentalists, Maulana Fazlullah, systematically uses radio broadcasts to convey his orders and sermons to the people of the Valley. Photo by salimswati.

According to the local people most of these are seasoned kidnappers, car lifters and dacoits who are now part of the Taliban forces. One of the commanders of Fazlullah in Swat is Rahimdad, alias Kuch, who was a famous inter-provincial car thief a few years back.

It has been reported that when a Union Council Administrator in Dheri, Malakand, Ahmed Hussain Khan went to Swat for some personal reasons he met there with Bacha who has been known as a hardened criminal in the area and been to jail in Batkhela several times. Ahmed Hussein Khan told the press that Bacha told him that he is now really enjoying things more since becoming a part of the Taliban. He reportedly gave Khan US$12,000 and some jewellery to handover to Bacha's brother. Also these criminals are deeply involved in drug trade.

It is common knowledge that the secret service agencies like the ISI are deeply involved in the methods, strategy and planning of these fundamentalist forces. Apparently all this destruction of homes, schools, shops and the imposing of reactionary laws may seem as utter madness and yet there is a method in this madness. These forces are trying their best to gather support of the primitive layers of society to propel their agenda further and move forward into the urbanized areas. They seldom attack petty criminals like pickpockets, robbers and brothel houses, so as to gain the sympathy of these primitive layers. But the indignation of the common people towards these hardened criminals is increasing every day.

These reactionary fundamentalists are trying their best to destroy the centuries old cultural and aesthetic aspects of this society. One beautiful aspect of this culture is the classical folk dance which is performed at weddings and other cultural ceremonies. The artists living in the valley are renowned all over the region and have been associated with this profession for many generations. The most famous of all these artistes are from Bhand Mohalla (artistes locality) in Mingora city where not only dancers but also musicians have been living for centuries. The Taliban not only have destroyed this locality but they have also slaughtered Shabnam, a famous dancer. She was popular with men and women alike. Four other dancers were also killed. Now most of the dancers and musicians have migrated to Karachi and other cities and are living a terrible life. The barbarism in Swat is spilling over into the neighbouring areas, especially Malakand which is a gateway to the whole region.

The Malakand agency lies at a strategically important position as it acts as a gateway to Swat, Dir, Chitral and Bajaur. It is in the Lower Swat region amidst high mountains thick with evergreen olive and pine trees. It stands at the exit of a pass known as the Malakand Pass or Darrah Malakand.

The Taliban have threatened the official courts in Batkhela, the main city of Malakand, demanding they stop their functioning within 15 days. Also army check points are starting to appear on the main road, which actually heralds the onslaught of Taliban forces.

CD shop owners are being threatened and orders are being announced from FM radio to obey the orders of the Taliban or face dire consequences. The sporadic killing of innocent people and barbaric acts of intimidating women are already taking place in the area. Lawyers have been warned not to appear in court and that "Whoever will appear before court will be our enemy". Already they have set up 73 Sharia courts to administer "speedy justice". These courts summon people by phone, threatening violators with death.


Madrassahs are mushrooming these days in every nook and corner of Swat and Malakand where poor people send their children to study. These Madrassahs became a source of income in the period of the Afghan Jihad (against Soviet forces) when millions of dollars were pumped in by the American government. These dollars are still coming in, mainly through the drug trade and other criminal activities. Hundreds of children are being sent there by parents who cannot afford the food and clothing of these children. These Madrassahs are being used by the ISI to recruit suicide bombers.

The suicide bombers from these Madrassahs are also now being used to sell services to those who can pay hefty amounts to settle their personal disputes. One such bomber was used in the Bhakkar bomb blast in South Punjab to settle a personal score by a local who had bought this suicide bomber for 12 million rupees. According to some local people some suicide bombers are also instructed to blow them up as a trial for prospective buyers!

Madrassahs, where poor families send their children, are being used by the secret service to recruit suicide bombers. Photo by *Muhammad* on Flickr.
Madrassahs, where poor families send their children, are being used by the secret service to recruit suicide bombers. Photo by *Muhammad* on Flickr.

