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Islam as Ideology of Tradition and Change:
The “New Jihad” in Swat, Northern Pakistan
Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
Introduction
n the early 1990s, the Tehrik- e- Nifaz- e- Shariati- Muhammadi (TNSM) movement
emerged in the Swat Valley in northern Pakistan, led by a charismatic self- proclaimed
holy man going by the name Sufi Muhammad. The TNSM mobilized large numbers
of people calling for the creation of so- called qazi (Islamic) courts and more generally for
the implementation of Sharia law across the Malakand administrative division of which Swat
is a part. The TNSM engaged the state in protracted confrontations over a period of many
months, eventually forcing the government of the day — that of the Pakistan People’s Party
(PPP) — to acquiesce to its demands. Sharia was proclaimed as the law of the land in the Mala-
kand division.
In 1999, Sufi Muhammad again took on the state and demanded more meaningful
implementation of Sharia regulations, which led to the issuing of a legislative order entitled
the Nizam- e- Adl. On this occasion, too, the formal adoption of “Islamic” law led to a suspen-
sion of the movement.
In late 2001, Sufi Muhammad emerged once more in the wake of the U.S. invasion of Af-
ghanistan. He made an epic call for volunteers from across Malakand to cross the border into
Afghanistan and join the “jihad” against the U.S. occupying forces. Sufi Muhammad success-
fully raised a militia of a few thousand men and radicalized the entire region in the process.
Sufi Muhammad eventually returned with a handful of followers and was arrested by
the government for inciting people to violence and luring them into Afghanistan. He re-
mained in jail (or house arrest) until 2008, and sufered a major decline in legitimacy in the
Malakand region. During Sufi Muhammad’s hiatus, his son- in- law Maulana Fazlullah came
forward to take over leadership of the TNSM, which would later morph into the Tehrik- e-
Taliban (TTP).
By early 2009, Fazlullah had established himself as the dominant political player in Swat
and set up a virtual parallel state structure in many parts of the district while his movement’s
influence was spreading to Dir, Buner, and other surrounding areas. Violence had become
commonplace, and in the wake of at least two military operations between November 2007
and December 2008, Sufi Muhammad resurfaced in February 2009 to broker a peace agree-
ment between Fazlullah’s TTP and the government.
By the terms of the peace agreement, the TTP were to lay down their arms in exchange
for the government’s implementing the latest version of the Nizam- e- Adl. A wide cross- section
of Swatis welcomed the cessation of hostilities, the general perception being that, if imple-
mented in letter and spirit, the Nizam- e- Adl would have brought lasting peace to the valley be-
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cause a genuine “Islamic justice system” would
have been established.
1
As it turned out, in May 2009 the govern-
ment declared that the TTP had violated the
terms of the peace agreement and launched a
full- scale “scorched earth” military operation.
A majority of Swatis were forced to flee their
homes. In subsequent months, the Pakistani gov-
ernment claimed that the TTP had been elimi-
nated from Swat and its surrounding districts
and that a lasting peace had been established.
Notwithstanding these claims, occasional bomb
blasts and renegade attacks continue to rock
the region, and many Swatis have yet to return
to their homes.
The TTP and its forerunner TNSM are
among the many contemporary political move-
ments that invoke the oft- misunderstood con-
cept of “jihad” while claiming to be committed
to the enforcement of a genuine “Islamic” socio-
political order. Even while the TTP and TNSM
are apparently similar in methods and aims to
“jihadi” movements in other parts of the Mus-
lim world, I believe it is necessary to steer clear
of the prevailing tendency, in scholarly circles
as much as in popular media representations, to
reduce what is a very complex and diverse set of
historical- political movements to an essentialist
characterization of “Islam.”
Some sophisticated scholarly analyses
have attempted to make sense of the confusing
nomenclature, yet the terms Islamic, Islamist,
fundamentalist, and political Islamist have often
been used interchangeably despite the fact that
the contexts and ideas being invoked are quite
disparate.
2
Similarly, the diferences between
Salafi, Wahhabi, and Deobandi ideologies and
movements are often papered over because of
their shared commitment to orthodox, scrip-
tural, and sometimes militant interpretations
of Islam.
3
This article does not seek to delve into or
reconcile the considerable literature on politi-
cal movements that draw their inspiration from
various interpretations of Islam.
4
My concern
is much more parochial; I seek to understand
the historical- sociological and political roots of
the TTP (and the TNSM before it), and specifi-
cally to delineate the relationship between the
ideational power of Islam and localized sources
of discontent in the context of the TTP’s emer-
gence. I focus largely on the “local” factors in
the TTP’s rise, while acknowledging that supra-
local factors — particularly the machinations of
the Pakistani state and the “war on terror” — are
also of crucial importance.
In attempting to understand the emer-
gence of religio- political movements such as the
TNSM and TTP, I draw heavily on the seminal
ethnographic studies of Swati Pashtun society.
5

While these studies focus largely on Pashtun
culture and contain little information on the
culture, politics, and economy of the significant
population of non- Pashtuns in Swat, they never-
theless constitute a starting point in the analysis
of contemporary political movements in the re-
gion. As such, my referencing of the Pashtun-
specific works and relatively limited discussion of
the material on “global” jihad reflects the broad
argument of this article, which is as follows.
While the U.S. occupation of Afghani-
stan has provided space to groups such as the
TTP to operate in Swat and other Pashtun
areas, I believe that the TTP’s commitment
to the standard abstract narratives about the
Islamic Umma’ and the religious duty of Mus-
lims to undertake jihad to defend the Umma’
only go so far in explaining the support that it
has garnered. In attempting to make sense of
the composition and dramatic rise of the TTP
and the TNSM before it, I will draw attention
to the history of religio- political movements in
1. The Nizam- e- Adl agreement made provisions for
the establishment of the long- desired qazi courts in
which “alims” or learned men would be empowered to
dispense justice according to the precepts of Sharia.
