LAHORE, 24 February 2009 (IRIN) -
1. Where is Swat?
The mountain valley of Swat, covering 10,360 sqkm, is in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan, about 170km north-east of the provincial capital, Peshawar, and about 160km north-west of Islamabad. With its clean river, open fields and forests, tourism has traditionally been the main source of revenue for many of its 1.8 million people, most of whom are ethnic Pashtuns.
In 327 BC, Alexander the Great conquered the area. Around the second century BC, the valley was occupied by Buddhists. From the eighth century onwards, Arabs started to exert pressure from the West and in 1001, the Afghan ruler, Mahmud of Ghazni, launched several invasions of the Indian sub-continent, conquering Swat.
The British colonial rulers of the Indian sub-continent from 1858 to 1947 recognised the state as one of many princely regions in India in 1926.
At Partition in 1947, when Pakistan broke away from India and independence was gained from British rule, the ruler of Swat ceded the state to Pakistan while retaining considerable autonomy. The princely state was abolished in 1969 by the Pakistan government.
3. Present status
Swat is an administrative district of NWFP. The capital is Saidu Sharif but the main city is Mingora, adjacent to Saidu.
4. Origins of the conflict
In 1992, Sufi Mohammad Khan established the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariah-Mohammadi (TNSM) in Swat, as a party seeking an Islamic order. The party rose to national prominence in 1995, when Sufi Mohammad Khan demanded the immediate imposition of Sharia, Islamic law. Violence followed as paramilitary forces began an operation against Khan.
After Khan's imprisonment in 2002, his son-in-law, Maulana Fazalullah, a former chairlift operator, took over the TNSM at 28. By 2007 he had aligned himself with the hardline Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), setting up dozens of illegal radio stations in Swat from which he preached his message of jihad (holy war).
5. Who are the main combatants?
Fighting in Swat began after Fazalullah in July 2007 ordered supporters to avenge a security force operation to clear militants out of a mosque in Islamabad. Since then, paramilitary forces and troops of the Pakistan army have been fighting militants led by Fazalullah. A brief truce reached in May 2008 brought relative peace but fighting resumed in August. Some 4,000 militants are said to be battling 12,000 troops
6. How many people have died?
There is no independent confirmation of the number of casualties. The military in January 2009 said 142 soldiers and paramilitary troops had died since the conflict resumed in August 2008. In 2007 the military confirmed the deaths of 230 civilians and 90 military personnel. At the end of 2007 an activist of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in Swat said at least 400 civilians had died and 1,000 houses destroyed [http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=75903].
7. How many people have been displaced?
According to rights groups and the media, approximately 800,000 of Swat's 1.8 million people have fled. With intensified fighting from February 2009, as the Pakistan government promised to retake control of the valley from the militants, more people are reported to have left. Camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) have been set up in Mingora and other locations by the provincial government.
8. Why is there a threat to girls' education?
Fazalullah opposes education for girls. Since the conflict in Swat began, 170 to 200 schools for girls have been torched or bombed [http://www.dawn.com/2009/01/21/op.htm]. At the end of 2008, Fazalullah banned education for girls. Since then, 80,000 girls are still not in class as schools felt too threatened to re-open after the winter holiday.
Many had dropped out even before in fear of the militants, who in February said they would allow education for girls till Grade 5. The government has promised schools in Swat will re-open soon. Some schools have resumed classes after a truce. Women in Swat have also been ordered via radio stations run by militants to give up work and not to leave home. Men have been ordered to grow beards and wear prayer caps. Some have been killed for failing to comply with these orders.
9. What is the nature of peace efforts?
The NWFP government has agreed a truce with Sufi Muhammad Khan of the TNSM, whereby Sharia law would be imposed and both sides lay down arms. People in the Valley have welcomed the ceasefire. However, two previous accords along similar lines have broken down.
The abduction and killing of a prominent journalist days after the truce [http://www.nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/Regional/Islamabad/18-Feb-2009/TV-journalist-Musa-Khan-Khel-killed-in-Swat] aggravates those fears. Many Pakistanis have criticised the deal, with HRCP warning it offers no guarantees to protect basic liberties and rights of groups, including women. Friction between different militant factions adds to the risks of the truce failing, though for the present it has enabled girls to return to school.
Sources: Newsline magazine; Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, State of Human Rights in Pakistan Annual Reports 1992-2007; Dawn; The News; The Daily Times; IRIN; Economic Survey of Pakistan, 2008.
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