ISLAMABAD – The state of  Swat, economically  self-sustained with rice paddy fields at the town of Thana and wheat and corn  producing  fields en route to Matta, Kabal, Mingora, Madian, Bahrain, and ending at Walnut Heights of Kalam where trout is the most available all-season food, is home to the peaceful and docile Pashtuns.

The majority of these Pashtuns came into Swat from Dir and Bajour, others from Kailash and Chitral. Their ancestry, some historians claim, is Greek. To an extent Kailash-Chitral, neighboring Swat, gives credence to this claim.

Kailash is a rock-locked valley where one of the generals of Alexander the Great once lost his garrison. One can trace the semblance of Greek within the Kalasha language. Some scholars reject the claim of Greek ancestry, but when the present head of Kailash, Luxun Bibi, took up an invitation by the government of Greece, the meeting state officials discovered that there are many common words between Greek and Kalasha.

Swat always remained a self-sustained economy also for its valuable emeralds, extracted from Swat and from the Panjsheer Valley of Afghanistan. Even during the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, gemstone dealers from the Indian town of Jaipur would regularly camp at the Pearl Continental Hotel of Peshawar to buy emeralds that were cut and polished in Hong Kong or Belgium.

The majority of Swati people are proudly self-proclaimed “Blue Blood Pashtuns”, again raising the question of ancestry. Afridis and Shinwaris of the Khyber Agency claim to be the direct descendents of Alexander the Great, and some claim Pashtuns are Jews who converted when they came to Afghanistan.

The majority of Swati Pashtuns are gujars, or herdsmen, not belonging to Swat’s economic elite.

Before the people of Swat embraced Islam they were mostly influenced by Buddhism, which is reflected in relics and statues often extracted by archeologists from Dir and Swat. An old museum is located in Dir where statues are still kept, but there is no one there to guard them at present.

Swat was a princely state at the time of partition of the Indian subcontinent, when the Wali of Swat, the Ruler of Dir, and the Mehter of Chitral all opted to join Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s Pakistan voluntarily.

Swat had become a princely state before the partition under Mian Gul Shahzada Abdul Wadud, the son of a powerful Pashtun, Abdul Khaliq of the Akhund caste of Pashtuns. Abdul Khaliq died in 1892. His son Abdul Wadud was a saint who had many disciples and would often be invited to chair local jirgas, or grand assemblies, to settle local disputes.

Many Sikhs also settled in Swat after the conquests of Mahraja Ranjit Singh, a warrior from Punjab who conquered Afghanistan from Kabul to Kandahar. Sikhs still live in Swat and many are wealthy businessmen. In 2002, a descendent of the conqueror, Sardar Gayan Singh, became a member of the National Assembly, the lower house of Pakistan’s Parliament.

Saint Mian Gul Shahzada Abdul Wadud established Swat as a princely state when, during a jirga, he ordered two rival groups to surrender their arms to his disciples. Using this opportunity, Abdul Wadud established his personal rule in 1917 and declared himself Badshah, or King, of Swat.

Thereafter he set about consolidating his rule, annexing adjacent lands and establishing the rudiments of administration and government. After nine years of continuous progress, he approached the British Indian government for recognition and support. Until then, relations between the two had been uneasy and mutual suspicion prevailed on both sides. However, his straightforward character, sincerity in friendship, and demonstrated feat in disarming hitherto fractious tribesman, won the day.

Swat was recognized as a full-fledged princely state in 1926, with Abdul Wadud as “Wali of Swat” and, in 1933 his eldest son became “Wali Ahad”, or heir apparent. The little state progressed in leaps and bounds under their energetic and surprisingly modern-minded rule.

Revenue collection was regularized. Government departments and offices were established. Roads, hospitals, schools, and public works of all kinds began in earnest. For the first time in centuries, peace and prosperity reigned supreme and the beautiful valley slowly entered the twentieth century.