2. See, for example, Olivier Roy’s distinction between
“fundamentalism” and “political Islam.” Olivier Roy,
The Failure of Political Islam (Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 1994). Faisal Devji makes a similar
distinction between “Islamic fundamentalism” and
“jihad.” Faisal Devji, Landscapes of the Jihad: Mili-
tancy, Morality, Modernity (London: C. Hurst, 2005).
3. For a good exposition of how even movements
that are designated “Wahhabi” are actually quite di-
verse in sociological and ideological content, see Wil-
liam R. Roff, “Islamic Movements: One or Many?” in
Islam and the Political Economy of Meaning, ed. Wil-
liam R. Roff (London: Croom Helm, 1987), 31 – 52.
4. I will make limited comparative claims to the ex-
tent that my specifc empirical sample allows me to
do so.
5. See Fredrik Barth, Political Leadership among Swat
Pathans (London: Athlone Press, 1959); Talal Asad,
“Market Model, Class Structure and Consent,” Man 7
(1972): 74 – 94; Akbar S. Ahmed, Millenium and Cha-
risma amongst the Pakhtuns (Oxford: Kegan Paul,
1976); Charles Lindholm, Generosity and Jealousy:
The Swat Pukhtun of Northern Pakistan (New York:
Columbia University Press, 1982).
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Swat, widespread social discontents that under-
lie the emergence of what I call the “new jihadi
movement in Swat,” and attendant cultural and
economic changes in Swati society that are the
result of a breakdown in the traditional social
structure.
I conclude that the new jihad in Swat is,
on the one hand, a function of the leadership
of groups such as the TTP and TNSM to claim
that they are the natural heirs to the spiritual
guides in Swati society that have played defin-
ing roles at particular historical junctures. On
the other hand, the new jihad is a reflection of
the tremendous changes that have taken place
in Swat on account of the changing relationship
between the landed class and its dependent
clients, the emergence of a multifarious mid-
dle class, and ideational influences due to the
decades- old conflict in Afghanistan and large-
scale migrations to the Gulf states.
The article is based on extensive inter-
views of residents of Swat along with a fresh re-
interpretation of the anthropological literature
on the Swat Pashtun. Interviews took place over
an extended period of time between 1999 and
early 2009 with Swatis in their homes and work-
places. Over this long period of time, I came
into contact with a wide cross- section of Swatis,
but my most fruitful and extended engagements
were as an advocate of popular political strug-
gles for rights to forest produce between 1999
and 2002. After this engagement, I remained
in regular contact with many of the key partici-
pants in those movements as well as numerous
other social and political workers with whom I
had developed a relationship during my time
spent in the valley. During subsequent stays in
Swat, I have also benefited from countless con-
versations with shopkeepers, teachers, students,
and farmers. Importantly, I garnered most of
the insights about the rise of the TTP from time
spent with residents of the valley that had be-
come refugees following a massive exodus from
the area due to the full- scale military operation
that started in May 2009.
Setting the Context
Swat is known as the Switzerland of Pakistan and
would appear to be among the least likely breed-
ing grounds for religious militancy. However, a
basic reading of the area’s history clarifies that
there have been numerous wars waged in and
around Swat against outsiders in which Islam
was the ideology of resistance. The recourse
to formal religious ideology was nevertheless
episodic: Islam was invoked in extraordinary
circumstances, whereas daily life was governed
by practices that would likely be interpreted by
contemporary radicals as distinctly un- Islamic.
Swat was a princely state under the British,
who installed the Wali as a hereditary ruler in
1926. The Wali claimed to govern his subjects
according to the dictates of Sharia, but in fact
the administrative and legal order in Swat was
primarily customary in nature.
6
In 1949, Swat
acceded to the Pakistani state, yet was allowed
to maintain its autonomous status. In 1969, the
princely states of Swat, Dir, and Chitral were dis-
solved and merged into the Malakand division.
In 1975 – 76, the Malakand division was formally
made part of the administrative unit called the
Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA),
replete with its own peculiar legal code. Finally,
in 1993 the Supreme Court ruled that the PATA
regulations could no longer apply to Malakand
and ordered the full incorporation of the re-
gion into the formal legal and administrative
structure of the Pakistani state.
7
The TNSM was a direct response to the
ambiguous legal and administrative status of
the region following the abolition of the auton-
omous Swat, Dir, and Chitral states. Between
1969 and the 1993 decision of the Supreme
Court, public disafection against the adminis-
6. Until at least the late 1970s “it [was] well recog-
nized in Swat that the system of inheritance [was]
against Muslim law, but this [did] not deter the Pakh-
tun from following their ancient custom.” Orthodoxy
of the kind that became synonymous with the TNSM
and TTP was unheard of. For example, dancing girls,
or dumas, who “represent[ed] sexuality without com-
mitment” were conspicuous symbols of Swati culture.
See Lindholm, Generosity and Jealousy, 118 – 20.
7. For a good discussion of this legal and adminis-
trative history, see Sultan- i- Rome, Swat State (1915–
1969): From Genesis to Merger (Karachi: Oxford Uni-
versity Press, 2008).
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trative and legal vacuum caused by the gradual
superseding of customary dispute- resolution
and resource- sharing practices and their re-
placement by the formal arbitration mecha-
nisms of the Pakistani state had grown increas-
ingly acute.
Agitation triggered by disputes over forest
royalties throughout the Malakand region, and
particularly in Dir, erupted as early as 1975. The
traditional arrangements to divide livelihood
resources such as land and forest that prevailed
while Dir and Swat were autonomous states gave
way to a system in which the state and market
came to play a much bigger role in conditioning
decision making over these resources. The post-
colonial state’s arbitration mechanism is notori-
ously bureaucratic and oppressive, and it is in
this context that one must view the emergence
of resistance to it.
Under the Wali, two autonomous dispute-
resolution mechanisms operated in Swat, while
the Wali himself was the ultimate arbiter in
case of an appeal. So- called qazi courts were
concerned with personal law, and in particular
with marriage/divorce and inheritance mat-
ters.
