By Zia Ur Rehman

Oct 19-25, 2012

The attempted killing of Swat child activist Malala Yousafzai sparked massive anger in Pakistan, followed by global statements of support and sympathy.

“The Taliban would never have expected such an enormous reaction to the attack at national and international levels,” said Nazrana Yousafzai, a Washington-based journalist who belongs to Swat. “The response was quite timely and needed.”

Upset over the reactions, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan leader Hakimullah Mehsud had told his operatives to target media organizations and journalists who were criticizing the Taliban for attacking Malala, BBC Urdu reported on October 12. It said the group had then threatened several journalists and media organizations via email and telephone.

When the Taliban controlled Swat before the military operation in 2009, Malala had chronicled a ban on girl’s education with BBC Urdu, using the pseudonym ‘Gul Makai’. “More than 285 schools were destroyed and an 11 year old girl was crying over her own and her fellow girls’ future,” Nazrana said about the blog.

“Taliban militants used to name girls on their illegal FM radio channels and would warn them of serious consequences if they did not stop going to school,” she said.

When they were pushed out of the valley in the 2009 Operation Rah-e-Nijat, many of the militants fled to the Kunar and Nuristan provinces of Afghanistan. Years later, they are carrying out cross-border attacks into Pakistan, reports say.

Despite Pakistan’s announcement that the military offensive had succeeded and the area was secure, recent attacks by militants of the TTP have whipped up fear among local residents.

Police officials in Swat say the attack on Malala was carried out by the militants loyal to Mullah Fazlullah. Law-enforcement agencies in Swat have arrested several suspects, including a woman, but the mastermind of the attack – identified as Ataullah, a resident of Sangota area – is said to have fled.

Sources in police said the assailants were aged between 20 and 30 and were not involved in militancy at the time when the Fazlullah-led militants held sway in Swat. “The people who are carrying out terrorist attacks – targeting the political and social leaders who remained very vocal against Taliban’s atrocities in Swat – are a completely new lot. They are specially trained in carrying out attacks on people in the cities,” a police official said.

“Political elders and leaders of anti-Taliban peace committees of Swat are key targets of the Taliban because they played an important role assisting law enforcement agencies in the operation against the militants,” said Saifullah Khan, a leader of Nekpikhel Qaumi Jirga, an anti-Taliban armed volunteer force formed in Kabal tehsil.

Five peace activists including Malala have been attacked in the last six months, local tribal elders say.

Afzal Khan Damghar, a prominent political and peace activist, was shot dead by an unidentified gunman on July 12. Damghar, a hotel owner associated with Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, had played a key role in maintaining peace in the valley.

Alhaj Zahid Khan, a leader of Swat Qaumi Jirga (SQJ) and president of All Swat Hotels Association, was injured in an assassination bid on August 3 while he was on his way to a mosque for evening prayers.

Zahid Khan had criticized the Swat Taliban during their reign. Idress Khan of Bara Bandai and Muftiuddin of Kanju, prominent peace activists, were also injured in separate attacks in Swat.

A number of anti-Taliban figures from Swat have also been killed at the hands of the TTP in Karachi.

“Anyone who takes side with the government against us will have to die at our hands. You will see. Other important people will be our target soon,” TTP Swat’s spokesman Sirajuddin told reporters. He said Damghar was his close relative, but he had ordered his killing because he was against the Taliban.

“Growing incidents of target killings in Swat belie the claim of the security forces and the government that peace has been restored in Swat,” said Mukthar Yousafzai, head of the SQJ and the provincial president of Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party. Malala’s attackers shot her in broad daylight and fled without being caught although there was a checkpost in the vicinity, he said.

Sardar Ahmed Yousafzai, a Swat-based human rights activist, said a major reason for the increase in such attacks was that the local administration was not effective. “The security forces carried out an operation and cleared the area. Now it is the responsibility of the civil administration and police to have an effective law-enforcement and intelligence network in the valley at the level of villages,” said Sardar, who also heads the Khyber Bolan Human Rights Organization. He said the local administration had already employed 7,200 community police men for this purpose.

Locals and military officials agree that the resurgent Taliban are not in a position to regain control in Swat, and will restrict their battle to hit-and-run tactics – an ideal guerrilla warfare approach in Swat’s rugged terrain.

The writer is a journalist and a researcher who belongs to the Swat valley. Email: and Twitter: @zalmayzia