Abdul Wadud was himself a saint and a believer in Sufism, but since he was anxious to consolidate his power in the name of Islam, he introduced Fatawa-e-Wadudia in Swat.

“It was an Islamic legal system coupled with Pashtun customary laws known as Rawajnama Swat,” explained Mian Gul Aurangzeb in an interview with me for Foreign Policy Journal. At 81, he is the son of the last ruler of Swat, Mian Gul Jehanzeb, and son-in-law of Pakistan’s first military ruler, Field Marshal Ayub Khan.

While Abdul Wadud introduced Fatawa-e-Wadudia, he allowed officially sanctioned bars in the posh localities of Mingora, Saidu Sharif and Kalam. He lived in a white marble palace located near Mingora at Marghazar. Abdul Wadud also gave official permission for “dancing girls” to operate, but not in the main cities.

Having a self-sustained economy, Abdul Wadud promoted education and tourism. “He wanted to turn Swat into another Switzerland of Asia,” explained Riaz Naqvi, a former bureaucrat with an extensive knowledge of Swat. Naqvi is healthy at 74, and retired from his former position as Chairman of the Central Board of Revenue, now renamed as the Federal Bureau of Revenue.

“Certainly my grandfather wanted to modernize Swat state, and we promoted education in our state,” commented Prince Mian Gul Auarngzeb.

President of Pakistan from 1958 until 1969, Field Marshal Ayub Khan, whose daughter Begum Nasim was married to young Captain Mian Gul Auarngzeb while the prince was serving the president as his aide-de-camp (ADC), adopted three different policies for three princely states. He accepted Wali Jehanzeb as the Ruler of Swat but detained Khan of Dir and dethroned the Mehter of Chitral.

Until 1969, Swat remained a semi-autonomous state with its own police and a small army, the Swat Militia, with its own state emblem.

Field Marshal Ayub Khan had to step down in March 1969 and handed over Pakistan to his Commander-in-Chief of the Army, General Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan, an Afghan of Qizilbash caste. It was General Yahya Khan who, after making Chief Marshal Law Administrator and President of Pakistan, disapproved Swat’s semi-autonomous status and merged it under Pakistani rule.

Swat, Dir, and Chitral upon Pakistan’s independence from India were placed initially on par with Federally Administered Tribal Agencies (FATA), and later the three states were placed under Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA).

But after the Wali of Swat, Mian Gul Jehanzeb, was dethroned, the state of Swat was unable to evolve or legislate its own socio-economic and judicial system due to strong political mobilization both in East and West Pakistan. General Yahya Khan announced general elections and, interestingly, the Wali of Swat’s second son, Prince Amir Zeb, was awarded the ticket of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, father of Benazir Bhutto.

Amir Zeb returned to the National Assembly with a sizeable majority despite the fact that rulers of Swat hated Zulfikar Ali Bhutto because he had helped toppled Field Marshal Ayub Khan through street power. Although the Bhutto government eventually abolished the remaining powers of the rulers in 1972, Amir Zeb’s status and regard continued for the remainder of his days. Swat was hence considered a strong constituency of the Pakistan People’s Party.

Bhutto was overthrown by his favorite General Zia-ul Haq in July 1977. General Haq separated Buner district from Swat and announced a Shariah system without knowing what exactly he was offering to the people of Swat. The half-baked and mala fide Shariah system could not make any headway since by then Swat had become a choice place for postings for Pakistan’s most powerful class of civil bureaucrats. The people of Swat who received swift justice from the Wali of Swat were now subjected to bureaucratic red-tape and corruption.

Prince Mian Gul Aurangzeb, widower of Begum Nasim, lives happily in No. 6 on Street No. 90, Sector G/6-4, Islamabad. His old structured house depicts symbols of royalty. Despite his years, he is still mentally alert and a very jolly fellow. When I first spoke with him, he invited me to come the next day at 6 pm. “I have invited a few regular friends for my Bridge session,” he said.

When I arrived and was backing up my car, I noticed that Prince Aurangzeb is an immediate neighbor of the Afghan Ambassador.

