People, who have had a chance to visit the scenic valley of swat well before the conflict hit the region, may find striking differences on the faces and in the lifestyles of the people, in today’s Swat what is often touted as the restored valley of Swat. Land of blood red peaches and gushing rivers, swat has long been known for the picturesque beauty she beholds in her lap and has attracted countless number of tourists over the period of the time.
Formerly a princely state during the time of Indo-Pak partition, Swat decided to accede to Pakistan and later the princely status of the state was dissolved in order to merge it with the rest of the country. One of the conditions of the merger was the mutually agreed settlement that Pakistan government will allow and facilitate the enactment of Sharia (Islamic Law) in the valley. This agreement was never fulfilled, which thereby provided sufficient impetus to the extremist elements in the region who later wreaked havoc, spilling innocent blood.
Today Swat portrays the picture of a valley, which has been reincarnated after a bloody war between the Islamists and the Military. Small shanty towns of the likes of Khawazakhaila, Batgaram, Chaharbagh, Maidan, and Bahrain, now present the look of progressive bustling towns, providing ample justification that the people have taken a sigh of relief with the restoration of the order and the return of peace in the valley.
Shaving off beard was strictly prohibited by the Islamists in the region some five years ago and several saloons which disobeyed the orders were either bombed away or their owners shot down. Selling music CDs or video cassettes was banned. Girl schools or women roaming in the streets was a far-flunged scenario. Today, the valley and all the small towns in the region are back to normal conditions, something of the sort of which prevailed some ten years ago.
But the picture isn’t as poetic as it sounds.
You may find clean shaved men running their day-to-day businesses and one can often spot women carrying out the grocery shopping or little girls marching to schools, but the people have a pint of skepticism in their eyes. A tourist from any other part of the country becomes the centre piece of all activity the instant he or she decides to stop over in any of these towns. The skepticism is followed by an air of disliking perhaps for all the pain and anguish the people have faced and find it convenient to vent out the anger by hating the visitors-for all what they can do for the moment.
Despite of the disliking, however, which remains mild enough not to be categorized as hatred, the locals do realize that these people have little to do with whatever happened and that they still constitute a major chunk of the capital that flows in the valley as domestic tourism.
Fruit exports have surged after the devastating floods of 2010. This year alone, experienced a record surge in domestic tourism in the valley. Hotel industry, transporters, shop-owners, dry fruit sellers are enjoying the influx of capital which they had only known almost a decade ago.
Foreign tourists are still not allowed to venture in the valley, something which hopefully will change shortly.