Unidentified men sprayed bullets at a school van in Char Bagh area of Swat, killing the driver and injuring two students. The 40 hours long sit-in protest following the incident ended after reassurance of arrest and compensation from authorities. But it does not end there.
The demands of the protestors were fairly limited to a particular recent event only. They demanded an immediate arrest of the culprits and compensation for the family of the deceased driver. An attack on a school van is extremely severe but must not be seen as an isolated event. There is a bigger factor at play as Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) resurfaces in Swat.
It is unclear how TTP militants returned to Swat, but it is pretty clear that imposing bans on a group without conceptualizing an effective system of enforcement is senseless.
The intention behind the ban on TTP was never its erasure. TTP was and will always remain the strongest weapon of those who created it, and they protect it at the cost of misinformation.
TTP has claimed responsibility for multiple terrorist activities, including the shooting of Benazir Bhutto, and emerged right when it became obvious that religion is the most effective political tool in Pakistan. There is no doubt who the TTP works for, but it is starting to become an uncontrollable weapon that can not be curtailed even by those who created it.
Earlier in August, after multiple terrorist activities, journalists turned to Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), who dismissed reports alleging the presence of TTP in Swat. In an official statement, ISPR claimed that the spotted armed people in Swat and Dir are native resettlers hiding from Afghanistan, and they are being monitored closely.
However, despite being “closely monitored,” these native resettlers who were TTP militants detained an army officer and police personnel and did a roadside bomb attack killing five people long before they attacked the school van.
Terrorism in Swat is not new, and the city has had enough of it. In 2009, more than 2 million people were displaced after the launch of operation Rah-e-Rast. From closure of schools, hospitals and all public spheres, to men, women and children being flogged, the trauma from past terrorism is still afresh. Relevant authorities can not risk dismissing any report alleging threats from TTP.
In the last week of July, after a joint Pashtoon Jirga, negotiations with TTP ended without any progress. There is a spike in cases of terrorism in Swat, but it remains uncertain when another round of negotiations will happen and if it will reach anywhere.
One thing is for certain the people of Swat will not sit idly and trust the authorities. The mass protest in Mingora last Tuesday corroborates the increasing lack of trust in the government and other authorities. However, as pressing as the current issue may be, protestors must look beyond a recent tragedy and focus on the bigger picture that allows small terrorist events to occur every now and then.
The focus of government policy is always on central politics; however, Swat is more important than how it is being viewed. The “war on terror” introduced progressive protests that challenged the effects of right-wing militancy and the way “national security” is viewed. These views propagated in Swat must be nurtured to fruition, and Swat remains integral in this discourse.
There is international interference and focus on issues in Swat, especially on the education of women, because of Malala Yousafzai. To protect Pakistan’s international image, there must at least not be any terrorist spike in this region.
Swat and other Pashtun peripheries are full of natural resources, and terrorist activities may become coupled with the material exploitation of these ethnic peripheries. This will not only have a grave economic impact but will also create social forces that will affect progressive intellectuals that have challenged populous views about how terrorism is viewed in Pakistan.
Whatever the relationship between militant groups like TTP is with the establishment in Pakistan, it must come to an end. TTP has done irreversible damage to the north, and spillover effects from past terrorism still plague the country. The Afghan Taliban factor in TTP makes the situation complex, but a push for effective negotiations and a strict guard on the Pak-Afghan border may steer us right.