Researcher elaborates relationship between Taliban, Pakistan army

Photo by Tianfang Yu |

Saba Gul Khattak, a member of the Planning Commission of Pakistan, spoke about her study of the Taliban and the Pakistani military occupation of Swat at the Ruth Dill Johnson Crockett Building on Douglass campus.

The beautiful and mountainous Swat district of Pakistan hides an area of conflict just beyond its tranquil landscape.

The Center for Women’s Global Leadership invited Saba Gul Khattak to speak about her study of the Taliban and the Pakistani military occupation of Swat at “Between the Taliban and the Army: Women, Security and Militarization in Pakistan’s Swat Valley,” said Lucy Vidal, the organization’s information and communication director.

Executive Director of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership Radhika Balakrishnan said Khattak is an independent researcher with a Ph. D. from the University of Hawaii and is studying gender and conflict issues.

Khattak has been a member of the Planning Commission of Pakistan and was the executive director of Pakistan’s Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Balakrishnan said.

Khattak’s lecture brought light to problems that Swat has had for being in between the forces of the Taliban and the military.

“In Pakistan, many of the conflicts predate the jihad of the 1980s, and Sufi Muhammad started a movement demanding Sharia in the 1990s. This man felt that the country was not Islamized enough,” Khattak said.

In 2003, Pakistan witnessed the rise of Mullah Fazlullah, leader of the Swat Taliban. Between 2007 and 2009, the Taliban virtually controlled Swat.

At that time, Fazlullah said, “I direct all policemen to quit their jobs, or they would be apprehended and slaughtered in in the case of Allah.”

A number of deaths in the area have been attributed to the Taliban.

For example, Khattak brought up Jehan Begam, a female health worker who was gunned down on April 24, 2009. The charge, according to her, was “doing an un-Islamic job.”

The Taliban threatened girls and their families to prevent them from obtaining an education and promoted religious, indigenous education that focused only on the Quran, she said. They attacked schools and buildings and forced some local officials to resign.

But lately, the support of the community the Taliban at one time possessed began to disintegrate.

She said the military stepped in, but did not present a perfect solution.

The military offered gifts of reconstructed schools, libraries and museums the Taliban had destroyed and assigned themselves the role of protecting women’s rights.

Khattak said civilian structures dissolved during the two-year Taliban rule, and the military started to take up duties it did not have prior to this. The army took on policing functions as well, and took on the role as the protector of Swat.

But in three or four years, the popularity of the army had decreased — men in the community felt emasculated by the police state.

Women wanted the military to stay in fear of Swat reverting back to Taliban rule — they had more of a traumatic experience than the men, and the military presence provided physical and psychological security, she said.

Families split, with brothers joining opposite sides in the conflict, and the Taliban accused the military of being anti-Islamist.

“How do we get peace? Should we have more military or less military?” Khattak inquired.

Julia Barnett, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said she is taking a course called “Gender and Human Rights,” and this lecture was a great opportunity to delve further into the issues explored in her class.

The Taliban versus military dichotomy in Swat still continues today.

Maegan Kae Z. Sunaz

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