A climate of fear pervades Swat over rising Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) activity.
TTP militants were first spotted in August along the Swat-Dir border as peace talks between the outlawed terror outfit and the Pakistani government were underway in Kabul, Afghanistan. The TTP-claimed attack on a Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) MPA in Lower Dir and the abduction of an army man and police official in Swat fuelled fears of the militants staging a comeback. Regular extortion calls further stoked fear among citizens.
Swat locals, though fearful, have taken to the streets against rising militancy in the region much like those resident in other parts of the province. The numbers witnessed are unprecedented, according to journalist Riffatullah Orakzai. How the people have spontaneously come together against the militants is worth noting, he said.
The development has left all and sundry surprised. The people, he said, simply do not want the Taliban back. Zero tolerance for terrorism is representative of rising public awareness, Orakzai said.
Scores of Swat denizens on Thursday staged a demonstration against the rising incidence of terrorism in the region. Hundreds, carrying placards and raising slogans, converged at Swat’s Kabal Chowk demanding swift action against militants. Those present also threatened to stage a sit-in at Grassy Ground and remain put there till militants were flushed out from the area. The protestors, who had congregated at the spot post Friday prayers, questioned how militancy was rearing its head under the watch of law enforcement agencies.
A Swat explosion on Tuesday had left peace committee leader Idrees Khan and four others dead. The outlawed TTP had claimed responsibility for the attack. Swat DPO Zahid Marwat said Idrees was returning to his village when the attack happened.
The explosion was the first major incident of its kind in the region that witnessed a military operation in 2009. The military had then succeeded in flushing out militants from the district with the assistance of local militias.
The TTP had, in a separate incident, abducted seven individuals the same day. Five of them were released later. Local journalists claimed a militant commander had warned people against collaborating with the government.
Fears of the TTP staging a comeback in the area, however, have been gaining traction of-late. An Islamabad-TTP ceasefire announced in June stands broken. Islamabad says it has witnessed an uptick in TTP attacks following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
Former Senator Afrasiab Khattak, now affiliated with the National Democratic Movement (NDM), likened the Afghan Taliban and the TTP to Siamese twins while speaking to The Friday Times — Naya Daur. How were TTP men surfacing in Swat by way of Dir when the Durrand Line is said to be fenced and under watch, he questioned. He attributed the TTP resurgence to a pre-planned initiative aimed at rendering the Pashtun synonymous with the Taliban. He called for Pakistan’s longstanding Afghanistan policy “of playing favourites” to be revamped and “Project Taliban” to be dismantled. Khushal Khattak of the NDM, speaking separately, said the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan had served the TTP with an entire country on a platter to operate from.
Khadim Hussain of the Awami National Party said the policy of using private militias for strategic purposes had to go. Terrorism and extremism had to be countered on the social level too. Hussain said the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan had facilitated the reorganisation of the TTP.
Hussain said the Kabul-brokered peace talks were shrouded in mystery. Neither the Parliament or the KP Provincial Assembly had been taken in confidence over them. He also held the KP government directly responsible for the Taliban resurgence. He said many individuals of the party had regularly been paying extortion to the TTP. He demanded a probe to be launched on this account.
Murad Saeed of the PTI, on the other hand, posited otherwise. In a YouTube video posted on September 13, Saeed claimed the TTP enjoyed the backing of the powers that be. He said the PTI had brought about a durable peace in the region when it was in power. This was in jeopardy now, Saeed had said.
Academic Ejaz Bhatty said law enforcement agencies had swiftly responded to the increasing footprint of the TTP. Any talks on reversing the Fata merger too, he said were impossible.