Governance and Militancy in Pakistan’s Swat Valley

In 2009, the Swat Valley became a focal point of Pakistan’s war against militancy and terrorism. The government signed a peace agreement effectively ceding control of the district to the local Taliban faction, allowing it to enforce its interpretation of Islamic law. By April 2009, Taliban fighters had swept into neighboring Buner district and were portrayed by the international media as being on the verge of a siege of Islamabad. The following month, Pakistan’s military forces launched a campaign to regain control of Swat. The campaign succeeded, but the fighting displaced hundreds of thousands of people from Swat into nearby areas, creating a serious humanitarian crisis in the country’s northwestern region. A little more than a year later, as many of those internally displaced persons were returning to a newly stabilized Swat, the worst flooding in Pakistan’s history created a new crisis that threatened to undo what little progress on reconstruction the military or civilian governments had achieved.

In early 2011, two years into the longest sustained military operation in Pakistan’s history, the army began a phased withdrawal from the surrounding districts of Shangla and Buner. While welcomed news, the details of the plan have not been made public, and the ability of local security forces to maintain order is untested. More importantly, the capacity of local governance officials to lead reconstruction efforts and improve service delivery in justice, education, and health may be constrained by the absence of a cohesive local governance framework. While there have been some significant changes to the laws and institutions that provide justice in Swat, namely the implementation of the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation, the formal judicial system has escaped much needed reform, and there are currently 2,500 alleged terrorist suspects being illegally detained by the military. There has been no talk of community reconciliation and very little in terms of oversight reform. This paper addresses these issues and others related to governance and militancy in the Sway Valley.

Justine Fleischner