Old traditions were dominating my arrival at his residence. A servant was waiting on me, and guided me to Prince Aurangzeb’s main sitting room. I was amazed to see pictures of the Queen of England, the Duke of Edinburgh, Field Marshal Ayub Khan with his daughter Begum Nasim, and President John F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy Onassis at Mount Vernon, Virginia.

I settled down in a comfortable couch, and Prince Aurangzeb appeared. “You want to ask me what legal system my forefathers had,” he anticipated. “At an application written on one anna [one anna was one-sixteenth of a rupee and no longer minted] stamp paper. My grandfather and my father would at maximum dispose of cases in one or two hearings, not like that bloody Swiss court which could not decide corruption of Mr. Zardari or his late wife Benazir Bhutto in 12 long years.” I could detect his family’s lingering hatred of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his legacy.

I had to remind Aurangzeb that it was not Zardari or his wife that had brought me to his house. The Pakistan military is currently engaged in an operation in Swat combating militants after a peace deal brokered by Sufi Muhammad finally collapsed early this month. Sufi Muhammad founded the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariah Muhammadi (TNSM), a militant group that has sought to establish Shariah in Swat.

After Sufi Muhammad was arrested in 2002, his son-in-law Maulana Fazlullah assumed the group’s leadership, and he formed an alliance with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), led by Baitullah Mehsud.

In 2007, TNSM took over much of Swat. Sufi Muhammad was released in 2008 after renouncing violence, and brokered the deal between the Pakistani government and TNSM that has collapsed after the militants tried to push also into the district of Buner, resulting in Pakistan’s military offensive.

I wanted to know more of the story behind the peace deal and its collapse.

“Please tell me exactly what Shariah Muhammadi is, which remains a demand of Sufi Muhammad since the mid ’90’s, and with the present insurgency he has mobilized a lot of militants favoring this legal system. And do you approve or disapprove of the Talibanization of Swat?” I asked him.

He answered quickly, “I neither approve it nor disapprove it.” This was perhaps a reflection of his uncertainty about the success of the current military operation and a nurtured fear of the Taliban.

“When I was the governor of Baluchistan,” he recalled, “I had asked Sufi Muhammad, Sufi Sahib [a title of respect], ‘What exactly do you want? What kind of Shariah is your main demand?'”

After a pause, the Prince continued. “You will not believe Sufi Muhammad too was making a bleak demand. He answered me, ‘My Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariah Muhammadi want what your grandfather Mian Gul Shahzada Abdul Wadud practiced.'”

Asked what this meant, he replied, “A legal system based on Islam coupled with Pashtun customs.”

He continued, “Though my family is no more a ruling family of Swat. But just imagine. We’re popular. During 1970 polls my brother Amirzeb was elected from Swat.

“I was a captain in the army while my father was the ruler. I was commissioned in 1951 and was inducted in the same Regiment Guides’ Cavalry where General Zia-ul Haq was commissioned.

“I entered into politics way back in 1985 when General Zia-ul Haq held party-less elections. I was elected from Swat. I bagged 64 percent of the votes.

“In 1988, my son-in-law Amane Rome got elected on the Pakistan People’s Party ticket. My son was elcted from the same constituency in the 1997 general elections. Before that Lala Afzal, former Federal Minister, was elected during the 1993 general elections. In 1997 polls, my son Adnan Aurangzeb was elected on the Pakistan Muslim League ticket.”

He went on to speak on voting trends. “The Mullahs of Muttehida Majlise Amal swept polls in the 2002 vote as a reaction to the Afghan war. There was a lot of corruption and they were rejected by people during the February 2008 vote, and there came a liberal party, Awami National Party, which could not face Taliban. Most of its deputes are either in Peshawar or in Islamabad. Why do they not come here to protect their electorate?”

I was anxious to know how the militant Taliban spread their influence, forced the retreat of police forces, and established a rule of their own in the entire Malakand Division. Prince Aurangzeb anticipated the question.