8
Civil courts adjudicated on virtually all
other matters, including land disputes. Despite
the fact that the Wali’s rule has been depicted as
the “golden age” of Swat, I did not get the sense
from my many interactions with a wide cross-
section of Swatis that either remembered the
Wali’s period or had grown up listening to tales
about it that the formal arbitration process be-
fore 1969 was necessarily more just. I think such
popular memory is reflective of dissatisfaction
with the incumbent system and the attendant
tendency to recount history in idyllic terms.
9

What most informants emphasized above and
beyond everything else was that disputes were
resolved quickly under the Wali, most cases last-
ing little more than a month.
It also became clear to me over time that
opposition to the incumbent legal order related
to the growing competition over scarce natu-
ral resources, in particular, land and forest. In
other words, what was a relatively personalized
and swift system of dispute resolution in which
the stakeholders were the landed aristocracy,
the Wali and his retainers, and ordinary Swa-
tis gave way — and that too in an excruciatingly
prolonged manner — to a system in which indi-
vidual state functionaries and outside vested in-
terests such as contractors and transporters also
became significant claimants on resources, thus
making bribery and extortion common practice
and alienating not only the poor but also the
emergent middle classes.
10
Empire and State
Before proceeding further, a short note on the
“supra- local” is necessary. Following the Great
Revolt of 1857, the British designated the Pash-
tun as “martial caste.” Subsequently, geopo-
litical rivalries and the state’s strategic require-
ments have greatly influenced the evolution of
Pashtun society, including the nature and inten-
sity of religio- political movements. For the pur-
poses of the present article, I wish to emphasize
two related points. First, the TNSM and TTP
owe their existence in large part to the Paki-
stani state’s sponsorship of religious militancy in
Pashtun- majority areas of Pakistan during and
after the Afghan war of the 1980s.
11
Second, this
particular brand of militancy is distinct — both
in terms of its objectives and the configuration
of social forces that are implicated in it — from
that which prevailed in Pashtun society in the
past.
12
8. A qazi is a religious scholar who is versed in mat-
ters pertaining to law.
9. For a detailed discussion on popular memory and
the retelling of history, see Popular Memory Group,
“Popular Memory: Theory, Politics, Method,” in Mak-
ing Histories: Studies in History- Writing and Politics,
ed. R. Johnson and others (London: Hutchison, 1982).
10. For a good discussion of allocation of forest re-
sources both during the Wali period and afterward,
see Gideon Kruseman and Lorenzo Pellegrini, “In-
stitutions and Forest Management: A Case Study
from Swat, Pakistan,” Working Paper No. 42 (Milan:
Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei, 2008).
11. Islam has, of course, played a central role in the
Pakistani polity since the very inception of the state.
The ambiguity about whether the state would be Is-
lamic or secular has never been resolved, and succes-
sive regimes have instrumentalized this ambiguity
in some way or the other to provide a mandate for
their rule.
12. The seminal works suggest no significant pres-
ence of religious political parties or organizations.
The Jamia’t- e- Ulema- e- Islam (JUI) emerges in Lind-
holm’s narrative only in the lead- up to the 1977 elec-
tion, when it aligned itself with landholding khans in
opposition to the radical rhetoric of the Pakistan Peo-
ple’s Party (PPP), which wooed the landless poor. Cru-
cially, it is suggested that the JUI established itself as
a political entity only insofar as it was able to align it-
self with “traditional interests” that were concerned
about the introduction of a new idiom of class onto
the local political map. See Charles Lindholm, “Con-
temporary Politics in a Tribal Society: Swat District,
NWFP, Pakistan,” in Frontier Perspectives: Essays in
Comparative Anthropology (Karachi: Oxford Univer-
sity Press, 1996), 90 – 91.
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During the rule of the British in India,
the idiom of “jihad” became widely established
among the Pashtun as a rallying point around
which otherwise internally conflicted Pashtun
society came together to repel external invad-
ers.
13
The British, for their part, reified the
“tribal” Pashtun, replete with orientalist depic-
tions of Islam, thereby creating, as it were, a self-
fulfilling prophecy. Colonial administrators
regularly employed terms such as mad mullah
that reinforced this totalizing discourse.
14
While it was not always the case that jihad
was conducted against the British, it was none-
theless most pronounced in the instances when
Pashtuns were rallied to the anti- imperialist
cause. More than three decades after the British
exodus, the U.S. engagement with the Pashtun
during the Afghan war of the 1980s played on
this deep ideational power of jihad in Pashtun
society to serve the geostrategic objective of de-
feating “godless” communism. In turn, follow-
ing the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the
jihad has now been invoked against the original
benefactors of the Afghan mujahideen.
However, rather than see the contem-
porary turn to jihad in Swat as simply a logi-
cal extension of the Pashtun’s innate tribal/
militant/millenarian nature as the typical co-
lonial administrator might have done (and as
many “specialists” of Islam/Pashtun society do
today), I argue that Swati society has undergone
dramatic changes, and that it is crucial to ex-
plain the continued salience of the jihadi idiom
among the Pashtun, given these tremendous
changes. While the TTP is clearly building upon
the ideational power of Islam in Swat, it is clear
that the jihad that it is waging is qualitatively
diferent from what existed in the past.
15
The seminal works mostly concur that
the traditional religious saint (stanadar) rises to
a position of unparalleled power and prestige
at times of crisis in Pashtun society, namely in
the face of external invaders. At these times,
there is great ideational force in the notion of
jihad.
16
There also appears to be consensus that
the mullah played a largely subservient role to
the saint historically, and only since the late
1970s have “imams [mullahs] arisen to replace
the ecstatic holy men [saints] who became pirs
and leaders of the Pakhtun in times of war,
housed in the ‘modern mosque’ with the ‘loud-
speaker.’”
17
Akbar S. Ahmed asserts the need to
diferentiate between “orthodox” and “unorth-
odox” religious leaders; mullahs fall into the
former category and “Sufis” into the latter.
18
In
any case, he acknowledges the rise of a unique
“political mullah” in recent times to be distin-
guished from the traditional religious elite.
