Malakand Division: Conflict, Floods and Response

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Zubair Torwali*

The  Malakand   Division   constitutes nearly  40  %  of  the  area  of the  north  western   province,   Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa of  Pakistan.  It is spread  over  an area of nearly  29,800  sq.  km and  has a population  of about 6.0 million. The Division consists of seven districts- Malakand, Bunir,  Swat,  Shangla,  Upper  Dir,  Lower  Dir  and  Chitral.  It borders Afghanistan’s Badakshan and Nuristan  Provinces in the north and northwest. In the southwest,  Malakand  Division shares a border with the Bajaur  and Mohmand  Agencies of  Pakistan’s Federally  Administered Tribal  Areas  (FATA).  In the east,  Malakand  Division  shares  a border with the strategically important Federally Administered Northern  Areas (FANA, now Gilgit-Baltistan) of Pakistan,  which  in tum is contiguous with  China’s  Uyghur-inhabited Xinjiang   Province   in  the  north.   In the south, Malakand  borders with the densely-inhabited Charsadda­ Peshawar, Mardan  and Swabi  districts  of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. With the exception of Chitral,  which  is inhabited  by the Indo-Aryan  Dardic languages-speaking Khowar,  Kalash  and  a number  of smaller  tribes, the  Malakand  Division  is inhabited  largely  by Pashtun  tribes,  mainly the Yousafzai  along with a scattered  population  of the nomadic  Gujars. However, in upper Swat and the adjacent Upper Dir district two other linguistic  minorities of  Dardic  origin-   Torwali  and  Gauri,  are said to be  the  original  inhabitants of  Swat  and  Dir  respectively. Their  total population  is approximately 300,000.

  1. 1. Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM)

Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM, English: Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law) is a Pakistani militant group whose objective is to enforce Sharia law in the country.  It was founded by Sufi Muhammad in 1992 in the aftermath of the abolition of the PATA Regulations by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.  Sufi Muhammad founded TNSM soon after he left Jamaat-e-Islami in which he was a local leader with considerable influence.

The organization was active in the areas along the Pak-Afghan border, especially Swat and Malakand. It supported the Taliban forces in neighbouring Afghanistan.

In 1994 Sufi Muhammad fomented an insurrection in Malakand Division for the enforcement of Sharia law. The uprising was quashed by the Pakistan military but not before TNSM had brought Dir and Swat under its control. Timergara, the district headquarters of Lower Dir, was besieged by government artillery and fighting was particularly intense in Swat. TNSM had by then taken over the Saidu Airport in Swat and it was recaptured only after fierce fighting. TNSM also established Sharia law in Swat.

From 1994 to 2001 the situation in Malakand Division was comparatively better with sporadic protests by the TNSM off the main Malakand Road. When the US led attacks on Afghanistan began, Sufi Muhammad sent thousands of volunteers to fight a Jihad against the US in Afghanistan. As a result, Sufi Muhammad was jailed in November 2001 by the government of Pakistan. During his imprisonment, his son- in-law Maulana Fazlullah, known as “Mullah Radio” for his illegal FM station broadcasts, led TNSM. President Musharraf banned the group in January 2002.

After a brief decline, the group experienced a revival in the aftermath of the October 2005 earthquake. Radio broadcasts reinforced local beliefs that the earthquake was a punishment for sins.  As a result of his sermons on the radio, Maulana Fazalullah gained popularity in the district of Swat. He began to demand donations from the people for the construction of a larger religious seminary in his home village, Maam Dheri in the vicinity of Kabal on the right side of the river eight kilometers across Mingora, the main town of Swat Valley. Interestingly, Fazalullah was able to collect huge donations both in cash and kind from the locals. His followers would even volunteer services and labor in the construction of the religious school near the bed of the River Swat. Large congregations were seen each Friday at the site. Gradually Maulana Fazalullah began a fiery campaign against the State of Pakistan and his demand for the enforcement of Sharia began to turn into an armed agitation. By the end of 2006 his followers started fighting the police and other law enforcement agencies. The government was first reluctant to take him seriously, however, when in July 2007, the group took over much of the Swat District and held on to it as late as November, the Pakistani government launched an offensive named Operation Rah-e-Nijat (Path of Salvation) and consequently the security forces ousted Maulana Fazlullah and his followers from his stronghold, Maam Dheri.

