Monday, January 19, 2009

Who Killed Swat?

Tazeen posted a picture of a banner prohibiting women from entry into a cloth market in Swat, the breathtaking valley that once used to be a bustling tourist spot with an economy that thrived on nature lovers, honeymooners and export of its vast mineral resources.

I went to Swat when I was ten, with family, and have pictures to prove what a happy little piece of heaven it used to be. I remember seeing a huge, elegant boarding school building in the city of Maingora, and imagining myself to be very happily enrolled there as one of Enid Blyton's St.Clare's School series characters. We stayed in a beautiful, surprisingly economical hotel made entirely of white marble, called the 'White Palace', which famously served as a state guesthouse in the fifties. White Palace had huge bathrooms that were the size of someone's living room, where everything was pristine sang-e-marmar. It was better than staying at the Ritz (I have no point of reference, but I think it was). I wonder what has become of the White Palace now.

There were a lot of the usual angry/perplexed/self-righteous/frustrated/mildly bemused comments posted at Tazeen's blog about Swat's sad state of affairs, and a heated discussion on who is responsible for its plight. The Pakistan army, the godawful ISI, the Taliban, the Mullah who ran the illegal radio channel to propagate Taliban, perhaps the Swatis themselves with their suicidal acceptance of Taliban into their homes and lives?

The truth is, as we sit comfortably in our bedrooms and living rooms in urban Pakistan and elsewhere in the world and learn our facts through mostly opinion-journalism, we can only do so much. Perhaps assign the blame to the party that has done the least to impress us of late, and move on to more urgent matters at hand.

Here are my two cents of speculation. (Cue: #62 by It's Not Easy Being Green)

May be, just may be, someday I can go to Swat again, and get a drink from the ice-cold Darya-e-Swat, steal some of those exotic, sparkling stones from its springs, and walk again into the pristine white rooms of the White Palace, where a view from the window is just pure, unadulterated beauty -- beauty that has no religion, and that is perhaps still unmarred by the blood of an inexplicable war.

Photographs courtesy: 1,2


Saadia said...

You've struck the nostalgia in me. Our dear Swat. Who could've thought? I shudder at the thought of losing the breath-taking outdoors like Hunza and the Kaghan Valley, to these 'warriors of God'. How do we effectively declare war against them? How do we rescue the heart and soul of this country?

Sarem said...

I remember having fresh, cooked fish from Ushu (northest city off the bank of the river in Swat).

I just want to remind myself that Swat hasn't changed.