The telephone rang several times before Jehan, Shaista’s mother, picked up. As soon as she did, her words resounded firmly: “Please do not come here. They are back.” Jehan lives in Matta, a stronghold of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan during their 2007-2009 siege of the Swat valley, a Pakistani mountain district adjacent to Afghanistan. “If you do plan to come, please cover up, and do not mention you are a journalist,” she warned Shaista in a concerned tone. 

More than a decade after the end of the war between the Pakistani Army and the Taliban, history appears to be repeating itself. In August 2022, rumours of a few hundred fighters returning from nearby Afghanistan, where the Taliban regained power, spread rapidly across the Swat valley, leaving locals uneasy – especially after a resurgence of violence. 

The rise of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan in Swat had its seeds planted in the social fabric of the valley during the 2001 Afghanistan conflict. The right side of the Swat River, historically and politically a tribal administered area, became a place where Taliban fighters would come to find respite from combat. Eventually, some made the area their home by marrying into Gujar families - the local landless farmers, usually obtaining their ‘blessings’ by renouncing the traditional dowry. 

When Maulana Fazlullah, the future leader of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, launched his indoctrination campaign in 2006, a portion of the Swati tribal society was already prone to side with him and his militants. Wartime and turmoil followed until the Pakistani Army regained control of the valley in 2009. However, even then, years of guerrilla-style warfare persisted. As a result, the Swat valley carries a double trauma: one caused by the Taliban rule, the other by the subsequent Army occupation of the valley. 

“Army and Taliban are the same thing,” says Fayaz Zafar, a local journalist with the Daily Mashriq. The sentiment is widespread among locals, but the Pakistani government hardly recognizes the deep wounds left by both factions. Instead, the idyll of the Swat as the “Switzerland of the East,” a moniker coined by Queen Elizabeth II during her 1961 visit, is reflected in state propaganda, eager to capitalize even on natural disasters such as the latest devastating monsoon seasons. 

“Swat is a national core-periphery involved in a chess game between China and the US. Pakistan is in need of both. The Taliban and the Army are instrumental to that,” said Dawn correspondent Fazal Khaliq. “Unfortunately, mobs don’t think, they just feel,” poetically Khaliq concluded.

PASHTUN PROVERB: "It Was a Battle of Hawks And A Dove Ended Up In The Middle."


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