19
The political mullah makes the first obvi-
ous entry into Swat and Malakand during the
Afghan war of the 1980s. Considerable numbers
of Pashtuns from the Pakistani side of the bor-
13. While this idiom existed even before the British
and informed resistance to Mogul and Sikh advances
in earlier periods, I believe that the British conquest
gave new impetus to Islam as an ideology of resis-
tance, because the British introduced entirely new
forms of bureaucratic regulation that heightened
the self- identifcation and insularity of the Pashtun
(and for that matter the Muslim elite in the United
Provinces).
14. See David B. Edwards, “Mad Mullahs and English-
men: Discourse in the Colonial Encounter,” in States
of Violence, ed. F. Coronil and J. Skurski (Ann Arbor:
University of Michigan Press, 2006), 153 – 78.
15. There is no enduring idea of an Islamic state in
Swat of the kind that came to the fore with the TNSM
and later with much greater ferocity in the form of
the TTP. To be sure, rhetorical calls for the implan-
tation of Islamic law or Sharia in the past have not
been equated to a fundamental rupture with prevail-
ing customs. In the postcolonial context, no social or
political movement has called for the transformation
of the modern Pakistani state (and the implementa-
tion of the Sharia) in the way that the current brand
of militants appears to advocate. The movement of
Sayyid Ahmed, who came to the Pashtun belt from
Oudh (in Mogul North India) to wage war against
the “infdel” army of Ranjit Singh in the 1820s, culmi-
nated in the formation of the “Islamic Emirate” in Pe-
shawar in 1829, but this short experiment was ended
because there was no tolerance among dominant
local groups for this mode of rule. See Ayesha Jalal,
Partisans of Allah: Jihad in South Asia (Lahore: Sang-
e- Meel, 2008), 58 – 113.
16. Historically, jihad could only be invoked against
non- Muslim invaders. After Sayyid Ahmed’s anti- Sikh
crusades, came the professed Suf mystic Abdul Ghaf-
fur from Swat, who was given the title of Akhund
(messenger of God) and led the Pashtun in their de-
feat of the British in 1863. At the end of the century
Sadullah united the Pashtuns in a jihad against the
British, which failed but nevertheless incited rebel-
lion across the Pashtun- majority areas. The jihad of
Mullah Powindah and the Faqir of Ipi against the Brit-
ish Empire raged until the very last. See Lindholm,
Generosity and Jealousy, 38 – 41.
17. Akbar S. Ahmed, Resistance and Control in Paki-
stan, rev. ed. (London: Routledge, 2004), 99.
18. See Ahmed, Millenium and Charisma, 55.
19. See Ahmed, Resistance and Control, 91 – 95. In the
prototypical Pashtun social unit, which is organized
around the tribe and in which there is a fairly well-
defned hierarchy of occupational caste, the mullah
is assigned the role of attending to the community’s
formal religious affairs, including but not limited to
leading prayer, Quranic teaching to youth, adminis-
tering matrimonial and death rites, and other such
duties. In this context, the mullah is a political non-
entity. Thus the rise of the “political mullah,” through
the medium of the contemporary religio- political
movement, is a relatively recent phenomenon.
Ahmed notes in his account of the rise of the politi-
cal mullah in Waziristan in the late 1970s that there
was a clear departure from the historical pattern on
a number of accounts, none more so than the fact
that the mullah was pitting the Wazirs and Mahsuds
against each other and terming this “jihad”: “the Mul-
lah’s jihad clearly rested on a weak theological but
strong sociological base.”
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der joined their Pashtun brethren in their fight
against the Soviets. Upon returning, these mili-
tants were encouraged by the state to expand
their ranks; the primary means of imparting
the message was the Saudi- and government-
sponsored religious seminary, or madrassa,
which proliferated throughout the Pashtun
areas, including Swat, in the 1980s.
20
In short, even after the formal end of the
original Afghan jihad, the Pakistani state con-
tinued to perceive militant groups, including
those that operated along sectarian lines, as po-
tential allies. The state had started to patronize
religio- political movements explicitly from the
late 1960s onward to achieve two related objec-
tives: first, to suppress internal dissent (from sec-
ular and progressive political formations) and
second, to wage covert wars against its regional
rivals (Afghanistan and India).
21
Through the
1990s, the symbiotic relationship between the
military- dominated state and the religious right
remained intact, and ensured the consolidation
of a historically unique brand of militancy.
The New Jihad in Swat
In thinking about what I call the “new jihad
in Swat” spearheaded by the political mullah,
I believe that the distinction made by Zahab
and Roy in their monograph on religious mili-
tancy in Afghanistan and Pakistan between the
act of recovering “occupied” Muslim lands and
the “return to a strict Islam, stripped of local
customs and cultures” is a significant one.
22
I
contend that, the history in Swat of struggles
against “foreign occupiers” notwithstanding,
the emphasis on acquiring state power to en-
force a doctrinaire legal and personal code that
criminalizes many long- held customs and daily
practices is historically alien to Swati society. It is
therefore imperative to explicate how, why, and
in what specific time period this latter agenda
has gained resonance.
If in part the emergence of this “new jihad
in Swat” — that is, the enjoining of a doctrinaire
agenda of “Shariatization” with the imperative
of fighting against foreign occupiers — is a func-
tion of social changes that I will outline pres-
ently, it is also explained by the fact that there is
a history in the region of (apparently) learned,
charismatic holy men invoking Islam as a means
of establishing authority. Many Swatis who are
relatively well educated and/or have been liv-
ing in urban areas away from Swat lamented
to me that Islam is easily instrumentalized by
individuals such as Sufi Muhammad and Mul-
lah Fazlullah to make the “poor and unedu-
cated” masses cannon fodder for their political
causes.
I believe it is important to take seriously
the seminal anthropological works on Pashtun
society, which imply that Islam is a foundational
identity of Pashtun culture, deeply rooted in
the habitus of the Pashtun: “To the tribesman,
Islam provides specified political and socioreli-
gious formations within which his Pakhtunness
operates. The two are in harmony and he sees
them as a logical construct. Islam is so much a
part of the Pakhtun structure as to suggest that
the dichotomy [of Pakhtunness versus Islam] is
false.”
