Swat success - Brian Cloughley - Thursday, April 14, 2011

Last week, I went back to the Swat Valley which I’ve known for thirty years. During this period I have stayed in the area many times. The visits were enjoyable not only because of the scenery, which is outstandingly beautiful, but because the people made one welcome and visitors could relax in comfort. But five years ago, the comfort disappeared and the region fell into chaos and anarchy.

The takeover of the District and surrounding areas by militants was a disaster. Evil atrocities were committed in the name of the Shariah and a so-called ‘parallel government’ was set up. But of course it wasn’t parallel, because the weak province administration had given up trying to maintain decency and stability and meekly handed over to the thugs.

It seemed as if the area was going to be forever Taliban, and the vicious excesses of the power-crazed bullies knew no limits. They relished depriving normal human beings of dignity and security, and committed countless atrocities in the name of their religion which they interpreted, either wilfully or through ignorance, as endorsing murder and mayhem.

But Swat is now thriving. The inhabitants are free of domination by cruel barbarians, and life is as near normal as one can reasonably expect. During briefings in Islamabad and Rawalpindi about Swat, I had taken a few large pinches of salt – but seeing is believing, and it is only fair to observe that there has been an amazing shift from terror and lunatic extremism to rule of law and decent governance. It’s not perfect. That would be too much to expect. But there is no doubt whatsoever that the lives of the inhabitants have been vastly improved.

Take a bow, Pakistan army.

The success in Swat is somewhat at variance with last week’s White House declaration that there is a “clear indication of the inability of the Pakistan military and government to render cleared areas resistant to insurgent return.” According to the US administration, “there is no clear path towards defeating the insurgency in Pakistan.”

The insurgency in Swat was defeated, with the loss of many soldiers’ lives, and the army has established stability. Of course, it would be preferable were the administration of the region to be entirely civilian, but that will come in time. Meanwhile, responsibility for security and development rests with the army and, specifically, in upper Swat itself, with the Commander 19 Division, Major General Javed Iqbal, who with his staff and the dozens of units under command, has worked extremely hard and successfully to restore normality to a large and important area.

Bridge-building by army engineers is but one example of assistance. The construction of over 40 bridges has greatly improved communications and trade, which are vital for Swat’s growth and prosperity, and resurgence of the tourist industry has been a major objective in development efforts. (It is not widely known, for example, that when the flood disaster took place in July last year there were 10,000 tourists in the Valley and environs; the army helped to evacuate them along with many thousands of stricken inhabitants.)

There are many other development programmes under way, most notably rebuilding schools and community resources in general, but one that is not widely reported is that of rehabilitation of Taliban members and sympathisers.

In the course of operations against the militants, the army detained many hundreds of them and intended to have them answer to civil jurisdiction. But there was a practical problem, in that the civil authorities simply couldn’t cope with some 1,000 judicial cases. The trials would have clogged up the system for years. So the army hit on a solution: it would identify those detainees who had not committed major crimes and try to rehabilitate them. No murderers need apply; but there were many who had been brought under Taliban influence against their will or because the alternative was persecution. General Kayani was enthusiastic about the plans, and work began last year.

Two centres were established to cater to those identified as being suitable for rehabilitation, and have been staffed by teams of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, prominent local figures and technical instructors who are responsible for vocational training.

It is early days to quantify results, but evidence so far indicates that the scheme is successful. The atmosphere in the Centre I visited last week was impressive, and its administration – carried out entirely by an infantry battalion – was undoubtedly first class. Of course, it should not be the responsibility of the military to be involved in this type of programme, but there was no alternative, and if it works in the long term, as seems likely, it could be a model for other areas.

Swat was a disaster area, and suffered grievously from vicious barbarity on the part of insurgents whose reign of terror could be stopped only by military action. This was carried out efficiently, and now vitality has been restored to a region whose inhabitants had thought they would have to suffer indefinitely the dictatorship of vicious ignorant fanatics. The US sneers that Pakistan is unable to “render cleared areas resistant to insurgent return,” but it seems that this is exactly what has been done.

The writer’s website is www.beecluff.com

Source : http://www.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=41578&Cat=9

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