Orwellian era

Even a child in Swat and FATA knows that the heavy handed tactics by the state are to control and keep the lid on things

The valley of Swat once described as a sanctum of peace and tranquillity has turned into a garrison for people whose integrity is compromised frequently, if not on a daily basis, by the security personnel.

“Who are you? Where are you coming from? Where are you going? Show your identity!” How does one feel if humiliated in front of fellow villagers or family? How does a son feel if his father is slapped by a soldier or forced to remove his chadar and shirt, all in the name of maintaining security? Even if a person requires medical emergency and asks for leniency, chances are that person might face another emergency.

For nearly a decade now the people of Swat have to regularly undergo this routine interrogation at check posts and, sometimes, at their villages and door steps as well. But, instead of asking questions, the people want an answer to how Fazalullah, the agent of destruction, left Swat for a safe haven when every inch of the area was cordoned by the army.

These same people have witnessed the use of heavy artillery, mortars, jets, tanks and forced into displacement from their homes on an hour’s notice and that too during intense shelling. For years, after they returned home, they were without electricity and basic amenities. What stood out amidst a lack of facilities was an environment awash with fear and devoid of social and political liberties. Till today, the people of Swat and FATA are not free to choose in which mosque they can and cannot congregate to offer Eid prayers nor are the youth free to select where they can get together for leisure.

The entire population is treated as hostile and belligerent by the state forces with the region depicting an occupied area deserving no human and constitutional rights. It seems as if the entire Swat rebelled and the state is no teaching them a lesson. Every resident of Swat and FATA is suspicious in the eyes of the state.

When the youth protested against this perpetual humiliation on February 18, 2018, the police registered FIR against six young men under the anti-terrorist sections. Moreover, a whatsApp message was circulated among members of the Swat press club instructing them not to give coverage to the protest and alleged that the protestors were foreign funded terrorists protesting in support of other terrorists.

Why? Is it because Fazalullah alias FM Mullah, Baitullah and Hakimulllah Mahsud were from Swat and FATA.

The president and the Parliament should reverse the harsh Action in Aid of Civil Power Regulation and hand over power to civil administration. The Orwellian era of state should come to an end now!

What is a no go area is how these elements galvanized to challenge a security state and use self-crafted tools against it.

When Hamid Gul and Co castles of fantasies collapsed in Afghanistan after failure of Mujahideen regime there. In desperation General (retd) Naseerallah Babar was tasked for fine tuning the Taliban project at the beginning of Benazir Bhutto’s second term, Sufi Mohammad appeared from the blue declaring democracy and political parties non Islamic and demanding the imposition of Sharia through jihad.

I remember as a college going student, initially Sufi Mohammad would pass in a double cabin Toyota, that later became the vehicle of choice of Taliban in Afghanistan and TTP, with a loud speaker mounted atop playing the recitation of Quran and his recorded speeches. When he passed by some would have laugh but some elders would predict it to be the emergence of fitna (anarchy).

When Taliban were running over Kabul in 1994, Sufi Mohammad was staging a week long sit in at Malakand top that literally cut off the entire Malakand Division from the rest of the province and country, bringing the provincial government to a halt. And the type of Sharia Sufi Mohammad was preaching for the last few years imposed on Afghanistan by the Taliban. That episode substantially weakened the anti Taliban voice in the erstwhile NWFP.

In post 9/11, after the US attacked Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, Sufi instigated around 10,000 people from Malakand Division to Afghanistan to fight on the side of the Afghan Taliban. Sufi and his son-in-law Fazalullah came back and even though the same number crossed over here, none of them accompanied Sufi from this side. Sufi and his son-in-law were taken into protective custody and sent to Dera Ismail Khan Jail.

Fazalullah was freed in 2005. Soon thereafter he started his activities by installing FM radio and delivering laced with jihad sermons in his village mosque. Sensing a strange ambivalence in the village and his day by day changing tone, the villagers first disbanded him from his native mosque and then registered a complaint against his FM radio with the local police.

Fazalullah went on to announce the construction of a big mosque combined with madrassa and a few selected local nazims started the campaign for support and contribution. He was presented as a preacher and social reformer with the then district administration also toeing the same line. The district administration also took refuge behind the arguments that he was preaching the Islamic teachings. Within no time a saint like image was constructed for him and became the most influential figure the administration could not ignore. If someone asked him for a favour of getting posted or transferred, the administration dare not refuse!

The selected few local nazims began to bring people as free labour for construction of Fazalullah’s mosque. Minute details of how many people came for work, which area they came from and how much money was contributed would be announced on the FM. Ironically, it was later projected as popular support for his militant cause.

Before the deployment of the army in August 2007, his band did not dare even slap anyone let alone slit throats. People came to know about the drama after the deployment of the army, his subsequent announcement of jihad and joining the newly formed TTP. This development came at a time when the Bush administration began to ask questions about the regrouping of melted down Afghan Taliban in the FATA in the presence of army deployment in 2003.

For the time being, the use of dark tools of statecraft deflected the mounting international pressure. However, today we are in a more precarious situation than before. The state lacks credibility nationally and among the international community. Creating a smokescreen at the cost of its own people has backfired, neither own people trust it nor the international community.

Even a child in Swat and FATA knows that the heavy handed tactics by the state are to control and keep the lid on things.

A further tightening of the iron fist, command and control tactics will explode everything because the people of Swat and FATA are tested beyond limits. The political parties should end their criminal silence now. Under the martial law type situation neither free nor fair elections are possible nor is it possible to have a normal political and social life.

The president and parliament should reverse the harsh Action in Aid of Civil Power Regulation and hand over power to civil administration. About time the Orwellian era of state should come to end now!

The writer is a political analyst hailing from Swat. Tweets @MirSwat

Published in Daily Times, February 23rd 2018.