23
However, as I have already pointed out,
many customary practices in Swat (and Pashtun
society more generally) are at odds with “Islam”
as defined by the new brand of radicals and mil-
itants that are at the forefront of the new jihad
in Swat. In other words, the fact that Islam is a
foundational identity of Pashtuns in Swat does
not necessarily mean that the TTP’s orthodoxy
reflects the popular sensibilities of ordinary
Pash tuns, let alone the significant population
of non- Pashtuns for whom Islam is not nearly as
significant a cultural symbol.
24
When the new jihad in Swat is explained
only in terms of the historic role of charismatic
20. A similar process of radicalization was taking
place in parts of Punjab as well.
21. See Olivier Roy, “Taliban: A Strategic Tool for Pa-
kistan,” in Pakistan: Nationalism without a Nation,
ed. Christophe Jaffrelot (Lahore: Vanguard Books,
2002).
22. See Mariam Abou Zahab and Olivier Roy, Islamist
Networks: The Afghan- Pakistan Connection (London:
Hurst & Company, 2002), 1. The authors actually em-
ploy the terms jihad and salafsm to distinguish the
two, but I prefer to avoid this nomenclature for the
reasons stated at the outset.
23. See Ahmed, Resistance and Control, 139.
24. In the wake of intensifying violence and polariza-
tion due to the rise of the TTP, Pashtuns in Swat (and
non- Pashtuns for that matter) will in all likelihood
have to grapple seriously with the role that Islam
should play in political and social life. Speculating on
this future internal debate is beyond the scope of this
article. I have simply highlighted how the historical
salience of jihad in Swat has facilitated a brand of
Islamist politics that features an emphasis on strict
orthodoxy and a claim to legitimate authority for re-
ligious functionaries (political mullahs).
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religious figures, it is implied that social and
economic modernization will necessarily lead
to a reduced role for Islam in Swat and an at-
tendant loss of power for the religious elite. In
fact, as I attempt to prove below, the political
mullah at the forefront of the new jihad in Swat
has become influential because of, rather than
in spite of, the considerable historical- structural
changes that have taken place in Swat over the
past few decades.
It is also crucial to steer clear of under-
standings of culture that imply complete pas-
siveness among subordinate groups about
the world in which they live and their various
roles in it. The Subaltern Studies school has,
of course, made very popular the critique of
such elitist historiography.
25
To the extent that
religio- political movements such as the TNSM
and TTP have mobilized subordinate classes, it
would be incorrect to argue that this is a case of
the latter’s falling prey to “false consciousness.”
I would also like to make a couple of ob-
servations that will clarify how I relate the new
jihad in Swat to the contemporary literature
on the evolution of jihad as a global ideology.
First, the new jihad in Swat is just one of many
existing jihadi movements that cannot trace
their genealogy to a monolithic conception or
practice of jihad. Indeed, the TTP and TNSM
in Swat are both products of, and benefit from,
the “multiple and shifting meanings [of jihad]
throughout history.”
26
In this way, the new jihad
in Swat is similar to the many other contempo-
rary movements that project their “jihad” as ex-
clusive precisely because no one movement can
lay claim to an unambiguously “true” interpre-
tation of the concept.
Second, in contrast to what Faisal Devji
has called the “ethical” rather than the “politi-
cal” character of the global jihad, both the TTP
and TNSM before it have articulated the clear
“political” objective of acquiring state power (or
at the very least attempting to reform the juridi-
cal structure of the state). While the TTP’s em-
phasis on pan- Islamism may have increased over
time, I believe that in its genesis it was a primar-
ily indigenous movement that generated sup-
port from within Swat (and the wider Malakand
region) by taking up local issues and framing
its politics within the garb of “Sha riatization.”
In this discourse, the enforcement of Sharia is
contingent on the acquisition of state power.
The Political Mullah Unleashed
Sufi Muhammad was the first prominent “politi-
cal mullah” to emerge in the wider Malakand
administrative unit. Sufi Muhammad fought
against the Soviets in Afghanistan, and soon
after his return formed the TNSM, which called
for the institution of the Sharia in the Mala-
kand division.
27
Sufi Muhammad — as perhaps
he sought to underline by the use of the title
Sufi — distinguished himself from the orthodox
mullah’s emphasis on personal morality by his
radicalism and his consistent call for Sharia to
be the source of all governmental authority.
28

Following his break with the Jamaa’t- e- Islami
in the late 1980s after his return from Afghani-
stan,
29
Sufi founded the TNSM for this very pur-
pose.
As a general rule, the Pashtun “is con-
cerned less with religious interpretation than he
is with the activity of the holy man as an arbiter.”
More scriptural traditions not associated with
the periphery — of which Swat may be consid-
ered a part — are nevertheless becoming more
influential, and “the increasing importance of
the city and the ever greater power of the state
have also naturally magnified the religious in-
fluence of the centre.”
30
When he emerged in
the late 1980s, Sufi Muhammad’s person was
attractive in large part because he exuded the
25. For an exposition of such a view in a Pashtun con-
text, see James Caron, “Afghanistan Historiography
and Pashtun Islam: Modernization Theory’s Afterim-
age,” History Compass 5 (2007): 314 – 29.
26. See Jalal, Partisans of Allah, 304.
27. Suf Muhammad was previously a member of the
Jamaa’t- e- Islami (JI), the vanguard Islamist party in
Pakistan founded by Maulana Maudoodi. The JI has al-
ways cultivated a close relationship with the state and
was a major bastion of Islamization under Zia- ul- Haq
and particularly the export of jihad to Afghanistan.
28. He set up a madrassa in his home area of Maidan
in Lower Dir (adjacent to Swat) and thereby estab-
lished himself as a frebrand Islamist with close links
to the state.
29. Suf Muhammad was said to be frustrated with
the JI’s refusal to countenance a political strategy
that relied on direct confrontation with the state and
the enforcement of Sharia therewith.
