Swat's harassed NGOs -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Swat’s harassed NGOs

In recent days, offices of two NGOs were sealed in Swat district by orders of the local administration. This happened after the two organisations received threatening letters from extremists that said that they needed to pack up and leave the area or face the consequences. On the face of it, the closure doesn’t even make sense because NGOs do a lot of good work in these areas, instead of this action the local administration could have considered providing them with adequate security. However, as the situation in Swat is volatile and since the district has of late become a hotbed for some militants and their followers, the closure may be justified from this point of view. It may only be a matter of time before a third NGO, which has also received threats, is forced to close down.

One would like to try and understand the logic of those giving these threats. The premise against their operation is that their activities are un-Islamic. One of the NGOs that received the threats is engaged in family planning. This practice may be, in the eyes of the obscurantists, against the dictates of religion but is practised in several Muslim countries and serves a very useful social purpose. Lack of family planning often means that a family could be large and this can create problems if the head of the household’s income is not enough to support so many members. From that point of view, resorting to family planning seems eminently useful and facilitates the development of a healthy family with greater opportunities for children in terms of meeting their food, clothing and schooling requirements. So by opposing it, and by railing against NGOs in general, the extremists show that they do not believe in reason or logic. What is even more reprehensible is that they use force on others to conform to their retrogressive views.

It would be fair to say that these developments have all but destroyed — and who knows for how long — the tourism trade of Swat. This is tragic because it was a crucial means to a livelihood for many of its residents. The threats have not ended with the NGOs. Even staff working at local clinics and hospitals have been warned not to wear western attire. In addition to this, it has been reported that women working as beauticians have been told to stop their trade. The main reason for the upsurge of extremist activities in many parts of NWFP — from prohibitions on barbers from shaving clients’ beards to barring people from giving polio drops to their children on the grounds that they are part of a western conspiracy to make people sterile — is clearly a distinct lack of willingness on the part of the provincial government to deal with the situation. That may well be explained by the fact that Swat, electorally, has become a stronghold of the Jamaat-e-Islami, which is part of the MMA coalition which rules the province and the inaction could in fact be deliberate. Unfortunately, a politics of expediency usually amounts to playing with people’s lives.
Source: The News
Date:8/26/2007