Concern at US presence in Swat

Although ISPR has brushed them aside as baseless and untrue yet rumours have it that the United States of America and Nato probably have some latent desires to deploy contingents of their forces first temporarily and then permanently in Swat Valley on the pretext of building a warehouse to store relief goods for the flood-affected people at Saidu Sharif Airport in Kanju. There have been reports in the mainstream press in the recent past that four cantonments are being planned in the area for which land is being acquired from local residents. Unconfirmed reports circulating in the valley say that like Jacobabad airport known as Shaheen Base, Saidu Airport may also be handed over to the US and Nato soldiers. residents fear that, God forbid, if such plans actually do materialise at some stage in future, they might once again have to bear the pangs of dislocation by abandoning their homes and seeking refuge in tents in winter chill and camps meant for IDPs in order to ensure expansion of the airport and accommodate the US and other foreign troops arriving in the area sooner rather than later.

Initial response of known social and political figures in the area was that they would hardly allow foreigners to step on their native soil and turn it into another Afghanistan. For instance, former provincial minister and Jamaat-i-Islami leader Hussain Ahmad Kanju predicted that any decision to hand over the airport to foreigners would have far-reaching consequences. Questioning the justification of the proposal, he said that instead of occupying an airport in Swat the US could conveniently send relief goods to the flood-affected people through government or the army.

He added that instead of deploying its troops to seek a foothold in the valley, the US could also distribute aid through trustworthy organisations. He warned that the people of Swat would never allow any such development to take place even in connivance with the government. Similarly, head of the Kabal peace jirga said that his men were ready to provide support to army in acquiring land for the expansion of Saidu Airport but they would not do so for Americans. He added that people did not want any assistance from the US if its objective was to eventually occupy their motherland.

He forewarned that the whole Malakand region would plunge into renewed violence if the US and Nato troops were deployed in Swat. On his part, head of Kabal defence committee said that he had strong reservations about the role of the US as its policies had brought nothing except instability in the region and triggered violence. It is to be hoped, as senior nationalist leader Afzal Khan Lala also said, that in view of the public sentiments the government would not hand over strategic facilities to foreigners – Statesman