THE POVERTY TRAP IN SWAT

A.        Poverty as a cause of militancy in Swat

One of the questions that constantly turned up for discussions during the survey was whether poverty alone can create violence or is it rather the fuel that continues to stoke the insurgency and violence once it has started? Poverty can result from many causes. However poverty in Swat can be attributed principally to lack of land and monetary resources. Many experts believe that poverty itself cannot be the single cause for creating violence in any region; however it becomes an aggravating condition that may lead to the continuation of violence once it begins.12 Let us discuss the relative position of Swat in terms of development indicators with other districts in KP. This will allow an assessment of comparative poverty and inequality prevalent in Swat.

B.        Development indicators of Swat

An important survey done in the KP in 2001 was the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey that compared the relative position of the 24 districts in terms of six base indicators:13

�  Infant mortality

�  Malnourishment

�  Primary school enrollment

�  Adult literacy (15 year plus)

�  Safe drinking water

�  Adequate sanitation

The districts were divided into terciles of eight districts each. Swat emerged as follows in the various categories:

In infant mortality Swat came in the 3rd tercile and was 21st out of 24 districts. The average infant mortality rate for the province was 79 deaths per 1000 live births, while in Swat the rate was 95.7 deaths per 1000 live births.

In the figures for malnourishment, Swat was again in the 3rd tercile and ranked 23rd out of 24th in terms of malnourishment. Thus there is a lack of income that will permit people to buy food.

In terms of primary school enrollment Swat was in the 2nd tercile at number 11 and was within the provincial average for this indicator.

In adult literacy Swat was in the 2nd tercile at number 9th and was ahead than the provincial average.

For the indicator of safe drinking water Swat was in the 2nd tercile at number 9th and was better than the provincial average.

For sanitation Swat was in the 1st tercile at number 7th and thus had a better average than the figure for province.

The figures indicate that Swat had weak health cover especially in facilities dealing with the mother and infant and this was reflected in its high infant mortality rate. Similarly, the figures showed that Swat had higher levels of malnutrition. The combination of high infant mortality rate and widespread malnutrition points to another nightmare. That is a very pernicious form of Marginalization that is the likely prevalence of cognitive disorder in children.

In the absence of good medical care during pregnancy due to low income and the reliance on indifferent traditional birth attendants for births, the rate of complicated deliveries will be high in Swat. This is followed by a period of malnutrition for the newly born infant due to poverty of the parents. Under such circumstances the brain of the child is under developed and his or her cognitive capacity is reduced so that idea formation and the process of thinking become flawed. When such children are left to fend for themselves in woman led household then there is a disaster waiting to happen. 

C.        Child bombers

After the military regained Swat from the terrorists in Aug-Sept of 2009 they came across this nightmare. They discovered groups of children with cognitive difficulties who were first abused physically and sexually and then handed over to trainers as child soldiers and suicide bombers. These children numbering about 126 were taken over by the military and placed under a re-education program called Sabaoon, (Hopeful Tomorrow), managed by psychologists. The following is the profile of the children helped by the projects:

Most of the children had been abducted or picked up in chance encounters. (About 65-70%).

The chance encounters were outside the school and abductions were by militants.

65-70% of the children were performing significantly below their peer group and chronological age in school.

A large number of children had dropped out of school for reasons of a) ability and or b) financial problems of the family.

Most children (about 85%) were from families/siblingship of 6-16 children and the child bombers were mostly from the middle children.

They all had low self esteem, lacked impulse control and also suffered from aggressive tendencies that are the common characteristics of behavioral problem.

Most of them suffered from headaches, hallucinations and aggressiveness. In the EEG studies and on the basis of these symptoms the results were 100% positive indicating soft neuropathology that could result from dysrythmia, partial seizures and epilepsy. 

The reasons for these issues are complications at birth, poor nutrition and / or accidents in early childhood.14

These results from the Sabaoon Project, are in line with the Multi Indicator Cluster Survey discussed above and confirms that the prevalence of poverty not only created other problems related to inequalities that we will discuss shortly, but also caused secondary problems in children due to poverty that in turn created cognitive problems that were exploited by the terrorists who turned these unfortunate young boys into suicide bombers and child soldiers.

Did the government do anything about the poor indicators of Swat since 2001?  The answer is not positive. This is confirmed by another survey that was undertaken to find the relative progress of KP in meeting the targets of the Millennium Development Goals in 2005. It was found that four years after the first survey in 2001 where Swat had an overall 15th position amongst the 24 districts comprising the KP province, it had slipped by another two positions to number 17.15

From these comparisons discussed the reaction is to blame the provincial or the federal governments for their failure to address the problem. It is true that in the last resort it is the responsibility of the government to ensure that conditions are created in the socio-economic space where households are able to meet their nutritional, health and educational requirements. This is also an area of policy reform and macroeconomic management of the state. Unfortunately, the governments in the last decades have been so taken up by the security challenges that they have had little time to conceive much else.

