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July 22, 2016

Splitting Swat


July 22, 2016

The writer heads an independent
organisation dealing with education and development in Swat.

It is hard to estimate the population of a country where national census has not been carried out for 18 years, yet many reports in Pakistan suggest that the population of the country has exceeded 200 millions.

According to the last census, held in 1998, the population of Swat was 1,257,602. It was 1,748,067 in 2013, according to a book on Swat by a Lahore-based organisation, Punjab Lok Sujjag. The online encyclopaedia, Wikipedia, estimates the population of Swat to be about 2.2 million. In this way it is the third most densely populated districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, after the districts of Peshawar and Mardan.

In 2010, soon after the Swat crisis, there was news of dividing the Swat district into two. What happened to that plan we have yet to know but the division of Swat into two districts still holds water for a number of reasons.

Governing a population of more than two million spread over a large main valley and multiple sub-valleys on an area of about 5,337 square kilometres becomes too hard for the incumbent district administration to manage efficiently. This is perhaps the reason that the deputy commissioner or the district police chief of Swat is very rarely seen in areas far away from the district headquarters.

Having all the district offices in Mingora poses problems of transport and expenses for the people of Swat-Kohistan and the adjacent areas. The people of Swat have a legacy of myriad cases in courts – a legacy they inherited from the state era; and which was maintained, even multiplied, by various laws after 1969 when the Swat state was merged with Pakistan.

The people of remote places like Kalam, Utror, Ushu, Bahrain, Madyan, Miandam or Lalku have to travel to Mingora just to get a date for the future hearings of their lawsuits in the district courts. It requires a stay of two days in Mingora for a person from Kalam or Utror to take the next date for his law case pending in the courts. Similarly all other government offices are in Mingora as well.

Mingora or Mingawara, as it is articulated in Pashto, is now perhaps the most polluted city in the province. It has the infrastructure of 1950 when the Swat population was less than 400,000; and now it is the business and official centre for more than two million people. It is also the headquarters of the entire Malakand division with six other districts.

This has made life in the city of Mingora virtually unbearable. In addition to its density and inadequate infrastructure, the large number of non-custom paid vehicles has added to its terrible traffic and pollution. Another district in the Swat valley with colleges and university will surely reduce the pressure on Mingora city.

The district of Indus Kohistan is less than half of Swat in terms of population. Recently the provincial government divided Indus Kohistan into two districts, which failed because of the rift among the local population on the question of the venue for the district headquarters.

Swat has recently been the worst victim of militancy and floods. Large portions of Swat are still affected despite six years having passed since the floods and militancy. The people still angrily await rehabilitation work in parts of Swat-Kohistan.

Many people from the tehsils of Khawazakhela, Matta or Bahrain feel the persistent neglect of these areas by government officials and the media. During and after the militancy Mingora and its twin Saidu Sharif became the pivot of all rehabilitation activities while the upper parts, where life was very harsh during those worst days in Swat history, mainly remained unnoticed.

Despite the uproar of the ‘education emergency’ in the province many high and higher secondary schools in upper valleys of Swat are still without principals and staff. The higher secondary school in Kalam is one example where, according to locals, three teachers have been appointed instead of the eleven sanctioned posts. In the entire valley of Swat-Kohistan there is only one high school for girls.

In the wake of the Swat crisis we expected a vibrant but sympathetic representation of the Swat and Malakand division in the so-called national media, especially on TV, but what we have been noticing since then is that the electronic media is more interested in news of terror here in Swat. With the same passion we expected grooming of indigenous – Swati owned – mediabut that also didn’t work except a couple of news websites in Urdu.

Swat, stereotyped both nationally and internationally, needs some genuine indigenous voices online and in print, desirably in English, so as to discard the image set by militancy and portrayed by the popular media.

In covering Swat, the main focus has always remained on Mingora and its suburbs while areas such as Matta, Khawazakhela and Swat-Kohistan mostly remained less talked about in the media.

These are ample reasons to divide Swat into two districts along with doubling the number of National Assembly constituencies; and increasing the provincial seats from the existing seven to at least twelve.

Swat has traditionally been divided between two distinct tracts: Swat-Kohistan, which is the mountainous idyllic tract beyond Piya Khwar, near Madyan; and Swat proper, which is the rest of the valley. A look at any map of Swat will show that the Swat-Kohistan tract is not less than half of the present Swat district. The legendary tribal leader and Pashto poet Khushal Khan Khattak states in his poetic travelogue, Swat Nama, during his visit to Swat in 1674, ‘chi yau ghar ta khedzan bal the gorum, biya nazar mi da Swat pa Kohistan shi” [As I ascend one mountain and see the other, my eyesight captures the Kohistan of Swat].

If Swat is to be divided the new district can be named Swat-Kohistan by including the three tehsils of Khawazakhela, Matta and Bahrain, the latter being a tract of Swat-Kohistan. The headquarters can be either near Khwazakhela, Matta or in Madyan.

Swat-Kohistan has diverse ethnicity; and is inhabited by four major communities – Gawri, Gojri, Torwali and Pashtun – along with Ushujo, Kashkari and Indus Kohistani (the latter three are in hundreds only).

The name Swat-Kohistan for the suggested district is not to suggest splitting the Swat district on ethnic lines. Rather it is meant to focus on its tremendous cultural diversity and natural resources in the form of water and forests. Moreover, over the years the people of Swat-Kohistan have lagged behind their neighbours in Swat proper in terms of human development, communal prestige and political power.

The name Swat-Kohistan may help these peripheral communities get political prestige and social confidence. This name will have both Swat and the beautiful Kohistan in it whereas the other four tehsils could be in a district with the proper name of Swat. This way it will carry its Swati pride along with a garland of snowy peaks, lush green meadows and rich cultural diversity.

Another possible name for the desired district can be Kalam. The Kalam tract is one of two tracts of Swat-Kohistan. It has an interesting history of independence till 1954 when it was properly annexed to Pakistan. Till 1954 Kalam was a federal agency with claims of ownership by the three princely states of Swat, Chitral and Dir.

Before the inception of Pakistan, Kalam was ruled by the British. The Wali of Swat captured it in the night of 1947, when the Brits were leaving the Subcontinent. But the Pakistani government had not approved that occupation; and in 1954, Kalam was brought under the direct rule of the Pakistani government through an act. Later on, for some years, it also shared the National Assembly constituency with Chitral.

Given the history, beauty and bounty of Kalam, a new district with its name also seems plausible.

Email: [email protected]