Social background to the events in Swat Valley

Humeira Iqtidar has an excellent background article in Open Democracy about the social background to the misnamed “Taliban” in the Swat Valley in Pakistan, and the underlying class dynamics.

See: Who are the “Taliban” in Swat?, for the full article. Excerpt below. There are much more insights in the original article.

Humeira Iqtidar:

“A recent report in the New York Times claims that the Swat Taliban have exploited class rifts within Swat to deepen their hold. They first targeted the two dozen or so local landlords. Each time a landlord fled in response to TNSM threats, local peasants were allowed greater access to the vacated land. The new arrangements also allowed for a share of revenue for TNSM. Other reports in Pakistani newspapers suggest that emerald mines from the area have been reopened under a profit sharing scheme with the local miners.

While critics have slammed the government for making concessions that allow sharia law in the region, the motivation behind imposing sharia may stem from more than just religious zeal. The much discussed Nizam-e-Adl (Mechanisms for Justice) regulation that was passed as part of the ceasefire agreement between the Taliban and the government of Pakistan and ratified by President Asif Ali Zardari on 14 April, makes perfunctory mention of the desire to adhere to Quranic injunctions, but rather is concerned primarily with providing quick and effective justice. The mechanisms may be misguided, open to abuse and problematic, but it is easy to see how the fundamental thrust of the regulation has found resonance locally. It is ultimately an endeavour to bypass Pakistan’s judicial system that is heavily biased against the powerless, and to facilitate quick decision-making.

A history of inequity and resistance may feed into contemporary events. The Malakand area of Swat was an important hub of peasant mobilisation during the 1970s, agitations that were suppressed only with a certain amount of brutality and with the connivance of local landlords and the state machinery. Not surprisingly, the landlords are often the region’s political leaders and administrative officials. Though it would be quite a stretch to see the TSNM in Swat as the heirs of these older peasant movements, their legacy no doubt lingers in the restive region.”

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