Following the 2007 siege of Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad, Fazlullah’s forces allied themselves with the Al-Qaeda inspired Tehrik- e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Fazlullah and his militia reportedly received orders from Baitullah Mehsud, the commander of TTP at that time.

On October 8, 2007 members of the group, now Swat Taliban, obliterated the face of a 23 foot high image of a seated Buddha carved in 7th century CE on a hillside near the village of Jehanabad in the vicinity of Manglawar in the Swat district.

In May 2008 Sufi Muhammad was released after he renounced violence in a deal with the provincial government. Eight leaders of TNSM signed a peace agreement that recognized the provincial government’s sovereignty, urged an end to violence and declared attacks against police, and the Swat Taliban became more ferocious. It was as if the people of Swat were ruled by the security forces and the Taliban simultaneously. It was perhaps due to the government’s compliance with the peace deal that the security forces deployed in Swat did not fight the Taliban despite the latter’s blatant  display of weapons and their treatment of people they considered as ‘infidels’ and government officials. The atrocities by the militants were rampant. They would abduct innocent civilian and policemen; slaughter them and throw their bodies on roadsides while the security forces remained mere spectators.

By January 2009 the Swat Taliban had established quasi-courts that openly administered punishment to people who dared to violate their strict code of conduct in a region extending from Matta sub-division in upper Swat valley to Kabal sub-division close the main Mingora town.

The Swat Taliban then began displaying their brutality by slaughtering people and hanging their mutilated bodies on poles and trees in the busiest areas of the districts to terrorize the inhabitants. Any resistance was quashed with severe brutality.   In Matta, Pir Sameeul Haq attempted to raise a Lashkar (group of armed men) against them with the help of his followers but he was soon defeated and his body was strung over a tree for many days as a clear message to anyone else that might have such intentions. The security forces did not openly support any local resistance to the Taliban either. This resulted in the undisputed dominance of the Taliban over entire Swat.

In December 2008 the Taliban marked 15th  January 2009 as a deadline for a complete ban on female education in Swat. Some 400 schools enrolling 40,000 girls were forced to close. At least 10 girls’ schools that tried to open after the January 15 deadline were demolished by the militants in the town of Mingora. In a span of one year more than 170 schools had been bombed or torched, along with other government- owned buildings.

The February 2009 Peace Deal and Sharia Nizam-e-Adl Regulation 2009

On February 16, 2009, the government of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa signed a peace agreement with the Taliban and agreed to enforce Sharia (Islamic System of Justice) under the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation in the Malakand Division and the Kohistan district of Hazara Division. The deal raised concern within a large segment of Pakistani society and the international community, who believed that the State of Pakistan had capitulated to the Taliban.  In return, Fazlullah’s followers agreed to observe a ceasefire negotiated by Sufi Muhammad.

After   the   February   2009   peace   agreement,   the   TTP-Swat started to expand to the adjoining districts of Bunir, Shangla, and Lower and Upper Dir under the pretext of enforcing Nizam-e-Adl. The Swat Taliban initiated a drive to recruit locals in Swat, Bunir and Shangla in an attempt to create self-sustaining local Taliban structures in these districts.  The TNSM, which resembeled a political wing of the TTP-Swat, even attempted to enter Chitral in April to promote its agenda of Talibanization under the garb of Nizam-e-Adl. However, a local peace committee of Chitral requested the TNSM leader Sufi Muhammad to postpone his visit.

