The newspaper tells me that Maulana Sufi Muhammad, he of the red-dyed beard and violent religiosity, has died, as – fortunately – we all must. When this columnist was vacationing with his family in that lovely valley as far back as 1995, all the locals were talking about this cleric, since, over the previous two or three years, he and his cohorts had swooped down from Malakand to terrorise both tourists and locals by demanding that they declare Shariah to be law and drive on the right-hand side of the road. It was with difficulty – and many promises to do just that – that he was persuaded to withdraw. But, as it turned out, he would return in full force.
Those of us not entirely clueless about the former princely state of Swat might recall Begum Nasim Aurangzeb, the wife of its last princely ruler. This lovely lady, the de facto first lady of Pakistan during the rule of her father President Ayub Khan, was one of the brightest spots of that regime. She projected a most graceful image of Pakistan around the world.
The exquisite Valley that Begum Nasim’s husband ruled had held a special status in the annals of the Gandhara civilization that had flourished for more than a millennium in what is now Pakistan. Udhayana, they called it, “vale of flowers”. And here was cultivated a uniquely gentle and meditative way of life. When, early in the 6th century, the invasion of the savage and cruel Hepthalites (White Huns) under the brutal Toramana and his uniquely cruel son Mihirakula destroyed Gandhara, a small group of monks carried the relics of their religion and culture over the Malakand Pass into the paradisal valley of Swat – where it continued to thrive for another five centuries.
In more recent times, too, Swat had been special. Here, uniquely, education was free and schools for both boys and girls operated in every single village, courtesy the Miangul family who ruled here.
But what was to be the destiny of Swat, this almost lost valley, by the turn of the present century? Destroyed schools, blasted homes, flogged women, public beheadings, and a systematic savagery that makes the cruelties of the bestial Mihirakula appear almost civilized! Here, in this little mountainous microcosm, we perceived the dire reality of state failure. The process of destruction of state and society in this valley began in 1992, when Maulana Sufi Muhammad had first burst onto the scene.
After amalgamation with the then NWFP, government receded from the citizen’s doorstep towards Peshawar and Islamabad
After the rule of the Miangul family ended in 1970 with the amalgamation of the State of Swat into the the present-day Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, the people of Swat became subject to the same kind of misrule, neglect and injustices to which the rest of us in Pakistan have been long inured. Here was a people accustomed to all the benefits of a benign despotism that nevertheless operated close to the earth and that delivered effective administration, social services and a quick justice – right at the citizen’s doorstep. After amalgamation with the then North West Frontier Province (NWFP), the benefits of such amalgamation notwithstanding, government receded from the citizen’s doorstep towards Peshawar and Islamabad. The 1970s saw the administration of the province rendered ineffective because of the political contretemps between the bizarre coalition of the socialist-secular NAP with the rightwing-Islamist JUI, on the one hand; and the PPP government of Bhutto on the other. The 1980s saw the iron fist of General Fazle Haq – emissary of the hellish Zia regime – slammed down on the Province. The 1990s witnessed the successive making and unmaking of governments at Peshawar as a sub-theme of the three-way struggles between Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif and Ghulam Ishaq Khan.
Like the rest of us, the people of Swat became the victims of bureaucratic indifference, political incompetence, administrative and police corruption, and judicial distance and slowness. Enter Maulana Sufi Muhammad. His Tahrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shari’at-e-Muhammadi (TNSM) offered the ordinary people of the valley a kind of rough justice that was at least uniformly applied. And this idea of justice was legitimized by reference to the Shariah, albeit the Maulana’s particular interpretations thereof.
Sufi Muhammad had earlier been one of the active leaders of the Jamat-e-Islami. He was the principal of the JI Madrassa in Tamargara, Lower Dir. An instinctive hardliner, in due course he developed differences with the Jamaat and left it in 1992 to form the TNSM. He became a mentor to Maulana Faqir Mohammed, who would become one of the prominent leaders of the insurrection in Bajaur.
One of the main objectives of the TNSM, as articulated by Sufi Muhammad, was to enforce Islamic laws – through the use of force, if necessary. In a speech at Peshawar, he declared that those opposing the imposition of Shariah in Pakistan were wajib-ul-qatal (worthy of being killed). His movement rejected democracy and termed it as “un-Islamic”.
Sufi Muhammad’s public career received a major setback when the truckloads of young hotheads he dispatched to Afghanistan in 2001 were either killed or arrested by the Northern Alliance. Some, including Sufi Muhammad himself, managed to return to Pakistan, only to be arrested here. Leadership of the TNSM was taken over by his son-in-law Fazal Hayat (Maulana Fazlullah), nicknamed “Mullah Radio” – a modern Mihirakula to Sufi Muhammad’s Toramana. While the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) government of Aslam Durrani and the MMA’s patron Pervez Musharraf watched, Maulana Fazlullah established a parallel government. He started with the west bank of the Swat River, in the Kabal area of Matta tehsil. And then, bit by bit, he took over Kwazakhela on the east bank. Extending his hold quickly southwards to Malam Jabba and Mingora and eastwards into Shangla, his position became unassailable. With Swat under Fazlullah’s control, he and his followers quickly moved to set up a kind of government, claiming sanction from the Shariah.
And this is precisely the point. The TNSM and its ideological partners in other parts of the then NWFP and FATA, i.e the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), had been able to provide an administration of sorts and a judicial system of a kind to the citizens under their rule. However medieval, cruel, and indeed, repulsive, these quasi-institutions functioned.
Leadership of the TNSM was taken over by his son-in-law Fazal Hayat (Maulana Fazlullah), nicknamed “Mullah Radio” – a modern Mihirakula to Sufi Muhammad’s Toramana
The unlamented strongman Gen Zia-ul-Haq noted, “What is the Constitution? It is a piece of paper. I can tear it up at will!” He was wrong. Whether the Constitution is a formal document or whether it is a set of customs legitimized by tradition and usage, the institutions of a state are based on a Constitution of some kind or the other.
States, after all, are not naturally existing entities, like mountains or rivers or human beings. There are no borders drawn in the earth; the ground on either side is the same colour. States are subjective entities, generated out of the intellect, imagination, values and aspirations of human beings in society. So are Constitutions, whether formal or customary. And neither States nor their Constitutions can endure long without the other.
Thus it was with Swat. The customary institutions of the Wali’s time, the Swati “Constitution”, as it were, were wound up after the state’s amalgamation. But no fresh set of administrative and judicial institutions became locally effective. Therefore, the state failed in Swat. A new anarchic administration, with its own anarchic courts, had begun functioning. And that once lovely valley was almost lost to Pakistan.
Let’s face it. Our machinery of government is, at every level, incompetent and ineffective. Our social services are almost non-existent. Our laws are flouted and dishonoured by high and low, every day, in every way. The lower levels of our magistracy and judiciary, the levels at which the overwhelming bulk of justice is meant to be dispensed, are all but ineffective. The alleged corruption and villainy of the police force has epic proportions. In seventy-two years, we have been unable to establish a normative, consistent pattern of governance. Was it surprising that Swat, as well as huge further swathes of in FATA, NWFP and Baluchistan, were almost lost to Pakistan?
It took successive military operations to prevent this lovely valley from being lost to hordes of violent extremists. But, let’s face it, the tasks have only begun. Moreover, perhaps even more complex are the tasks that lie ahead in the former Tribal Agencies of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
And we are neither discussing them nor even listening to the various points of view of the people there!