A peaceful and pluralist Swat

Zubair Torwali is among the genuine voices for peace, pluralism and tolerance in Pakistan. When the Taliban ruled the Swat region (2007-09) nobody in Swat dared to speak up against the atrocities committed by the Taliban because doing so meant inviting one's end at the hand of the Taliban.

Those days the Taliban were beheading people and used to string the dead bodies over the electric poles or trees.
While this was going in Swat the mainstream media and political parties of Pakistan were mostly apathetic towards the plight of the Swati people.

Zubair Torwali was perhaps the first person from Swat who spoke up in 2008 against the militants by writing articles in one of Pakistan's most circulated dailies, The News International. His articles and op-eds in this newspaper and in many others mobilized the civil society, Pakistani and international media for the cause of peace in Swat and in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
When he was made to go on the run he kept speaking up.

CAMPAIGN OBJECTIVES

His campaign was meant to sensitize the government, political parties and security forces for decisive action against the militants in his home region Swat.

He meant to present a true image of the Swat valley as it was mostly stereotyped 'an extremist society' then. His campaign was also meant to encourage others to speak up against what was going in Swat, either in the name of Sharia or military operations.

HOW THE OBJECTIVES WERE ACHIEVED

Torwali used his mighty pen for his campaign.
He wrote articles, op-eds, features, reports for almost every English newspaper in Pakistan namely The News International, Dawn, Daily Times, The Friday Times, Pakistan Today; some online magazines and many Urdu language newspapers.

When he was on the run in the aftermath of threats to his life he addressed civil society in Islamabad, Lahore and other cities. He did it disguised.
When he was back in his hometown Mr. Torwali did not stop and kept writing for the rehabilitation and restoration of peace and life in Swat.

He also mobilized the international media by giving interviews to magazines, newspapers and TV channels.

CAMPAIGN INNOVATIONS

The campaign was innovative in the sense that for the first time a Swati approached the mainstream media of Pakistan and the world over; and presented firsthand information of what was then going on in the Swat valley.

It was a brave step as we rarely see indigenous and vulnerable people speak up against the powerful and brutal forces operating in their areas.

CAMPAIGN IMPACT

When in December 2008 the Taliban banned schooling in Swat Torwali wrote an article 'From Swat - with no love'. This article, published on Jan 08, 2009 by The News International, strengthened civil society in Pakistan as they saw an appeal from a Swati based on firsthand information. This and the successive articles by Zubair Torwali have awakened the media in Pakistan and Swat became headlines in the electronic and print media.

The international electronic media was also awakened by his writings. TV talk shows on Swat were broadcast. As a result the government and the Taliban started a dialogue for peace.

They made a peace deal in Feb 2009 but people like Torwali felt that the deal might further embolden the militants.
This happened as they predicted. The peace deal was cancelled and a decisive military action against the Taliban was launched in Swat in May 2009. This was decisive that it restored peace in Swat.

CHALLENGES FACED

Working in such circumstances is working with death.

1. Fear of being hunted and killed. This was so obvious that when Torwali was on the run he could not stay at one place for more than three days lest he be targeted by the militants.
2. Vulnerability of his family. He has a family in Swat. While Torwali was shuttled between Islamabad and Lahore his family (mother, fathers and siblings) were prone to being constantly harassed by the people and the militants.
3. Vulnerability of his friends. His friends were stuck back at home. Being closely linked with what Torwali was doing they too were vulnerable.

All these factors posed big challenges to Torwali but he did not yield and continued his campaign after changing his attire, looks and name.

LESSONS LEARNT

1. Peace should be the ultimate goal of human existence.
2. When a state is reluctant to take responsibility in time, greater damage is done to its people till it takes action.
3. When religion is used for political and strategic purposes extremism enhances, which further gives birth to terrorism.
4. Terrorism of every kind (religious. ethnic or secular) is the killer of humanity.
5. Pakistani society is still confused about religion based extremism.
6. World powers still uses terrorism as a weapon to further their geo-strategic agendas.
7. Pakistani textbooks need a critical review of their content as these are too prone to cause extremism in young minds.
8. The powerful powers are again pulling the world back to the Cold War era; and this is the biggest challenge to world peace.
9. The Muslims of the world need an overall assessment of their strategy to redefine their policies and ideologies.
10. Permanent peace is still a cherished desire in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

COUNTRY

Pakistan

CITY

Swat

WEBSITE

http://www.ibtswat.org

FACEBOOK PAGE

https://www.facebook.com/ztorwali

TWITTER PAGE

https://twitter.com/zubairtorwali