In early April 2009 Sufi Muhammad rescinded his support for peace negotiations, stating that the government was not sincere in the implementation of Sharia courts in the Swat valley. President Asif Ali Zardari refused to sign any agreement until peace had been restored in the valley but failed to elaborate on how those conditions would be achieved. Due to the insistence of the National Assembly President Zardari finally signed the agreement, the Sharia Nizam-i-Adl Regulation 2009, on April 13, 2009. A spokesman for Sufi Muhammad, Amir Izzat Khan, stated that the law would encourage the establishment of peace in the Swat region and that the Taliban were in the process of disarmament. Muslim Khan added that an “Islamic syllabus” would be instituted in schools and that women would not be allowed to work or even go to markets. of Bunir, Shangla and Dir. The Taliban did not abide by the agreements set in the infamous peace deal and news of harsh public punishments and slaughtering of innocent people was routine. Civil society in Pakistan along with human rights organizations were agitated by this deal. Signals of strong resentment were also coming from the international community. A video from Swat showing the lashing of a young girl by the Taliban was widely circulated and condemned by both national and international media which added pressure on the government over its apparent capitulation before the militants.

Meanwhile the government facilitated Sufi Muhammad to rein in the Taliban led by his son-in-law, Maulana Fazalulla. Sufi Muhammad entered Swat as a hero with a long procession. The next day he addressed a large gathering. In his speech he branded Pakistan’s constitution and Supreme Court as ‘un-Islamic’. This pronouncement proved fatal for the peace deal and the federal government ordered the security forces to launch an offensive against the Taliban in Swat.

Operation Rah-e-Raast (Righteous Path)

Operation Rah-e-Raast was launched in early May 2009.  In June Pakistani security forces bombed and demolished the Maam Dheri compound that served as Fazlullah’s headquarters.

The Summer Exodus

Securing the life of hundreds of thousands of innocent bystanders was essential before launching a full-fledged military campaign against the militants and terrorists. Therefore, a massive exodus of over 3 million people took place mainly from the districts of Swat, Bunir, Lower, and Upper Dir. These people fled to Peshawar, Charsada, Nowshera, Mardan and Swabi. They were temporarily placed in IDP camps. The civil society of Pakistan, NGOs, and international community provided support and assistance for these displaced persons. The media also contributed by raising funds and showing the plight of the IDPs before the world. Therefore, in May 2009, the Pakistan army, backed by nation- wide support, launched Operation Rah-e-Rast to cleanse the Malakand Division from terrorists and militants.

Unfortunately, for those who were left behind ( particularly the people of upper Swat and Swat-Kohistan in Swat district) owing to the closure of routes in the operation, these were the worst days of their lives due to a scarcity of amenities and the terror of being trapped in a war zone.

The army was generally welcomed by the people of the troubled districts of Malakand Division. Within weeks the success of the operation was apparent. By the end of that summer, Operation Rah-e- Rast had successfully dismantled the terrorist network in the Malakand Division.

This victory, however, was not the end of the plight the people. Militancy followed by military operations inflicted tremendous loss to the economy, infrastructure, tourism, natural resources, education, local administration and social set up of the region.

In addition, a little more than a year after the return of the Internally Displaced Persons to a somewhat stabilized Malakand Division, the worst floods in Pakistan’s history struck the region and undid what little progress had been achieved by the army and the civilian government.


In early 2011, a gradual withdrawal of the army began from the districts of Bunir and Shangla. Although this was welcomed, it was nevertheless not made public as the ability of the local security forces to maintain law and order was untested. More importantly, the capacity of the local administration to lead rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts and improve service delivery in education, justice, health and basic infrastructure may have been stalled due to a lack of a cohesive local governance framework in Malakand Division. Though there were significant changes in the judicial system such as the implementation of the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation, further reforms were required to cope with, amongst other things, the fate of over 25,000 suspected militants illegally detained by the army. There is still a lack of community level reconciliation efforts and the vacuum that accelerated violence in the past still needs to be plugged.

