Reconstructing Swat

The revival and promotion of cultural activities will boost rebuilding

By Rafi Ullah- Courtesy to "The News"

Swat is once again abuzz with activity. The traditional looks of Mingawara seem to be coming back in the once restive valley. As I stepped down from the van in Mingawara I found the city open with its archetypal cheers. Of course, the recent normalcy has infused, once more, confidence and the spirit of life in the people of Swat.

The activity of life going on in Swat has many aspects and dimensions. But the reconstruction and rehabilitation work overshadows all other doings. The people are, understandably, demanding reconstruction as the valley has gone through devastation. But there is lack of a comprehensive approach to the programme. Reconstruction does not imply building physical infrastructure alone as it is generally conceived in Pakistan both by the policy-makers and the people. Due attention is not being given to the social, cultural as well as psychological aspect of rehabilitation in the area.

Swat has not just seen misfortunes in terms of destruction of buildings, roads, and bridges. It is also a human trauma because of the disruption of the social and cultural side of life in the valley. People have seen destruction of their four walls, holy places, and slaughtering of their near and dear ones.

Physical infrastructural reconstruction is, no doubt, necessary for social and economic development but ignoring the cultural, social and psychological rehabilitation will have serious effects on the overall reconstruction plan. Ignoring this dimension of rehabilitation programme will be tantamount to leaving the society vulnerable to a major future threat. That is the phase of revenge and retribution. The people would remain involved in deadly annihilation of each other, the seeds for which have been sown during the long Talibanisation process.

People have gone through psychological trauma. The violation of their social and cultural norms and values have deprived them of their fundamental human rights. A large number of innocent people have lost their lives, leaving behind families raging with emotions of revenge. Likewise, a bulk of people has seen the destruction of their properties. Kidnappings for ransom have also antagonised a large number of people. Given that all these injustices were not compensated in a proper way Swat will be, once again, overwhelmed by violence; this time it will took the form of family reprisals.

How can this imminent threat be coped with? In my opinion it can, first, be dealt with successfully by creating a social space which, in turn, could be achieved through: a) education, b) media, c) cultural activities, and d) speedy justice.

The above-mentioned four-pronged mechanism would help in creating social space in Swat. This phenomenon will do away with the future threats which, otherwise, seem hanging over the society like a sword of Damocles. It seems, in the context of the present crisis in Swat, vitally important to give education the foremost importance. It is here that a peaceful transition of the Swat society could be effected successfully. The purpose is to be served by both quantity and quality education. The school and college curricula need to be completely overhauled.

Till now, scholars and academics in Pakistan suggest changes in curricula. Accordingly, it is through an independent and scientific education system that the social, political, and economic evils can easily be wiped away from society. This is truer in case of Swat in the face of imminent future threats. In this way, a section of responsible citizenry would appear on the stage which would be careful about the socio-cultural norms and values of the valley.

To follow Steven Sigler’s definition, civil society "finds its basis and strength in primeval kinship" while civil society as voluntary and political is catered for by "formal association centred on shared interest and collaboration". The smooth and cooperative interaction between these two types of civil societies creates a social space which is but a vibrant process of continuity and change. The reconstruction and rehabilitation pursuits in regard to Swat would only be effective if such a comprehensive approach is adopted.

Traditional music concerts like mailas with the thought-provoking poetry of Rahman Baba, Abdur Rahim Roghanay and others must be held regularly. The revitalisation of the shrine culture would also serve as a path to normalcy in the area. Many outsiders unhesitatingly associate Pakhtunwali with violence and give verdicts about the incompatibility between Pakhto and Sufism. But the Pakhtun history does not support their argument. Mysticism has strong roots in Pakhtun culture as is evident from its folk tales, folk poetry and oral history. Without promoting such cultural features any attempt at realising the culture of peace in Swat would remain a dream.

The purpose of creating a responsible society in Swat may also be served by both print and electronic media. Reformative dramas, films and documentaries must be encouraged, an act through which the traumatic Swatis would be successfully brought back to their normal lifestyle. Swat has a long history of journalism. Many local dailies and magazines have appeared in the valley at different times. These days newspapers such as Azadi, Chand, Shamal and Khabar Kaar are the mouthpieces of the Swati people. These dailies have been serving the cause of Swat and Swatis to a great extent. It is proposed that a Pakhto page — only for columns, essays, short stories, and purposeful poetry — may be added to these local dailies.

A majority of Swatis speak Pakhto. Second, certain debates relating to socio-economic and socio-cultural issues may be initiated on the editorial pages of these dailies. Such endeavours must be aimed at leading to satisfactory relations between the people which is the foremost concern of any programme of peace and development. Thirdly, the government must also fulfill its responsibility, in this respect, in terms of providing these dailies with financial assistance both for the purpose of their wider circulation as well as keeping them within the limits of the purchasing power of the people.

The role of judiciary is of paramount importance in the reconstruction and rehabilitation programme of Swat. The people’s grievances need to be addressed in a speedy and smooth way. As the crisis in Swat is generally believed to have been the result of ineffective judicial system in the wake of 1969, any further loopholes in this regard would be an instance of sheer non-seriousness.

The reconstruction mantra can certainly help some people improve their tarnishing image but the problems in Swat should be ideally approached as suggested above. Once social trust, which leads to satisfactory relations between the people and which in turn is a primary condition for peace and development, is reinvigorated in the people we will have our Swat back. Development, as Steven Sigler observes "… that originates from this (social) space will have feelings of obligation attached to it that are founded in something that is stronger and more powerful than those that come from the rule of law with the result of making that development inherently more sustainable than it might otherwise be."


caption The government has a huge task of re-settling the displaced.