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Opinion

October 26, 2017

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A new district in Swat

The Swat Valley in northern Pakistan is usually referred to as the Switzerland of Asia but a learned friend, who paid a visit to Swat recently, put it thus: “Switzerland is [the] Swat of Europe”.

The people of Swat often compare it with paradise. In a poem I wrote on Swat in 2012 I described it as “Home to ancient Darada, Buddhist and Gandhara; Where pilgrims from China, And from central Asia, Came for eternal solace; As it was such a place.”

Certainly we love our land but unfortunately our ‘love’ has ruined this beautiful valley; by virtually stripping it of its magical beauty and serene peace. Excessive love for one’s land, community, ideology or nation shuns any form of critique and eventually gives birth to narcissism which further stagnates growth; and consequently we move in a vicious loop of suffering and ignorance.

We believe that the recently insurgency in Swat was a product of a certain strategic policy; and there is some truth in it; but we never raise questions such as: what was our role in this insurgency? How much impetus did we give to this growing threat; and above all did we ever try to stop feeding the dragon among us? Nobody from Swat could ever figure out the course of the future in the initial days of the Talibanisation of the population. No grand jirga was held to voice the people’s concerns. No notable family or leader tried to raise a voice.

We, the people, allowed ourselves to be used as foot soldiers in that war. No doubt, we made great sacrifices by bearing the brunt – either in the form of the largest internal exodus or in burying our near and dear ones. This could have been avoided had we paid any heed to the lessons learnt in the early 1990s. This is what we did to the peace of our paradise.

When my friend visited the beautiful forests in Kalam he was appalled at the trash scattered in the forests. I blamed tourists for this and inexorably tried to distract him from the heaps of trash and dirt flowing down to Swat River on its stony banks in places like Bahrain, Madyan and Malam Jabba. To my misfortune, he saw locals dumping trash. In Mahudand, the beautiful lake in the valley of Kalam, he saw product wrappers floating on the surface of the emerald water. On the way back I, fearing more shame, convinced him not to enter the city of Mingora – which has now become one of the most chaotic, mismanaged and unplanned cities of Pakistan.

Swat has now a contorted image both internationally and among the urban elite of Pakistan. People still fear visiting it. Very few eco-friendly or research-oriented tourists visit Swat. In the summer months, we see crowds of tourists who are fleeing the sweltering heat in nearby cities and taking temporary refuge here.

According to the census held this year, the population of Swat district is more than 2.3 millions – in an area of about 5,337 square kilometres. The population growth rate in Swat is 3.24 percent, among the highest in the country.

It is perhaps a near-impossible task to reverse the ruin of this beautiful valley but the deterioration can at least be stopped in its tracks via administrative measures. Recently, the district of Kohistan has been administratively divided into three separate districts although the sum total population of all the three districts is just one-third of the population of Swat. By that formula, the present district of Swat could be seven districts instead of the incumbent seven sub-divisions. However, this would be too idealistic.

Many people of Swat, especially of Upper Swat, demand that Swat be administratively split into two districts. The current government was thinking of such a measure last year but could do so then because of political pressure. The debate started once again after the chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa recently announced an Upper Swat district during his visit to Madyan.

The opposition to the proposal includes certain media-persons based in Mingora city, the district Nazim-e-Ala from the PML-N and some others. The provincial assembly member from Khawazakhela, Hyder Ali, and people from the upper parts of the valley favour the proposal. The other powerful traditional political leaders from Upper Swat have yet to speak on this issue. Their silence is dubious. The apprehensions pushed forward by the opposition demands an objective analysis from them. The nay-sayers see this project as division of this ‘land’, something that is incomprehensible to many.

The demand for making two districts of Swat is based on administrative issues, which means trying to achieve effective and easily accessible management of public affairs of the valley so as to minimise the risks to good governance and speedy dispensation of public services. It is not going to be on ethnic lines as in both the districts Pashto speakers would still be in majority.

The people living in the upper hilly parts of Swat are in favour of this administrative division because they hope that their areas may get more attention and funds when the valley is divided into two districts. These hilly beautiful areas draw a lot of attention from tourists. At the moment, these areas are the most underserved, inaccessible and ignored.

The current district of Swat desperately needs an administrative division with two districts so as to make it easy to govern and administer the area. Swat should now be divided into two districts with an increase of in National Assembly seats from two to four and provincial assembly seats from the current seven to twelve. Any name can work – for example, Upper Swat and Lower Swat.

 

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

Email: [email protected]

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