In that sense the last ten years have been a decade of toil for the low income and deprived people of Swat and this deprivation has increased the number of marginalized people. Is the state winning really when marginalization has increased?

D.        Weak federal-provincial fiscal relationship

Another problem that has weakened the ability of the provincial government in KP to provide larger resources for investment in health, education and social protection is embedded in the poor federal-provincial fiscal relationship. Pakistan is a federation that is heavily tilted in favor of the federal government to the detriment of the provinces. The federation implements many policies that have reduced the flow of developmental funds.

It is in the provinces that people live, yet it is the reduction in the transfer of resources to them that has caused under development. Because of the heavy outlay on defense and debt servicing the provinces got only $ 12.1 billion from a total budget of $ 33 billion in 2010-2011. It is less than half of the total outlay. Secondly, with the low budgetary transfers there are also other impediments. For instance one of the main head of income in fiscal receipts by the KP province is the transfer of profits from hydel generation of electricity. This is a constitutionally mandated resource transfer provided for under Article 161 of the constitution. The first payment of Rs. 06 billion then valued approximately $ 200 million was paid to KP in 1990-91 and constituted almost 39% of the total budgetary resource of the province.  Most of this sum was invested in human development and social protection sectors. However, the federation refused to enhance this amount ever since that period. As the graph below shows, in 2008-9 the value of transfer from this head to the province is now worth only $74 million and provides less than 5% of the total budgetary receipts.16 

If the KP government received fewer resources then there was little it could do in terms of improving the socio-development indicators. It may be argued that surely the lack of resources cannot explain the absence of adequate policies that would have helped create more space for the poor with less money; that is reduction of financial liabilities by reducing recruitment in government, improving the efficiency in the delivery of services by better monitoring and controls, involving the private sector in the delivery of services, reducing wastage and discouraging corruption; surely these measures required reform and innovation and not more money. This is sadly true; Swat and its people have suffered as a result of an absence of a reforming framework. There cannot be any justification for failure in areas of governance in conditions where any slackness on the part of the government can be used by the militants to their advantage. 

In the survey, the Swat households said that an increase in the provision of services for the people led to an increase in the support for the government.  67% agreed that it did (Annex-1, Fig 12).  From this discussion it is clear that the condition of families in Swat worsened from 2001 onwards. As the government failed to compensate the poor, their loyalty to the government and the state declined. Under these circumstances is it surprising to find the people rising against their government?

E.        Is there poverty – militancy nexus?

The households in Swat perceived that there was a link between poverty and militancy. This relationship came out quite clearly during the survey. The following were the survey results:

A large number of unemployed youth indicates poor employment opportunities and is a sure sign of poverty. Some of the youth have received some form of education from either the government school system or the Madressahs. As they expect to get jobs and to raise families they find that their chances of employment are non- existent. These large groups of youth drift endlessly looking for an opportunity to make a living so that they can start a family. Unfortunately for them such opportunities are few, except when the militants offered them jobs. 

In 2001 an opportunity arose that had its roots in the Al-Qaeda challenge to the US. The attack on the Twin Towers began a war that was depicted by the religious scholars as a war between the Muslims and the Jews and Christians against poor Muslims. One of the aims of the Al-Qaeda is to remove governments in the Islamic world that are friendly to US. Since the Pakistani government supports the US the Al-Qaeda through Pakistani Jihadist parties began targeting the Pakistani state in a well-planned strategy. Swat was selected as one of the core areas by the Islamists to confront the Pakistani state. The following are the factors that encouraged them to select Swat as a base for confrontation:    

Swat is a populous district that is religious and believes in Jihad based on their history.  The survey supported this connection of the Swati with religion. In response to a question, 58% of the responding households said that they supported the militants on grounds of religion (Annex-1, Fig 46).

Secondly, the Pakistani policy of supporting some Jihadist hard-core organizations for proxy wars came to haunt her. During the Afghan Jihad many of the Afghan fighters and others belonging to Pakistani militant outfits like the LeT and JM were kept in camps in Maidan in Dir district. However, after Sufi Mohammad’s lashkar suffered deaths when he took more than 9,000 persons from Malakand to fight against the US forces in Afghanistan, resulted in creating hatred against the Jihadis many of whom were Afghans. 

In November 2001, the military shifted the camps from Dir to Peochar in the mountains of Swat to prevent the people from attacking the Afghans in camps in Dir. Peochar provided a new area to the Jihadis to create another terrorist infrastructure. In 2009 when the military operations began against the Swat militants, some of the toughest fighting was in Peochar. It was also here that the military suffered its heaviest casualties.

