I was there this August. The city reflects about what it would have been like when the Taliban had taken over. People of Swat were threatened, Islam was different, life was not normal, and nothing could possibly be related to the essence of what the city was known for.
The clashes of natural beauty; the mountains, rivers and the innocence of the land through the eyes of young girls like Malala. Swat has risen from the dark ages, despite the distant yet lingering fear of the return of the extremist elements. The streets are abuzz with the sweetness of young boys and girls making their way to school, taking a dip from the riverside, joyfully teasing one another; something that any parent in their right state of mind would want their child to experience and share. The marketplaces cluttered with people and goods, I could also see shops selling music CDs and DVDs. Sitting on a newsdesk, couple of years ago, collating information and trends, I regularly got to hear of the music shops being blown up by the Taliban back then.
Driving through the valley, we pass Imam Dhehri, once the Headquarters for the Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi, a rebel movement dedicated to the destruction of the rule of law, now banned, Maulana Fazllulah, also known as ‘Mullah Radio’, a fundamentalist, son-in-law of the TNSM Chief, Sufi Muhammad, allied to the Taliban forces spread inciteful messages through illegal FM stations against the women’s right to vote and education.
Even though the enforcement agencies in the Malakand Division now come across as a state functionary in absolute control of the law and order situation. Pakistan is seen to be continuously demanding the Afghan Government to handover Fazllulah. The militant has been accused of destroying schools, shops, conducting suicide attacks, bombings and most recently for carrying out an attack on Malala Yusufzai and her school friends. One may argue, that this perhaps calls for the International community to build a more closer diplomatic relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan that brings stability in to the region.
Meanwhile, further ahead into the valley, is the Sanghota College for Girls, an educational facility, a bleak reminder of the past, wrecked and blown up, walls scraping off, holy scriptures painted, tarnished school desks and books piled up in the corner – it does tell a story of the clitter-clatter of girls running through the corridors. The silence is now filled with workers fixing the grills, re-building and renovating different parts of the college.
A visit to “Saba’oon”, a de-radicalisation school, a harsh reality, a project meant for teenage boys, psychologically savaged into believing that the true way of living is to destroy the so-called ‘others’; their only fault in life, is being born and raised in unjust circumstances. Their stories are the ones that need to be told, stories of plight, stories of economic disparities, stories of bad peers, stories of not being aware of right from left, right from wrong – stories that reflect on the poor education system, on unbearable living conditions. Their life is not a simple story to tell. But is a story worth listening to before questioning their dignity.
Nevertheless, the project, instills the belief of how life, under different circumstances can change thought, build character, create a new future for these young boys. Each one I spoke to had a future, a dream to do better, to do good to give back to their families, to help their community, to help the ones that have suffered. Overwhelmed only by sheer intelligence, the program shows that the youth in Pakistan needs its share of attention in a country caught up in every type of turmoil. Many of the 15-17 year old boys have been reintegrated, and are being mentored on regular basis.
How often, does one get to read, hear, think, what “The State for the people” actually means for an everyday Pakistani?
Saba’oon protects these children, gives them shelter, hope and a tomorrow to look-forward to. One would only naturally think that is what the role of the state is supposed to be. To Protect and To Serve.
Swat has suffered the worst exodus and civilian casualty. Rah-e-Rast left 90 soldiers dead, and now as it reels back to life, the impact of those contributing towards its rehabilitation can be seen through constructional efforts of new schools, hospitals and clinics. But the infrastructure still carries the wounds of the past.