Burnt and bombed schools, harsh religious edicts, strict rules of dress, the total subjugation of women is now a way of life for most citizens of the beautiful Swat Valley in northern Pakistan.
Swat is a stunning area of the world. It's often called the Switzerland of Asia, though for my money, it has a landscape that is far more awe-inspiring than anything Europe can offer. Now it is almost entirely over run by Taliban who are ruthless in their demands on the citizens.
Cruelty is a feature of Taliban rule, under the guise of proper Islamic practice, and Swat is receiving bucket loads of cruelty, daily. "Un-Islamic" activities like dancing and singing, listening to CDs and watching DVDs or being clean-shaven are now outlawed. Buses playing music for their passengers are bombed for promoting "vulgarity and obscenity" that "gravely offends pious people." Girls are banned from attending school under threat of violence and death.
The Taliban advance into Swat is only now being reported. While the lawless badlands of the Afghan border areas have attracted much hand wringing, the Talib have crept into sophisticated, cultural Swat - nowhere near Afghanistan - and are now ruling the place with an iron fist.
Pakistani political analyst Farrukh Khan Pitafi told the Huffington Post from Islamabad that the free-for-all enjoyed by the Taliban stems from bloody-minded opportunism dating back to the Pervez Musharraf government.
"It is evident that the Musharraf's strategy of allowing the Taliban to grow in order to exploit western fear(s) of them (taking) over to garner support for his rule is either beyond the control of the government now or then. Some segment(s) of the power elite has not given up that ploy.
"It has never been possible for any radical group (to flourish) without the tacit support of at least some elements in the establishment. It is my belief that Musharraf consciously allowed these elements to thrive," says Mr. Khan Pitafi. "At that time it seemed convenient but now this movement is spinning out of control. There is a chance also that some pro-Musharraf elements within the civil military bureaucracy are still in touch with the Taliban in order to destabilize the democratic government."
"Ruthless murderers" is how Asif Ali Zardari, the new Pakistan president described the Taliban in Swat, as he started making the right noises about taking them on. He has sent in 12,000 army troops to do battle with the estimated 4,000 Taliban who are running the Valley. Reports from Swat suggest that not terribly much "doing battle" is taking place; troops stay within their barracks, and failing to protect those that the Taliban publicly threaten to kill (and usually do).
Farrukh Khan Pitafi is is convinced that solutions must be found from within and not through the advice or intervention of the United States, which will create further difficulties for the national administration's fight against the insurgents.
"The speed with which the Taliban movement is destroying peace and progress of the country is heartrending and baffling," he says. "The government right now is so unstable that it can hardly confront the demon of Talibanization. Is there any solution? Well it certainly is not more US across the border attacks for they inflict pain and give the Taliban an excuse to further expand. The only solution then is to strengthen the democratic government, do away with the remnants of Pervez Musharraf and the retrogressive religious politicians and help the federal and provincial governments improve coordination. This seems an arduous process but unless these things are done the country essentially is going to the dogs."
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