30. Lindholm, Generosity and Jealousy, 106 – 7. I should
note here that I agree with Asad that there is no strict
dualism between “urban/scriptural” and “rural/non-
ritualistic” interpretations/practices of Islam. See
Talal Asad, “The Idea of an Anthropology of Islam,”
in The Social Philosophy of Ernest Gellner, ed. John
A. Hall and Ian Charles Darvie (Amsterdam: Rodopi,
1996), 381 – 403.
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charisma of the “holy man as an arbiter.” In em-
ploying this traditional charismatic appeal, Sufi
Muhammad gained himself the opportunity to
introduce an orthodox agenda of Shariatiza-
tion into the political idiom of the region for
the first time.
Following the 1993 Supreme Court deci-
sion, the TNSM developed its political discourse
around the notion that only replacement of the
incumbent legal regime based on civil law by
the Sharia could guarantee the people of Mala-
kand justice. This rhetoric was clearly compel-
ling, given the desire of many Swatis to be freed
from what they perceived to be the cumbersome
formal arbitration mechanism of the local ad-
ministration.
Ref lecting on the original aims of the
TNSM movement, some informants who were
involved in the “Long March” in 1998 from Tim-
ergara (Dir) to Mingora (Swat) — that sought to
draw attention to the question of disputed for-
est royalties — clearly stated that the objective
of the movement was not to afect Islamization
of social life but in fact to replace the painfully
inefcient and elitist formal justice system. It
is true that society had been radicalized on ac-
count of the Afghan war of the 1980s and that
the Pakistani state continued to promote ortho-
doxy even after the end of that war. However, I
believe it is important to return to Lindholm’s
assertion about the traditional conception in
Pashtun society of the saintlike religious fig-
ure — which Sufi Muhammad clearly professed
to be — as an arbiter rather than a carrier of a
particular religious orthodoxy.
My informants’ responses suggested that
they trusted Sufi Muhammad’s claim that pro-
posed Islamic (qazi) courts would deliver so-
cioeconomic justice while reafrming the cen-
trality of Islam in social life, although the latter
function was considered secondary and vague.
31

To reiterate, Sufi Muhammad and the TNSM
struck a fine balance between the traditional
arbiter role, and a commitment to a relatively
new scriptural and orthodox notion of Sha-
riatization.
The composition of the TNSM in the early
1990s underlines the importance of the real
material dimensions of the movement. My infor-
mants noted that while some firebrand Islamists
inspired by Sufi Muhammad participated in the
1994 – 95 mobilization, the majority of those at-
tracted to Sufi’s person were ghareeb log (poor
people) who were fed up with the excesses of
amir log (rich people). Upon further probing, I
was told that this broad category consisted of
almost everyone who was not a big propertied
khan (landlord), including Pashtuns, Syeds, and
Guj jars, locally understood “ethnic” divisions
that correspond to property and status hierar-
chies. In other words, Sufi Muhammad’s call
for Islamic justice papered over existing social
divisions in Malakand, an important subject to
which I will return shortly.
Both the original agitation and the subse-
quent mobilization in 1999 that culminated in
the Nizam- e- Adl did not precipitate any funda-
mental restructuring of the formal state struc-
ture in the area. However, the ideologues of the
new jihad steadily acquired political influence,
and the Shariatization agenda continued to
gain ground in Malakand under the guise of a
struggle for justice.
32
When the TTP emerged,
the same basic grievances that had informed
the original TNSM movement were invoked, the
political mullah having succeeded in expanding
his constituency and popularizing his agenda to
a significant extent.
31. The religious functionary in Pashtun society has
historically not been associated with lofty moral
principles that distinguish him from ordinary peo-
ple. So, for example, “stories of the sexuality and
salaciousness of holy men abound in Swat, not only
concerning Sufi types, but also the more orthodox
imams as well.” Lindholm, Generosity and Jealousy,
122. Marsden discusses public perceptions of mul-
lahs or dashmanan in Chitral, which is also part of
the Malakand region. He notes that it is perfectly
normal for Chitralis to express skepticism — overtly
or otherwise — about the moral uprightness of the
dashmanan. In fact, Chitralis who are otherwise
castigated in public by the dashmanan — including
women who break with the traditional norms of mor-
ally correct behavior — quite openly criticize the latter
for their hypocrisy. See Magnus Marsden, “Women,
Politics and Islamism in Northern Pakistan,” Modern
Asian Studies 42 (2008): 405 – 29.
32. It is necessary to note here the disjunction be-
tween elected governments and the permanent se-
curity apparatus of the Pakistani state. The latter has
consistently pursued a strategic policy that has facil-
itated the rise of groups such as the TNSM regard-
less of the wishes of elected governments (when
they have existed). The Pakistan People's Party gov-
ernment in 1994 and the Pakistan Muslim League in
1999 were clearly in a position of weakness in their
negotiations with the TNSM insofar as the elected
regimes had limited say in determining strategic and
foreign- policy goals. In Malakand — as in much of the
northwest of the country — madrassas continued to
proliferate throughout the 1990s as part of the wider
policy of maintaining “strategic depth.”
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Islam and Social Change in Swat
The new jihad in Swat has generated support
from a variety of social forces over a two- decade
period. The existing body of work on Swat pro-
vides only scant information on many of these
groups, focusing primarily on the dominant
classes in society, namely, the landholding khans
and the Syeds (who are broadly considered non-
Pashtuns, independent of the “segmentary lin-
eage” structure, and who derive their social sta-
tus from their role as religious saints but have
also become substantial landowners over time).
Meanwhile, subordinate classes, including small
landholding Pashtuns, landless agriculturalists
and artisans, Guj jars (historically shepherds
based primarily in upper Swat), and Kohistanis
are given secondary importance in the schema
and studied only in terms of how the dominant
classes interact with them.
33
Social and economic changes started to
transform Swati society from the mid- 1960s
onward. The deepening of capitalism associ-
ated with the Green Revolution — including
mechanization of agriculture and large- scale
migrations of working- age males to urban
centers within Pakistan and to the Gulf coun-
tries — eroded the traditional patron- client rela-
tionship between the Pashtun landed class and
the mass of peasants and artisans. This process
of fragmentation was reinforced by the growing
encroachment of the state bureaucracy into so-
cial life after 1969.
