The Swat Valley is a three hour drive from Peshawar, the provincial capital of
North-West Frontier Province, and four hours from the capital Islamabad. The
valley is effectively under the control of the Taliban, as are many urban areas
in NWFP. If the Swat Valley can fall into the hands of the Taliban so easily,
what guarantee is there that the Taliban won't do the same in other urban
centers such as Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi? In the final article in a
four-part series exploring Pakistan's tribal areas, Syed Saleem Shahzad speaks
to Haji Muslim Khan, one of the Taliban's top leaders in the valley and also
Once Pakistan's premier tourist destination, the picturesque Swat Valley is now
essentially off-limits. More than 300 tourist resorts
and hotels have been closed over the past year and about 20,000 people
associated with the tourism industry are jobless.
Pakistan has used the police, paramilitary forces, politically-backed militias
and the army itself in an attempt to tame the Taliban in the Swat Valley,
without success. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian
Affairs (OCHA) projects that the situation in the Swat Valley and the tribal
areas will deteriorate this year, causing a fresh displacement of up to 625,000
"An analysis indicates that there is a significant likelihood of large-scale
clashes and intensified military offensives throughout 2009, and possibly into
2010," the study said. According to the OCHA's "humanitarian response plan",
the displacement will exacerbate an "already complex humanitarian situation".
The Swat Valley's transformation from probably the most peaceful place in
Pakistan to one of its most militant has been startling, as has the popularity
of the Taliban's ideology, which is widely seen as extremist.
In an attempt to get some understanding on these issues, I spoke to Haji Muslim
Khan. He speaks many languages, including English and Arabic, as he has spent
many years abroad, mostly in Kuwait and the United States. His house was
demolished by the Pakistan army and his family is displaced; he now lives in
Taliban bunkers in the mountains and traveled specially to a population center
to give this interview.
Asia Times Online: You are the official chief spokesman of the
Tehrik-e-Taliban Swat. Could you tell us about yourself, your childhood,
education, and your intellectual journey through various political and
religious movements. And what inspired you to align with Mullah Fazlullah and
his movement? [Mullah Fazlullah, nicknamed "Radio Mullah", is the leader of the
Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi - Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic
Law, TNSM - and controls the insurgency in the Swat area.]
Khan: First, I thank you for coming here and meeting with us,
without any fear and greed. I thank you for you and your organization allowing
us the opportunity to air our view. Regarding your question about my childhood,
I belong to a poor family of Swat. My father was a tehsildar [revenue
administrative officer] during the time of the Swat [princely] state. I
matriculated from Dahrai High School [Swat]. For intermediate [arts], I went to
Jahanzeb College, Swat. I could not pass my intermediate from college as I
joined the Pakistan People's Party [PPP] and I was sent to jail, where I spent
25 days, and I was expelled from the college.
My father was annoyed at the discontinuation of my education, so later on I
passed my intermediate as an external student. By that time, I felt my
responsibilities towards my home and family and to acquire further studies I
went to Karachi [Pakistani southern port city]. However, God had something else
planned for me over there. [Instead of work and studies in Karachi] I went into
the sea service.
Meanwhile, from when I was in the eighth grade, I was inspired by the
Palestinian al-Fatah movement and was in regular correspondence with their
Islamabad office. Then I made contact with Dr Israr Ahmad [a famous orator at
state-run Pakistan Television during the late General Zia ul-Haq period, who
was also the founder of the Tanzeem-e-Islami organization, which works for the
revival of the Islamic caliphate].
However, when the Pakistan People's Party came into power [early 1970s], those
were my college days ... and their rhetoric of Islamic socialism in their
manifesto ... inspired me as from the beginning only Islam had been my
I joined the Pakistan People's Party because Maulana Kausar Niazi [former
minister of information in Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's cabinet, religious scholar and
former leader of the Jamaat-i-Islami] raised the slogan of Islamic socialism.
However, I observed that after the election victory, the leaders of the
Pakistan People's Party exploited their power. That was the first election in
Pakistan [on the basis of adult franchise], so we could measure what election
politics were all about. We found it to be dirty politics. Even today it is
like that. Therefore, I gave up the Pakistan People's Party.
Then, to earn my bread, I joined the sea service for three or four years. Then
I went to Kuwait, where I spent 14 years. In this period, I continued my
association with various religious parties, including the Jamaat-i-Islami and
Dr Israr Ahmed [Tanzeem-e-Islami]. At last, while in Kuwait, I was connected
with Maulana Sufi Mohammad [the founder of the
Tehrik-e-Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Mohammadi and the father-in-law of Mullah
I found his claims for Islam true. From his first speech I heard, I could
measure that this is the right man for the enforcement of Islamic laws and
therefore I supported his cause and movement. Everybody knows of this movement
and how it passed through different phases in Malakand division [in Pakistan]
in the last 17 years.
