– Zar Ali
In May 2008, the NWFP government formally signed a peace deal with the extremists from Swat, and as a goodwill gesture the government also released Sufi Mohammad, the founder of Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadia. Sufi was under arrest since late 2001.
Mohammad Afzal Khan was requested to join ANP a few years back so that he could guide the party as an elder (Masher). Afzal Khan vehemently rejected the peace accord from the very start arguing that the peace deal was not negotiated by the provincial government from a position of strength. He argued that the pact was signed on the terms dictated by the extremists, which would lead to more outrageous demands by the extremists in the future which has been proved correct.
Throughout the tenure of the current ANP government Afzal Khan was constantly in touch with his friends and colleagues in ANP. He had strong reservations regarding party decisions on important issues. The Awami National Party won all the five provincial assembly seats from the district of Swat in the 2008 elections. The people of Swat voted for them because they wanted to vote for peace. ANP asserted that to keep their election promise of establishing peace they were negotiating with Pakistani Taliban and having an accord with Sufi fits well with their election mandate.
Unfortunately “dialogue with extremists” in Swat which later turned into an accord with extremists was ill-conceived and carried out in a very haphazard manner. The accord provided the extremists in Swat with political legitimacy and gave them moral victory of achieving establishment of a parallel judicial system under the Sharia law. According to Human Rights Commission of Pakistan the signed pact with the Taliban in Swat neither established any timetable for militants to disarm, nor there was any agreement on the abolishment of illegal FM radio stations.
The extremists used the calm of the negotiating period and the following few months to strengthen their grip on Swat. They brought new arms and ammunition to Swat. Extremists from other areas also came to Swat to help consolidate their grip on Swat. Taliban all over the province and FATA were energized by the fact that they were recognized as a growing political force in the pact. The peace deal has also changed the perceptions of not only the people of Swat but also of the people all over the province about the writ of the government and the might of the extremists.
It is now evident that the agreement resulted in horrendous consequences for the people of Swat. The provincial government has totally lost administrative control of the district. Several thousands of people have been killed in Swat. Thousands of families have migrated out of Swat, among them are all the elected provincial and national assembly members. Over two hundred schools are blown up by the extremists, which resulted in more than one hundred thousand students (mostly girls) to discontinue their education. Hundreds of female teachers are now unemployed rolling back decades of achievements in the educational field. Ever since the peace deal has been signed Taliban has not only consolidated their position in Swat but have ventured in to the surrounding Malakand Agency and upper and lower Dir districts.
In case of Swat there is no functioning emergency number or a physical facility where individuals can call or visit and get quick and credible intervention from the law enforcement agencies. Extremist commanders issue serious threats to individuals and their families over their powerful FM radio stations, Afzal Khan’s name top the list of threatened individuals. In addition the extremists perform public beheadings/slaughtering; openly bomb governments building and have recently started implementing their own economic and taxation policy. Gruesome video footage of these atrocities are available on CD’s across the province.
Faced with all these hazards the civilian population has nowhere to turn to. There are no quick response units available to rescue them. In such circumstances the local population is left with two options either to leave their native land or hedge their bets in favor of the extremists. Most influential families have already left Swat; others who have opted to stay have accommodated outrageous extremist demands in their daily lifestyle.
Under such dire circumstances only one man has both ideologically and physically challenged the growing extremist hegemony in Swat. Mohammad Afzal Khan, whom pukhtoons refer to as “lala” or elder brother in pushto, utilizing his own resources and leadership qualities has kept a significant chunk of Drushkhela , Matta out of the influence of the extremists. Today when it comes to challenging extremists hegemony there is no bigger name in NWFP and FATA than Afzal Khan lala.
Almost every week some portion of Drushkela and its surrounding area is hit by the militants. The militants have tried several times to assassinate Afzal Khan. They have killed his young grandsons, his driver and his personal body guard. In 2007 Afzal Khan and his nephew were seriously injured in a Taliban ambush. Militants have also tried to suffocate Afzal Khan and his family financially by burning their commercial property and by totally restricting their movement. Yet Afzal Khan’s resolve has not been shaken. When asked why he is trying to protect an area that even the government can’t protect, he said ‘’ I am doing what I think is the right thing to do. Abandoning his people and his land in times of great chaos is not an option for an honorable leader.”