34
Initial upheavals in the 1960s and 1970s
gave rise to a politics of class and particularly
to militant land movements of the landless led
by secular left groups. For example, through
the 1970s, the plains of the Peshawar Valley
(Hashtanagar) as well as the Malakand region
were gripped by a mobilization of landless
tenants and wage laborers against landhold-
ing Pash tuns — primarily large landowners but
on occasion also small landholders.
35
In many
cases, the landless successfully occupied lands
despite considerable state repression.
The left was subsequently decimated,
owing to state repression following the initiation
of Zia- ul- Haq’s Islamization campaign in 1977.
The parallel state sponsorship of religio- political
movements changed the dynamic of politics in
Swat and the Pashtun areas more generally.
While it was the PPP along with smaller far left
groups that originally rode the wave of social
transformation to create an association with the
oppressed, the mullah “watched and learned”
from the PPP’s populism during the 1970s and
imbibed this politics.
36
So as mentioned above,
when Sufi Muhammad arrived on the political
scene in the late 1980s, he played on the public
frustration with the oppressive state apparatus
while ensuring legitimacy for his populist mes-
sage by employing the idiom of Islam.
However, the political mullah’s populism
did not cater only to the interests of the proto-
typical “oppressed” classes, which in Swat’s con-
text would mean primarily the economic depen-
dents of the khans and landholding Syeds (also
sometimes called Miangan). Here it is necessary
to unpack the broad category of “ghareeb log”
that I had earlier mentioned was invoked by in-
formants when discussing the original TNSM
uprising. If, on the one hand, subordinate class
ferment was widespread in the 1960s and 1970s,
the social and economic changes associated
with the Green Revolution and urbanization
also resulted in the emergence of a new middle
class that comprised various segments.
The middle- class narrative starts with those
who had migrated away from Swat in the 1960s
and found work as wage laborers. Many of those
who settled in Pakistani cities such as Karachi
eventually took their families with them, while
those who went abroad continued to send cash
33. Asad is more cognizant of class differences within
Swat, although his work does not interrogate the
complex relationship between property and status
hierarchies within Swat society.
34. What I wish to highlight is the fact that social and
political changes led to a “rationalisation of the previ-
ously very personal loyalty of patron and client into a
purely monetary relation.” Lindholm, Generosity and
Jealousy, 90. In other words, while there was no rup-
ture of the social structure, its basis was nevertheless
being transformed.
35. See Iqbal Leghari, “The Socialist Movement in
Pakistan: An Historical Survey, 1940 – 1974” (PhD diss.,
Laval University, Montreal, Canada, 1979).
36. Akbar S. Ahmed, Pakistan Society: Islam, Ethnicity
and Leadership in South Asia (Karachi: Oxford Univer-
sity Press, 1986), 79.
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remittances to their villages. Some migrants (or
their families) reinforced their newly found eco-
nomic independence by setting up small busi-
nesses that flourished as Swat’s burgeoning tour-
ism industry expanded. More generally, a class
of traders, merchants, and transporters, which
was linked both to the increasingly mechanized
agrarian economy and to wider commercial con-
cerns, became increasingly conspicuous.
37
The
significant cash injection into Swat reflected
the growing economic clout of the new middle
class, and it was a matter of time before this class
would seek to acquire political power and influ-
ence to complement its economic weight.
38
It is important to note here that histori-
cally entrenched “ethnic” divisions in Swat have
also been deeply affected by these economic
changes. As I mentioned at the outset, the origi-
nal anthropological studies on Swat focused
on the Pashtun social order and were far less
concerned with Guj jars and Kohistanis, two
distinct “ethnic” groups that actually compose
a significant proportion of Swat’s population
and have historically been socially subservient
to Pash tuns. Both Guj jars and Kohistanis are
among the original inhabitants of Swat prior to
the invasion of the Yusufzai Pashtuns in the six-
teenth century, and there is little evidence that
Islam plays as significant a role in their social
structure as it does among Pashtuns.
To this day, Kohistanis in Swat remain rel-
atively isolated geographically and socially from
other groups, and reside primarily in upper
Swat. Gujjars, on the other hand, have been far
more integrated with the Pashtun social order,
largely on account of their role as sharecrop-
ping tenants on the lands of many khans. It
was the Gujjars who were at the forefront of the
land struggles in the late 1960s and 1970s. To a
significant extent, historical property and status
hierarchies in Swat have revolved around the
Pashtun- Gujjar divide. However, this divide has
blurred considerably over the past few decades.
Many Guj jars have graduated into the
middle class on various accounts. First, occupa-
tion of lands after the movements of the 1970s
resulted in a newfound economic and political
autonomy that was further reinforced by mi-
gration abroad or to Pakistani cities. Second,
many Gujjars (and Kohistanis) benefited from
the explosion of tourism in Swat, and particu-
larly areas largely populated by Gujjars such as
Malam Jabba and Kalam. This is not to suggest
that “ethnic” diferences have disappeared in
Swat; it is, for example, rare for Pashtuns and
Gujjars to intermarry. Despite rhetorical claims
to the contrary, it is clear that there is still a
status distinction between Pashtuns and non-
Pashtuns.
In any case, during research I uncovered
that while historical property and status distinc-
tions in Swat are important to interrogate, it
cannot be concluded that the TNSM and later
the TTP movements are either largely Pashtun
(on account of their greater afnity toward Is-
lamic causes) or Guj jar (because of their his-
torical oppression). The original TNSM move-
ment did, in fact, bring together both poor and
upwardly mobile Pashtuns and Guj jars. In its
initial phase, the new jihad in Swat succeeded
in bridging property and status distinctions to
a noticeable extent so as to create a broad front
of ghareeb log against the perceived injustices
of status quo.
This speaks in part to the ideational influ-
ences of the many migrants who have spent time
in the Gulf countries. It is a generally acknowl-
edged fact that the Middle East migrations ben-
efited rural families who were not afuent.
39
As
I have already noted, these new and diversified
sources of wealth reinforced the trend toward
fragmentation of the existing social structure.
