Pressured from all sides in Pakistan’s Swat Valley

by Kathy Kelly and Joshua Brollier

May 14th, 2010

Hindu Kush foothills on the road to the Swat Valley. (Photo: G. Simon Harak)

In May of 2009, under tremendous pressure from the United States, the Pakistani military began a large-scale military operation in the Swat District of Pakistan to confront militants in the region. The UNHCR said the operation led to one of the largest and fastest displacements it had ever seen. Within ten days, more than two million people fled their homes.

Now, a year later, our small delegation visited the Swat District. After a breathtaking ride through the Hindu Kush mountains, traveling in a pick-up truck from Shah Mansour in the Swabi district, we arrived in Swat’s capital, Saidu Sharif.

Saidu Sharif is a small town, ringed by mountains. The Swat River, a few hundred yards in width, runs through it. It’s easy to imagine a former time when tourists would flock to visit this scenic treasure. While we were there, the town seemed tranquil. Stores were open and the streets were bustling. Merchants, children, shoppers, bicyclists, goats, cars, donkey carts, rickshaws, and tractors jostled for space in the narrow roadways. But, we also saw dozens of uniformed men, carrying weapons, suggesting that tensions still prevail in Swat.

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Losing Pakistan

A child beside at a refugee camp near Islamabad (Greg Baker/AP)
A child beside at a refugee camp near Islamabad (Greg Baker/AP)

US drones have just killed 29 tribesmen in Mirali, North Waziristan. The military invasion of Swat continues meanwhile. The story has already dropped out of headlines, in some cases vanishing altogether, meanwhile nearly a 1000 people have been killed, more than a million displaced, with most of their property and livelihoods destroyed. The following analysis from Brig (ret) F. B. Ali is astute when it comes to describing the error and futility of this operation, but it overstates the likelihood of Islamist take over in Pakistan, the chances of which are close to zero. (via Col. Pat Lang’s indispensable Sic Semper Tyrannis).

The tragedy now unfolding in Pakistan is occurring due the pursuit of shortsighted policies by the United States as well as the Pakistan government and military. The US has pressured Pakistan into engaging in brutal military operations in Bajaur and Swat, with no regard for how this would affect its own vital interests in the region. The Pakistani rulers (bedazzled by the glitter of all those promised billions) have meekly complied in waging war on parts of their own people, again with no thought to the likely outcome for them and their country. The main impact of this has been to the civilian population, some million and a half of whom have been displaced (with many killed and maimed, although no figures for these are yet available).

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