This "industry" of terrorism has been flourishing quite rapidly since the 'War on Terrorism' was started by the Bush administration in America. The sale of arms and suicide bomber jackets is helping to expand this "industry" and new methods are being developed to increase the sales of various forms of terror.

Drone attacks by American and NATO forces in the Tribal areas are aggravating this war and are keeping the sale of bombs, fighter planes and drones growing. A Station Headquarter Officer in Malakand has claimed in the press that "if given a chance I can end the rein of the Taliban of Swat in one week, otherwise I may be hanged".

With the rottenness of capitalist system and a crisis-ridden economy, the multinationals and industrialists in Pakistan may use these forces as a threat to curb workers' rights and to threaten them if they dare hold any protests. In Swat and the adjacent areas, political activities are almost banned and the activists of left political parties are being targeted. Some have been killed and others have migrated to Islamabad or Peshawar.

No mainstream political party has any agenda or solution to this conflict and they are all capitulating, though reluctantly, to these forces. One of the main reasons for this is their compromise with this rotten capitalist system and their slavish attitude to the Army generals and the imperialist masters.

The ANP, the Pushtoon nationalist party, is currently in power in Pushtoonkhwa, along with the PPP as a coalition partner. Also in the Federal government both are collaborating with each other, along with the Islamic fundamentalist party JUI-F. Neither the PPP nor the ANP can offer a way out of this crisis which is a threat to humanity itself; rather they are proposing various ways of compromise with these reactionary forces. In Malakand, which is traditionally a stronghold of the PPP, all the MPs elected in the elections last year have fled from the area.

The only force that is giving not only resistance to this dogmatic force but also offering a solution, are the comrades of the IMT in Pushtoonkhwa. Working in the most perilous conditions, they are patiently explaining that the root cause of all this menace is the disintegrating capitalist system which is imposing these forces on humanity.

They are also encouraging people to raise their voice against unemployment, price hikes and other basic issues like healthcare and education. The inability of the system to provide these basic necessities is not due to any lack of resources but to the lack of planning which can only be done under Socialism.

The comrades of the IMT are working inside the PPP and also in trade unions of various departments and are also organizing the unemployed youth of the area on the platform of the BNT (Unemployed Youth Movement) to wage a political struggle against these reactionary forces. In this struggle, imperialism, the Pakistani state apparatus, the Army and the Taliban are all against them. And yet, the forces of revolutionary socialism are growing in the area. This can be seen from the fact that in the year 2008 after the general elections of February the only political activities carried out in Malakand were those of the comrades of IMT. They celebrated May Day, a big demonstration against price hikes on June 2 and also a rally in support of the Venezuelan and Bolivian revolutions, and another against US aggression in September in Batkhela when they burnt US flags.

The masses are learning fast from their own experiences and are listening to the ideas of socialism. That is why the only threat the Taliban really feel are from the genuine forces of socialism. During the Friday prayers sermons are given in Malakand and Swat condemning the ideas of Karl Marx and Lenin and attacking the theory of surplus value to warn the people to keep away from these ideas. In spite of all this, the struggle of the comrades is still going on amid serious threats but they are waging a serious fight.

When the masses will begin to move they will smash these forces of barbarism and will stand up against all aggression of the State and fundamentalist forces. The movement of hundreds of thousands of poor and downtrodden peasants and workers will not listen to sermons or feel threatened by weapons but will move on to challenge this system. There is a history and tradition of such movements in this region, especially during the 1968-69 revolution. A volcanic eruption from the depths of society will shake the standing army from inside and the ferment in the rank and file will grow to become a revolt.

The comrades are patiently explaining the ideas of revolutionary Marxism and have remained in the area against all odds and threats to their lives. In the coming period they will be able to lead the masses towards the complete transformation of society. On this basis and united with the movement of workers, youth and peasants of other areas of Pakistan, will lay the basis for a move towards a socialist revolution in Pakistan.

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