“I do not know what the exact demands of Sufi Muhammad are. He participated in the Afghan war in 2001. He took 10,000 people from Swat. The poor men returned to Pakistan with only 2000 people, the rest were killed.

“Sufi Muhammad was detained by General Musharraf at Dera Ismail Khan jail, and his men were exchanged by an Afghan warlord with money.”

When I commented that it is general knowledge that the son-in-law of Sufi Muhammad, Maulana Fazlullah, is allied with Baitullah Mehsud’s Tehrik-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan, Aurangzeb expressed uncertainty. “I do not know,” he said.

I asked him how he saw the present insurgency. He replied, “Tell me how long Americans fought in Vietnam, how long Charles de Gaulle fought in Algeria.”

I interrupted to observe that he was suggesting the current military operation would be a long, drawn out affair.

He said, “So far, we just have no knowledge who provided the most sophisticated weaponry, communication systems, and FM radios to the militants. We must have accurate knowledge of these people and their objective.”

Prince Aurangzeb’s son-in-law Amane Rome is an old friend of mine. He was a senior executive with the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation back in 1976. He, too, entered into politics and on a PPP ticket got elected from Swat in 1988.

When I approached him, he was very selective about his words and was very careful whenever making a single comment about Taliban. He repeatedly told me, “I am not making any comment against Taliban.”

Lala Afzal Khan, who was elected to the National Assembly from his nationalist Pakhtun Awami Party and joined Benazir Bhutto’s cabinet, has remained in Swat during all these days of anarchy. He has been awarded with one of the highest civil gallantry awards.

Lala Afzal Khan told me, “The Taliban movement is not an ideological movement. All the men of Sufi Muhammad and Maulana Fazlullah are loyal to Baitullah Mehsud. In fact, all the Taliban are loyal to Mullah Omar and  most  of  them  are  criminals, looters, bandits, car  snatchers, absconders and  drug  runners. He is the center of gravity both for Pakistani and Afghan Taliban.”

He said, “In class struggle between haves and have-nots, you do not become a criminal. You do not harm innocent people, snatch vehicles, dump arms and ammunition; you get popular through the force of ideology and not force. Taliban are terrorists and have no ideology.”

Having nationalist and left-leaning views, Lala Afzal Khan was critical of the Swat peace deal; not only the recent one, but also the 1994 peace deal. The federal government signed both deals from a position of weakness and not from a position of strength.

I also spoke with the chief spokesman of the army, Major General Atthar Abbas, and asked him what the exact strategy was of Taliban militants in areas like Swat, lower Dir, and Buner.

“If they continue to make advances and cross Walnut Heights of Kalam and Miandri,” he replied, “they can reach Hazara Division, where Pakistan’s many important defense establishments are located.

“Yes, this appears to be their strategy. But now we have gone for a full-scale operation. We have a free hand and we have contained and encircled them in Swat and Buner. This is one of the reasons these militants could not send suicide bombers to Pakistan’s other cities.

“Previously,” he continued, “due to political expediencies, we were carrying out our operations in a slipshod manner. I mean, one hand was tied and the other one free. There is and was a civilian government in the North West Frontier Province, so we had to only go for defensive operations and we were mostly trying to persuade local people to avoid violence and militancy.”

When asked about the objective of the militants’ move to Buner, Lala Afzal Khan answered, “Buner was not the end. These militants had planned to capture the vital KKH (Kara Koram Highway) or the Silk Route that links Pakistan with China. Having the best knowledge of their plans, we adopted sufficient contingency measures to besiege and kill them.”

Pakistan’s military operation in Swat has created yet another divide between Pashtuns and both the Sindh National Front and the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), an Urdu speaking community of Karachi and historical rivals of Pashtuns there. With over a million and a half people displaced by the fighting in Swat, the influx of Pashtuns to Karachi in Sindh Province is already sending alarming signals of further destabilization of the country.