1.  Governance and security

In 1969 Swat, Dir and Chitral were merged with Pakistan as Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA) under article 246 (b) of the constitution. PATA status of these districts meant that policies were now to be approved by the president and handed down to the provincial governor to be implemented. Since then there have been significant changes. The more noteworthy changes were the enforcement of PATA regulations in 1975, the striking down of these regulations by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 1992; the local government ordinance in 2002 and its repeal in 2009; and the most important among them was the recent implementation of the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation. According to article 247 (3) of Pakistan’s Constitution no act by Parliament or the Provincial Assembly can be extended to PATA without the prior authorization of the Provincial governor with approval of the president. Consequently, local level policies are made at the national level. The area  has  political  representatives  at  provincial  and  national  levels but the political turmoil, the PATA status, ineffectiveness of service delivery and delayed justice degraded the governance at local level and this resulted in dissatisfaction among the people. For instance, a land dispute could take years, even decades, to be settled by the courts. No practical measures have so far been implemented to address the issue of governance, despite the fact that the area has recently undergone severe turmoil in the form of militancy. This is due to the complicated constitutional status of the area as PATA which means under the direct prerogative of the president of Pakistan via the governor. After the merger the commissioner was the key interlocutor between all the districts and agencies. At the district level the deputy commissioners were given both executive and magisterial powers.

In 2002 the Local Government Ordinance, also known as a devolution plan, was imposed in the area. It further aggravated the situation as feudal lords or influential political families got elected at the local and district level as Naims. This deteriorated the situation as it further alienated local people from the state institutions. A complicated system evolved which created rifts between the bureaucracy and local representatives. This was one of the factors responsible for not effectively tackling the militancy issue in its initial stages.

After the military offensive in Malakand Division all the administrative decisions were virtually under the control of the military. At present, District Coordination Officers in each district, especially in the more sensitive district of Swat, are supposed to operate under the supervision of the military.  The major issue now seems to be the transition of power from the military to the local administration and police. The army has withdrawn from two districts-Shangla and Bunir and it is said that Swat will be vacated over the next two years but the people are still apprehensive over the possibility of the militants returning once the military leaves Swat.

In order to improve the provincial government’s ability to respond to the issue of militancy and governance an Apex Committee for Policy Coordination of senior civilian and military officials was formed back in 2008. The Apex Committee devised a strategy for transferring administration to civilians.  Divisional administration was restored and regional committees were formed in the office of the Malakand Division Commissioner with both civilian and military officials in order to coordinate and facilitate this transition. While capacity building programs were introduced for civilian administrators, the greater challenge so far has been to restore the confidence of the local population in the civilian administration. There is a trust deficit between the people and the local administration as the usual official tactics of corruption, delay and misuse of power are still practiced which are allegedly backed by politicians.

The participation of civil society and local communities in the improvement of local administration is limited due to the involvement of the military. The local civil society is also dominated by either landlords or politicians who do not want land or tax reforms. Nevertheless, civil society has contributed to relief and rehabilitation efforts in the wake of the floods.

From the government side the most significant reform taken was the implementation of the Nizam-Adl Regulation. The significant feature of the Regulation is the strict time limit imposed for settling cases. During the inauguration of Darul Qaza in Swat in January 2011 the Chief Minister Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Amir Hyder Khan Hoti, claimed that 27,000 civil cases and 38,811 criminal cases had been decided since the system was set up in 2010.

  1. 2. Delivery of Social Services

Education, health and basic infrastructure

The rise of militancy, an overall lack of effective governance and a decline in economic development have resulted in the inadequate provision of basic social services for the people of the war and flood ravaged Malakand Division. Therefore the government has not been able to restore its credibility among the people. Over the past few years a more rapid decline in the provision of education is visible. Under the Taliban, access to education was made almost impossible for the youth, especially girls, of the Malakand Division. The same is true for health. It was almost impossible for women to have access to health facilities under the Taliban regime.

The recent floods also destroyed a large portion of the infrastructure—schools, roads, health units, markets, hotels, agriculture and communication system. The most affected districts are Swat, Upper Dir and Shangla.

  1. 3. Reconstruction

3.1. Government initiated programs

The key institution tasked with fostering security and development in the region was the army. After the destructive floods in July 2010 the role of the army became even more critical in stabilizing security and rebuilding affected areas. Concerted efforts have been made by the army, police and government officials to introduce programs and institutions to counter extremism and begin the reconstruction process of Malakand Division. These efforts include the community policing model, a de-radicalization program and the establishment of the Swat University.

