Horrors of 2007 in Swat: We need the Army

Published: June 14, 2013
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The people of Swat feel safe with the help of the Pakistan Army. Why would you want to pull-out now? PHOTO: AFP

The people of Swat feel safe with the help of the Pakistan Army. Why would you want to pull-out now? PHOTO: AFP My own words to the people of Swat still haunt me; the Taliban would destroy their homes, and so far they had. PHOTO: FILE/AFP

Yesterday I was reading The Express Tribune, when my eye caught an interesting statement made by the new elected chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P).

He was boldly talking about pulling out the Pakistan Army from the Swat. I will refrain from criticising any party directives or policies here; all I want to do is to provide a clearer picture of the situation in Swat, and let the people be the jury of such an action.

I remember when the Pakistan Austrian Institute for Hotel and Tourism Management (PAITHOM) was targeted by the Taliban in the Swat valley in August 2007. This kind of Taliban was generally a lesser known entity at that time. PAITHOM was a joint venture by the Republic of Austria and Pakistan to promote the tourism industry in the Swat valley. I was working at PAITHOM as an assistant teacher at the time. Although the school was only producing alumni based on tourism and hotel management, it was soon labelled as promoting ‘secularism’ because the name was linked to Austria.

One day, a friend of mine asked me what we were really doing in the school. I explained to him that it was a normal school like any other school in the country. The only difference was that we had a new curriculum of tourism and hotel management. However, the Taliban propagated PAITHOM as promoting secularism and maligned it as a place for selling alcohol and promoting other immoral activities.

In August, 2007, we first received a letter from the Taliban to stop dressing in ‘Westernised’ clothing. Even though the Taliban were not the force of terror they are today, we took the letter quite seriously and advised the students to come to class in traditional attire.

However, the threat was just the beginning.

As many students were accommodated inside the school building it was vital that we took initiative to provide security. This was because the school was located 12km away from main Mingora city and there was no nearby police station. Therefore, we asked the police to provide us with the necessary security for our school.

This ended as a fruitless venture as they apologised saying, they did not have enough resources to provide us with such assistance.

We then turned to the Frontier Constabulary (FC) to help us. The FC agreed to provide security to our school and finally made a compound at the entrance.

One day, I went to a nearby mosque and I saw some long-haired suspicious looking people carrying arms. I ran back to the school in a state of complete panic and told everyone that we were no longer safe. Not only was the school in danger, but Swat valley as a whole could be lost to the Taliban too. They had continually propagated an agenda for jihad and this time they were ready for action.

A few days later, I got a phone call from a colleague who was residing at PAITHOM itself as he had travelled from Lahore. The phone call sent chills down my spine; he told me that this night could be his last. He wanted to talk to each one of us before he left this world. I could hear the noise of the gunfire in the background.

I asked him what had happened, fearing I knew the answer. He said the Taliban had finally attacked our school. I called up the police in a state of panic and horror, however, they had already been informed about the situation, but were waiting on a certain helicopter that was meant to come from Peshawar. Until the next morning, no action had been taken by the police. They did not even try to save the FC personnel.

When I went to the school the next morning, I saw blood everywhere. Pages of the Holy Quran were scattered and desecrated; we we collected these with our hands.

Our students and associates were safe as they were hiding in the underground compound. The blood was from the FC personnel who had bravely done their duty to provide security. The Holy Quran also belonged to those martyrs.

In September, 2007, I left Swat to pursue further studies in Austria.

My own words to the people of Swat still haunt me; the Taliban would destroy their homes, and so far they had. We saw (and still see) the Taliban terrorising our school children and demolishing schools.

This is a point that deserves your attention, dear Chief Minister.

The people of Swat feel safe with the help of the Pakistan Army. Why would you want to pull-out now? Have they completed their job yet? Are the people of Swat safe yet? They are our country’s army, here to protect our people. What’s the guarantee that the Taliban will not return?

There are plenty of other problems to address rather than putting the people of Swat into further distress.

We do not want another Malala getting shot. Please don’t make it happen. Please listen to us.

gouhar.ali

Gouhar Ali

Gouhar Ali has studied Master in tourism from Salzburg University, Austria. He is currently working as a customer service advisor in Salzburg International Airport.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.