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Home > Women’s Rights > Pakistan: For Whom Will ’Gul Nargis’ Bloom This Spring in The Swat (...)

Pakistan: For Whom Will ’Gul Nargis’ Bloom This Spring in The Swat Valley

by Shaheen Sardar Ali, 17 January 2009

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For Whom Will ’Gul Nargis’ Bloom This Spring in The Swat Valley
by Shaheen Sardar Ali, January 2009
(PDF, 2.2 mb)

- Dedicated to the Girls of Swat who may never go to school again!
from their sister who was fortunate enough to be educated


Today, the 15th January 2009 civilisation, democracy, human rights, rule
of law, equality, justice and equity stand defeated. Today, the Government and people of Pakistan have succumbed to a disparate group of faceless, semi-invisible individuals hiding behind an opaque mask of religion and declared all girls’ education as outside the pale of Islam. ’Iqra’[Read], a mandatory injunction in the Qur’an for every Muslim male and female, has been reduced to a meaningless word trampled under the feet of worldly gods speaking in God’s name. The great and glorious of the state of
the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, in a state of complete denial whine and
whimper as the state recedes under their very eyes…………….. For today,
the parallel ’taliban’ the only government with any writ in Swat has declared
all girls’ schools closed forever.

But who cares for the Swat Pukhtuns from the back of beyond. Let them shut down girls’ schools and chop up heads, hang them from poles and tree tops. After all, Islamabad is thriving, we have a democratically elected President, Prime Minister and Parliament. Swat and FATA are very far away and only become significant when foreign masters are in town and demand action. After agonising, weeping, brooding and making angry conversations with whoever cared to listen, I decided to share these thoughts with anyone who may wish to read and capture the tormented soul of a Swati woman sitting continents away from her beloved homeland. Is the pain greater when one is far away from home and loved ones. Does everyone living in the ’diaspora’ experience a sinking feeling at the sound of a ringing telephone in the early hours of the morning, fearing some horrible news awaiting at the other end of the telephone. Does everyone sit glued to the television set in the anxious hope of more news of Swat, FATA and the country.

[ . . . ]

At about this time of year, in a few weeks perhaps, when the sun starts shining with a bit more courage and looks down on this icy cold valley, the gulai-nargis [narcissus] and ghaantol [wild tulips] will take heart and peep out of the muddy soil on the slopes of the adjoining mountains. Scores of women will be awaiting these first signs of the turning weather in the hope that they can go saaba-picking [edible green clover leaves, chives and a host of other saag type vegetation which is the staple food of most of the population]. Travellers along the road from Mingora towards Peshawar will find the familiar sight of young boys and girls holding up bouquets of narcissus and wild tulips for sale.

That is how I remember life growing up as a young girl in the Swat valley. My husband went to a co-education school in the town and his female classmates are grandmothers now. Sixty years ago in Swat, girls and boys went to primary school together; secondary and higher secondary schools for girls were full to the brim from where hundreds of young women ventured forth to the colleges and university if Peshawar and beyond. My induction as the first woman cabinet minister in the NWFP government in 1999 was widely hailed and men and women alike shared in what they saw as a collective pride and recognition of one of their own.

So when, why and how did the present nightmare unfold for us unfortunate Swatis. When did this serene, hospitable valley get chosen as the venue of game playing individuals and groups, local, national, regional and international. What was/is the game plan, input and output and what is the desired result that perpetrators of the scheme aspire to achieve. Why choose Swat as opposed to adjoining territories with less accessibility to the outside world and governmental infrastructure. How true is it that so-called militant religious extremists are entirely responsible for all the horror, terror, death and destruction of Swat and Swatis and so-called ’progressive’ democratically elected government is innocent and beyond reproach. How true is it seeds of the present situation were sown by
institutions responsible for upholding and protecting the national interest in 1994 when Sufi Mohammad took Swat and the entire governmental machinery hostage. The ’black turbans’, as they were called simply emerged as if from nowhere and before anyone could take a deep breath, had spread themselves across the valley. The government of the time gave them some crumbs in the form of the Nizam-i-adl regulation 1994, re-named judges and courts by using the names Qazi, Ilaqa Qazi etc., and assigned supposedly Shari’a literate muavin or advisers to assist the Qazi in administration of justice to make sure it was Shari’a compliant. People of the Malakand division as it was then called, had a choice to use the ’Islamic law’ or the ’regular’ law of the country. It is no secret that apart from a few women daring to challenge their male relatives to obtain their inheritance by using Islamic law, all and sundry stuck to the civil and criminal law of the country.

Some time later, dissatisfied noises started being heard regarding unsatisfactory nifaz/promulgation of Sharia, but it actually turned out that some of the muavineen, or ’Shari’a conversant advisers, were angling for a raise in their salaries. This demand was of course met, as that was the easy way out and then forgot all about the underlying million dollar question: Was/Is there a popular demand for Shari’a promulgation in the region; how is this to be gauged; what is the problem with existing offerings and what/who is the underlying, simmering problem and issue’/s.

Why is it that this demand emanates not from more urbanised centres of Swat including Mingora, Saidu etc., but from outlying, rural areas where class divisions are more pronounced and landed class unpopular among the general population. Surely, if the demand was the result of delays in court and administration of justice generally, ought the people from the urban centres not likely to be the ones more affected thus proponents of the demand for Shari’a……………..

Leaving the above critical question on the back burner to simmer and
exacerbate, we now come to another governance and neglect issue in Swat.
This is the issue of ’custom-chor’ vehicles that have flooded the market. Cars, jeeps etc are available for unbelievable paltry sums creating avenues for all sorts of activities outside the perview of the law. Why was this not dealt with and nipped in the bud asap when the problem was first spotted. Receding and abdicating state control and remit are terms that come readily to mind. The question I pose here is: Was the state apparatus unaware of this and the wider, serious implications for government and governance not to mention the lost revenue and financial fallout. Is it rocket science to decipher the fact that when you give an inch, a yard is what is generally being conceded. The signal given to those who may have
had intentions of violent adventures in the area would be quite clear:
go ahead and do what you want; there is very little to stop you.

Deep in the forests of Swat, it was being reported that when government officials went on inspection tours of the area, they were stopped at the foot of the mountains where the thick pine forests started. The local population also reported periodic ’earthquake- like’ happenings as if a bomb has gone off; they were spotting unfamiliar people on the roads, were generally confused but as unsuspecting people focussing on earning two square meals for their families, never thought more of it. Neither did they know who to say all this strange goings on to; who would listen to poor villagers in the first place…. Hospital staff in the several hospitals and health facilities recollect numerous men and women patients who ’did not look like us’, spoke a very strong sounding language, the men had ’long hair and sort of chinky eyes’, etc etc., These sightings started about two summers ago but no governmental, agency picked this up, or did they….

Is it possible that the few thousands of militants are so superior in arms and training that the 7th largest army in the world is unable to out manoeuvre them. Are the government structures and institutions so weak that access lines to arms and ammunition cannot be cut off. But the critical questions of all, that Swatis are asking themselves and the world: Who are these ’people’ who have captured their land, terrorised them to death, why and for what end and purpose. As citizens of this country, Swatis demand answers to these questions and for the government to take responsibility for leaving them without security, succour and sustenance.