Thirdly, the nuisance value of Sufi Mohammad’s TNSM was exploited by elements from within the security agencies to embarrass the civilian governments from 1994 to 1999. This weakened the already poor writ of the state in Malakand that is discussed more fully latter in the chapter on governance.

Unrest combined with poverty, unemployment and tension related to land, and exploitation of tenants and peasants by landlords in Swat formed a formidable sea of discontent.  During the survey, households were asked if people joined militants for sake of employment. A resounding 75% thought that unemployment forced the youth to join the militants (Annex-1, Fig 40).

In another penetrating analysis it was found that one way in which income inequality may contribute to militancy is the better life options that become available by joining the militants to become a powerful person in society.17

It is apparent that many people also joined the militants to improve their livelihoods by entering the terrorist leadership hierarchy that enables one to share in the spoils that the terrorists collect through criminality. According to the result of the survey 63% of the households agreed with this view (Annex-1, Fig 39).

An interesting finding to emerge from the survey was when some key informants disclosed that besides enriching themselves by cutting the trees of the rich landlords or looting rich household was the money they made by selling the rubble of destroyed schools and hospitals. It also served a tactical purpose by denying the use of government buildings in time of war. When the troops came to fight, the buildings became operational bases and rest and recreation centers. Hence destroying them denied space to the military while the rubble could be sold to earn money.

fThe FGDs were unanimous in criticizing the performance of security agencies for their failure to eliminate the militant leadership. It is ironic that despite so many rebellions against the state by Sufi Mohammad and his elk they continue to prosper without criminal prosecution. Until such people are brought to justice and prosecuted the situation will not improve

On Feb 12, 1994 the Supreme Court of Pakistan made a landmark decision and ordered that Malakand Division should not be governed under special provisions since these were discriminatory and violative of the Fundamental Rights provided under the Constitution.  Both the Federal and Provincial governments choose to ignore what was a far reaching decision. Instead of implementing it, the government let matters drift. Sufi Mohammad who had returned from Afghanistan after spending time with the Taliban in Kabul created the TNSM to counter the decision of the Supreme Court to mainstream Malakand; circumstantial evidence leads one to the conclusion that Sufi Mohammad was manipulated into leadership role by different forces interested in maintaining the status quo in Swat.

F.        Conflicting interests

The following were the main parties interested in manipulating policy that prevented the mainstreaming of Swat and created space for militancy:

The political parties were interested in breaking the hold of the Jamat e Islami in the region and they wanted to use Sufi Mohammad as a counter for that purpose.

The industrialists wanted to continue receiving benefits like exemption from payment of taxes and customs duty.

Bureaucrats wanted to retain their unfettered powers and did not want mainstreaming to constrain their powers.

The administration created a group of supporters for maintaining the status quo by allowing the rich landlords to retain their large vehicles without payment of custom duties. There are some 22,000 of such luxury vehicles in Malakand division many of them belonging to residents of Swat. The presences of these vehicles were prominent in almost all of Sufi Muhammad’s gatherings till 2009.

In 1994 Sufi Mohammad launched the TNSM demanding the introduction of Shariah. He was treated with kid gloves by the administration and the political government was persuaded to negotiate with him. His intentions can be judged from the fact that he was detained in the Dir Scout Mess in Chakdara, after more than 40 persons were killed in a shootout between the workers of the TNSM and security services on 6th Nov, 1994. He refused to negotiate unless a photograph of the father of the nation Mr. Jinnah was first removed from the room. Evidently space was provided to him to misbehave.

Due to the pressure of the various lobbies within government and the vested interest who did not want the introduction of the normal law of the land, the government appeased Sufi Mohammad by introducing the PATA (Nifaz e Nizame Shariah) Regulation 1994. Since this regulation was procedural, the TNSM was dissatisfied.

In 1999 the government again surrendered to the TNSM pressure after it led another agitation against the government. The government issued yet another ineffective version of Shariah the Nifaz e Adl Regulation 1999. This was again procedural and did not bring any substantial change. Although, the government and Sufi Mohammad were playing a cat and mouse game, the delay in the dispensation of justice by the courts had become a point of serious concern for the residents of Swat whose cases kept on lingering. 

The seriousness of the issue and desire for quick and expeditious justice by the households in Swat came out clearly in the survey. 78% of respondents felt that many people joined the militants to have their grievances addressed, (Annex-1, Fig 32). This indeed is a serious indictment of government performance.

However the question arises whether the militants are serious in bringing about change in the laws. It is clear that to buy traction for their Islamic rhetoric amongst the people it is essential for them to seek the imposition of Shariah law. However the militants are also wise to realize that they would not be permitted to have a law of their desire since the nub of the matter is that the religious elements would like to become judges for the dispensation of Shariah. Apparently, it is not as much a matter of imposition of Shariah but more to use the Shariah slogan for creating an economic niche resulting in jobs for them.

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