Community  policing  was  introduced  to  recruit  youth  with  a fixed salary of PKR 10,000 monthly on a two-year contract basis for maintaining law and order. The recruits were hired and trained on each sub-divisional level by the army.

In September 2009 the military started a de-radicalization program under the Pashto name Sabawoon (new dawn) with the objective of de-radicalizing potential suicide bombers and hardcore militants. The program includes counseling, secular and religious education and vocational training. Presently it has two centers, both are in Swat.

The Swat University was established last year. It still has a long way to go before it can be considered a proper center of education. However, here again, recruitment is politically driven. Swat University was supposed to be administered by the late Dr. Farooq Khan, a renowned and liberal scholar of Islamic history and jurisprudence who was reportedly killed by the Taliban in 2010 on the pretext that he was instigating the people against the Taliban.

During the militant uprising more than 175 schools, particularly girl’s schools, were destroyed by the militants in Swat alone.  Among them about 140 schools are still to be constructed. Reconstruction was carried by the Pakistan army with funding from donors such as the government of the United Arab Emirates.

3.2. Roads and bridges

Many small bridges were bombed by the Taliban. After the militancy, the floods hit Swat, Shangla and Upper Dir.  Among them Swat was the worst hit. Almost all the bridges over the Swat River were destroyed and major portion of the main highway from Chikri to Kalam (45 kilometers) in upper Swat Valley was damaged. The whole area was inaccessible for almost a year. The army, with the allocated fund of PKR 140 million by the provincial government, was able to somewhat restore the road. Steel fabricated bridges provided by the USA were installed in some places and thus access was made possible.

4. Donor Programs

    There has been a great deal of sustained donor interest in investing in the rehabilitation and development of Malakand Division for the last few years. However, Swat gets more attention being the worst hit both by militancy and the floods. Donors such as the U.S Agency for International Development (USAID), U.K Department for International Development (DFID), UN Fund for Children (UNICEF), UN World Food Program (WFP), the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the World Bank and others have funded projects and partnered with Pakistani and local organizations to provide improved service delivery. Now the focus will shift to the public sector and to fund them for reconstruction and development in order to strengthen the dwindling public sector efficiency credibility. One such project is the reconstruction of 119 schools in Swat. According to an article published on Feb. 6, 2011 in Dawn, foreign donors have set aside $400 million for reconstruction projects in Malakand Division. Out of the $36 million by USAID, $20 million have been allocated for the reconstruction of schools.

    The decision to go through the government rather than working directly with NGOs and local partners has always been controversial as the government has lagged behind in its ongoing projects even before the floods. For instance, by November 2010, none of the 175 destroyed schools in Swat were in the process of being rebuilt. In contrast, USAID took up the task of re-establishing the deserted hotel industry in Swat. By the end of November 2011 almost all the hotels in Swat were provided with cash, equipment, furniture and electronics. This was done directly and by partnering with national NGOs.

    In addition to the mega projects, international donors have funded local NGOs to carry out small scale relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction activities.  Despite discrepancies in assessments and process of service delivery by these organizations, improvement is seen in all sectors irrigation,  pavements,  agriculture, micro  level hydel energy  generation and social  mobilization. Yet, much has to be done to attain  sustainable development.  Relief  items  and cash grants  have  become  the ultimate goal at the cost of development and futuristic  approaches.

    In order  to  ensure  lasting  peace  in  the  Malakand  Division  basic changes  in the human  development paradigm  along  with a shift in the national  security  policy  are quintessential.  Peace  has been restored  in the region but the people are still apprehensive over the potential threat of militancy.

    Measures for peace building  and rights advocacy campaigns should be initiated.   The tourism  industry  should be revitalized  by constructing better  means of communication in the region.  The Swat and Malakand universities must  be  made  seats  of  quality  education   for  both  girls and  boys.    Village  level  Jirga  (local  councils) institutions should  be strengthened to work as a vigilant civil society and tools for monitoring and evaluating developmental projects.