Updated: Dec 7, 2022
Swat Valley was once ruled by the Pakistani Taliban, who imposed a ban on education for women among other retrogressive measures. Between 2007 and 2009, TTP militants destroyed more than 100 girls’ schools in the region. The Valley is also known for being the hometown of Nobel peace award winner Malala Yousafzai, who was 15 years old when the TTP shot and wounded her a decade ago. At the time, Malala had been campaigning for girls' right to education in Swat and was a vocal critic of Islamist extremists. She had been targeted for continuing her study, in breach of a ban on girls’ education in Swat that had been imposed by the TTP. The Taliban said in 2012 that she had been attacked for promoting "secularism" in the area.
Swat was a stronghold for the TTP until the Pakistani military launched an operation against the group in 2009. However, the group could not be completely defeated and many of its fighters and leaders went into hiding in the lawless border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The group's sporadic attacks continued even after the 2009 military operation. It forced over a million people to leave their homes and take refuge in various parts of the country. They were only allowed to return when the operation ended a few months later. In 2014, TTP militants attacked a military-run school in Peshawar, killing 132 schoolchildren. Two years later, a major Pakistani military offensive drove the TTP militants from their strongholds in northwestern Pakistan and across the border to Afghanistan, where the TTP leadership took refuge.
But a decade on from the TTP’s brutal attack on Yousafzai, who survived after months of treatment at home and abroad, history appears to be repeating itself.
In recent months, hundreds of fighters belonging to the TTP, have been returning to the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, including in Yousafzai’s native Swat Valley. The militants have been accused of carrying out targeted killings and extorting locals. Suspected militants fired on a police party in the valley, fueling speculation that the TTP, which aims to set up an Islamist state in Pakistan, is regaining strength in the area.
There has also been a terrorist attack on a school van in the Swat district of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in october which confirms the return of the extremist groups that had imposed their anti-education agenda on the region a decade ago by bombing schools, particularly schools for girls, banning girls’ education and attacking students. Armed men on a motorcycle opened fire on the school van, killing the driver and injuring two children who were travelling to school in Swat. The attack refreshes the memories of the attempted assassination of Malala in 2012 when she was only 14 years old. Thousands of people staged a sit-in protest in Swat, demanding the arrest of those behind the most recent attack on the school van.
The TTP’s comeback is nothing short of a nightmare for the people of Swat. The demonstrators have also directed their anger at the authorities for turning a blind eye to the return of the militants. People of Swat don't want the return of the Taliban here again; they believe that it will also affect the education of their children, just like it affected every sphere of their lives before.