Then came the last phase when Mullah Fazlullah, who spent 18 months in jail in
Dera Ismail Khan [in the NWFP], as he was arrested while coming back from jihad
in Afghanistan [after the US invasion in 2001], he launched a movement and we
supported it as much as we could.
This was not for his personality but for a cause, that we are Muslims but live
under a heretic system ... no Islamic jurists or Islamic scholar can dish out
an argument that while living in this system. God would forgive us. This is the
sole mission. On this land, that belongs to God, only his laws should be
ATol: What is your understanding of Islam in the perspective of
Pakistan. It is said that Pakistan came into being in the name of Islam. The
Objective Resolution [which declares that no law can be formulated against
Islamic laws] is part of our constitution, under which several Islamic and
political parties claim Pakistan as an Islamic state. Why then is there a need
for this movement for the implementation of Islamic laws?
MK: As far as the name Pakistan [Land of the Pure] is concerned,
it is good to have this name, but as far as practice is concerned, it is not
even 1% [true]. Before us, there were several academics, political parties and
intellectuals who strived [for the implementation of sharia law], but as far as
governance is concerned, we are responsible, we betrayed God and his religion,
and in my opinion we should be tried, as nation, for committing this crime. We
established this state of Pakistan under Islamic ideology and under the banner
"There is no God but Allah and Mohammad is his Messenger," but we did not move
an inch forward for this cause. Instead, we retreated from this cause by
several miles. The reason is that we are still slaves - our intelligentsia, the
rulers and segments of life, politics, education, are slaves. The economy is
driven by usury.
ATol: What do you mean by slaves?
MK: It means we are not free in anything. We cannot formulate
laws independently ... We cannot make laws by our choice.
ATol: Then by whose choice do we make laws?
MK: From the choice of those from whose rule we got independence
[Britain], symbolically, their virus still infests our rulers. Whatever they
[rulers] do, first they seek permission from there [the West]. For politics,
they go to Dubai [in the United Arab Emirates] to hold meetings. Politics
concern this country, but their meetings are held in Dubai and London.
Therefore we are not free.
However, there are a few things in which we are free - the nation has freedom
in extravaganza, obscenity and spreading nudity. From the ideology for which
this country came into being, we have not inched forward. This is the reason
the Tehrik-i-Taliban came into being in Swat. Soon, our intelligentsia will
realize our cause, that our struggle is not for any rule, but to implement this
ATol: There are areas in Swat where the Khans were very powerful.
Can you shed some light on their role, their character and influence?
MK: There were 360 idols in holy Kaba [in Mecca. These were the
icons through which Mecca was ruled by powerful families before Islam]. If I
tell you the truth, here in every village there were 360 idols. For the
upholding of this system [prevailing in Pakistan], even a cop and SHO [Station
House Officer of the police] became god, but the Khan saheb [rich and
powerful Pashtun feudals] became the biggest god. They never regarded people as
human beings. The poor and the downtrodden had no position as human beings.
In all government departments, God forbid me, officials became god. They never
regarded religion nor human values. For Europeans and Westerners, humanity
lives in the West, but they never care about the human rights of the people
living in Pakistan. In Pakistan, tyranny has crossed all limits, at the hands
of the Khans or at the hands of the wadera [feudals from southern Sindh
province] and from the police.
However, tyranny emerged in its extremes in Swat when our people, women and
children, were targeted with bombs of 30 kilograms and above; shells and
mortars. Our Khans were the ones who invited them [the army] to bomb us,
provided space to them and approved their attacks. Now, these Khans are now
sitting in their bungalows in Islamabad or in Peshawar and the oppressed people
are running for their lives to take refuge here and there. Human-rights
organizations do not look after those oppressed people, nor do those Khans who
once ruled those people.
ATol: Do you have rich people in your movement, or is it only a
movement of poor people? Your leader Mullah Fazlullah sailed boats for his
earnings by transporting people on the Swat River.
MK: Mohammed, Peace Be Upon Him, was an orphan. Our policy is not
against the poor, or against the rich. If Islamic laws are implemented in this
region, only then will it be realized whether the Taliban launched their
movement and their struggle and waged jihad for opposition to rich people. Only
once Islamic laws are implemented will it be realized whether we were against
the rich people or whether we were against a system which is a remnant of
British rule. We only want to implement the Islamic system. Only the Islamic
system can give rights and protection to both the rich and the poor. These are
only stunts [the accusation that the movement is against rich people].
ATol: Your movement is branded as anti-education and it is
alleged that you destroy schools. Especially, you are allegedly against girls'
education. But now it is said that you have destroying male and female schools.
Is it correct that you are against both men's and women's education?
MK: This is sad, that we are slaves in all sections of our
society, even, please don't mind, the media are slaves. Nobody is ready to sit
with the Taliban and ask what they want from all this. The education system and
the curriculum are both remnants of the British.
We are Muslims. Had there not been an Islamic system of education and
curriculum, then it would have been all right to import a system of education
belonging to others. But fortunately, Islam provides its own system of
education, politics, economics and justice. We often say in Pakistan, even in