February 27th, 2009
Buzzwords: Swat Valley

Buzzwords appears each Friday on the Wide Angle blog and breaks down the lingo, jargon and hot topics of the world’s headlines.

Erin Chapman

While Swat Valley may sound like the training grounds for an elite tactical unit of hot-shot cops that bust up crack houses and neutralize high-risk hostage situations, it’s actually quite a lovely region in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan. Its verdant medows and snow-covered mountains used to be one of Pakistan’s most popular tourist attractions. But in recent months, the Pakistani Taliban have taken over the area and nearly half of Swat Valley’s actual police force have deserted or taken “extended leave” due to the threat of violence from Islamic extremists. A former ski resort – Pakistan’s only haven for slope bunnies – was burnt down by Islamic militants in 2008.

The valley’s peaceful roots date back thousands of years to a time when it was one of the cradles of Buddhism. Like Bamiyan, Swat had its own oversized rock carving of the Buddha and unfortunately, also like Bamiyan, the Taliban decided that serenity writ large was too much of an abomination and blew off the Buddha’s face. Thank goodness the Taliban haven’t thought of attacking some of the U.S.’s most treasured giant statues. Surely, a nation without its corn-shaped water towers would be a nation demoralized.

Although inhabitants of the Swat Valley have been adherents to the Islamic faith for some time, it wasn’t until 2004 that radicalism encroached in the form of a cleric named Maulana Fazlullah. His popular radio broadcasts promoted Wahabist values, decried the vulgarity of music, dancing and television (and probably puppies and warm woolen mittens), and “discouraged” girls from attending school. Fazlullah and his father-in-law and fellow hard-line cleric, Maulana Sufi Mohammad, have stirred up enough conflict and gained enough power to cow the government in Islamabad into implementing Sharia law for the area in exchange for a ceasefire. It’s a truce that may be tenuous.

(Christian Science Monitor, DAWN, Jamestown Foundation)

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