The story of Afzal Khan is not just a story of courage, bravery, loyalty and resistance of a leader to his soil and his people. Afzal Khan is an inspiration for all the people of Pakistan especially for the people of NWFP and FATA. He is a living example that extremism can be confronted honorably and can also be defeated. His struggle has provided hope to ordinary citizens from all walks of life. Even followers of the peasant (Kihsan) movement who use to label Afzal Khan as a traditional landlord, are now counting on him to save them from the brutality of the extremists. He has emerged as a symbol of resistance to Taliban extremism in Swat.
Afzal Khan has served as a provincial minister, a federal minister, a deputy opposition leader and was once a candidate for the prime minster post, yet he has never been accused of corruption or political vendetta. His honesty is legendary and his integrity impeccable. One of his close friend described Afzal Khan’s personality as “he is a good Muslim, someone who regularly leads prayers and has vast scholarly knowledge of Islam, he is a democrat and a nationalist who believes in equality, he is a good leader who believes in discipline and he is very loyal to his people, in short you will see Khushal Khan baba, Bacha Khan baba, and a little bit of Rehman baba in the personality of Afzal Khan.” He is the true son of the soil.
The goodwill that Afzal Khan has generated over the years can be used to effectively tackle the growing extremists influence in NWFP and FATA. While other leaders are making personal deals with extremist commanders to assure their own safety, Afzal Khan looks like the only political leader who can deal with the extremist menace from a position of strength.
Over the years Afzal Khan has personally organized several national and international conferences on the culture, politics and development of the people of the region. He is widely respected in Afghanistan. He has personal contacts with leading tribal families on both side of the border. In addition to huge following in the masses Afzal Khan has inspired a dedicated team of people that include political workers, social activists, and professionals. He has guided his team in the formation of several alternative developmental strategies for the region. Above all currently when progressive politicians are growingly labeled as corrupt and incompetent, Afzal Khan seems like the only person who can restore much needed credibility to the progressive front.
The factious assumption that the ruling coalition made about the extremists is that they emphasized on the hypothetical segmentation of the extremists. One proponents of this view said “there are different groups of extremists in NWFP and FATA. We have to separate the local mullahs and Pakistani Taliban from the cross border Taliban & Al Qaeda. There should be some kind of rehabilitation package for the peaceful local extremists and confrontation against the militant ones who are limited in numbers”.
Afzal Khan refused to accept this definition, in his view there is no mechanism to differentiate between a partial and a total extremist based on religion. As a pious Muslim he understands that such classification can lead to many conservative Muslims being labeled as extremists. On the contrary to the view of religious segmentation of extremism, a more realistic option is that extremists in NWFP/FATA should be segregated from the rest of the society on more tangible, quantifiable and easily understood parameters such as dependence on undocumented economy, foreign funding and criminal activities.
Eighty two years old Afzal Khan is a true son of the soil, his experience, charisma and leadership is what this soil needs. His message for the nation and international community is
“We are in a serious and very difficult situation. One individual or one political party cannot solve the complex problems that we are facing. We have to be united to face the monster of violence and brutality. Individual s working independently can have limited success while nations working cohesively can accomplish victories and collective well being. We need peace and development on priority basis and we need to prove to our people and the international community that we are a peace loving and a civilized nation.”
Army operation in Swat must continue till its logical conclusion so that the beautiful Swat valley returns to normalcy. After the military operation Swat valley must be handed over to a competent and honest civil and political administration.
The militants have challenged the writ of state in FATA and Swat. The State must act. Militants have terrorized the general innocent people. Swat was almost gone. Swat is a matter of life or death for Pakistan. If Swat goes so does Pakistan slowly but steadily down the tube. About the present military operation, Afzal Khan says that he does not think that this operation will fail ,for a success, everybody will have to fulfill the responsibilities diligently, honesty and with sincerity. The military is the last option available for a State to restore its authority.
Please Support Afzal Khan, the true and great son of the soil to bring peace, prosperity and development to his people. As his people need help and support on the most urgent basis.
From: Pukhtoon Unity Forum for peace and development
This report is prepared by a team of Pukhtoon Unity Forum (PUF) for peace and development. PUF believes that Pukhtoon need peace and development on most urgent basis. PUF believes that Muhammad Afzal Khan is the true son of the soil who did not abandon his people and soil . He is the only leader who stood like a rock against the enemies of the people . He proved that he is a true nationalist who knows what self respect means. Khan lala says that we have to be united against forces of evil and darkness and that we have to fight against the hypocrites and fanatics.
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