However, I would argue that just as important
has been the tendency of migrants toward or-
thodoxy.
40
A majority of my informants had
family members working in the Gulf, while
37. The black economy has been a major site of the
new bourgeoisie’s accumulation. The Afghan war
and the explosion of guns and drugs smuggling was
a major fllip in this regard.
38. Swat’s growing exposure to commerce and mod-
ern communications also resulted in relatively high
levels of education and the parallel emergence of a
professional middle class, which included teachers,
doctors, journalists, and lawyers.
39. See Jonathan Addleton, Undermining the Centre:
The Gulf Migration and Pakistan (Karachi: Oxford Uni-
versity Press, 1992).
40. See, for example, Francis Watkins, “‘Save There,
Eat Here’: Migrants, Households, and Community
Identity among Pakhtuns in Northern Pakistan,” Con-
tributions to Indian Sociology 37 (2003): 59 – 81.
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some were themselves returned migrants. While
it was difficult during my research to clearly
distinguish attitudes toward Islam between mi-
grant and nonmigrant families, the former did
appear to be more committed to rituals such as
prayers and the giving of zakat.
41
Migrant fami-
lies also claimed that they spent remittance in-
comes on “collective goods” such as mosques
and madrassas.
Both Pashtun and Guj jar migrants have
imbibed orthodox ideas during their time in
the Gulf, and when I interrogated them about
the importance of “ethnic” divisions in Swat,
the unanimous (and rhetorical) response was,
“Islam hi hamari shanakt hai” (“Islam is our
identity”).
42
Meanwhile, many Guj jar families
who have not had exposure to the Gulf and re-
main relatively poor enroll their children in one
of the numerous madrassa spread throughout
Malakand, thereby reinforcing the overall trend
toward orthodoxy.
The significance of material and ide-
ational changes in the region is underlined by
the fact that landed families too have started to
recognize the influence of the political mullah.
As long ago as the late 1970s it was observed
that “some Pakhtun khans, seeing the new
power of the previously impotent imams, are
sending one or two of their sons to be trained
in Koranic studies. In this way, they hope to co-
opt the political power the imams have begun
wielding.”
43
My informants confirmed that it is now
common practice for landed Pashtuns to have
one of their sons trained as imams while other
sons take care of family assets and go abroad
or into cities for work. Many informants who
are themselves landed Pashtuns noted, with a
distinct sense of melancholy, that the world has
changed and that sending a son to a madrassa
for religious training guarantees not only eco-
nomic well- being but also promises political
influence. Some informants went so far as to
suggest that religion has become something of
a karobar (business).
Hence every segment of society, includ-
ing afuent khans, the emergent commercial
bourgeoisie, and the poorest of the poor, both
Pashtun and Guj jar, have participated in the
new jihad in Swat. In turn, the power of the po-
litical mullah has extended across Swat society,
and the objective process of change that has
eroded the political influence and monopoly
over wealth of the landholding khans has been
reinforced.
Tehrik- e- Taliban Pakistan (TTP)
While the formal christening of the Tehrik- e-
Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in Swat took place in
late 2007, its genesis can be traced to the victory
of the six- party religious alliance, Muttahida-
Majlis- e- Amal (MMA), in parliamentary elec-
tions in October 2002 that allowed it to form
a government in the then North West Frontier
Province (NWFP).
44
Indeed, it was not only ex-
traparliamentary Islamists such as the TNSM
and later TTP that were given a fillip by the
U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan;
religio- political movements operating within
the political mainstream exploited the broad
anti- Americanism in the Pashtun belt.
In Swat, Dir, and Chitral, the MMA
won seven out of eight national assembly and
twenty- one out of twenty- four provincial as-
sembly seats.
45
Prior to this election, political
alignments were largely determined by tradi-
tional dullah arrangements, except during the
1970 election when land movements had just
erupted.
46
My Swat informants noted that the
U.S. invasion of Afghanistan was a crucial factor
41. Zakat is a 2.5% income tax on relatively affuent
households that is distributed through the govern-
ment to the poor.
42. Writing about the rise of the religio- political move-
ment in urban Punjab, Zaman makes the important
point that “the emergence of sectarian organizations
has responded to the search of many people — in-
cluding, but not only, returning labor migrants from
abroad, for an urban religious identity, which would
accompany, and perhaps facilitate, their quest for a
middle- class status.” See Qasim Zaman, “Sectarian-
ism in Pakistan: The Radicalization of Shia and Sunni
Identities,” Modern Asian Studies 32 (1998): 689 – 716.
43. Lindholm, Generosity and Jealousy, 99.
44. In April 2010, Pakistan’s parliament adopted a res-
olution to change the name of the NWFP to Khyber-
Pakhtunkhwa.
45. “Constituency- Wise Detailed Results,” Elec-
tion Commission of Pakistan, www.ecp.gov.pk/
docs/2002/national.pdf (accessed 24 July 2010); Elec-
tion results, NWFP Province, Election Commission of
Pakistan Web site, www.ecp.gov.pk/docs/2002/
NWFP.pdf (accessed 24 July 2010).
46. “The pervasive hostility between sons of broth-
ers led to the development of a network of alliances
within every village that divided it across lineages
into two approximately equal parties, called dullah.”
Lindholm, “Contemporary Politics,” 75.
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in the victory of MMA candidates, but they also
pointed out that as important was the fact that
the mullahs incessantly claimed a sociological
link with the proverbial category of ghareeb log
while distinguishing themselves from the tradi-
tional khanate elite. In a manner very similar to
the TNSM, the MMA candidates blurred class
and religious idiom and appealed to the elector-
ate’s desire to try the unknown after decades of
political continuity.
47
The MMA’s coming to power was a re-
flection of the enhanced power of the political
mullah, and the provincial government clearly
viewed Maulana Fazlullah and his cohorts as
contributing to the MMA’s growing influence.
48

As such, a symbiotic relationship existed be-
tween Fazlullah and the MMA government. As
Sufi Muhammad’s son- in- law, Fazlullah already
had a claim to being a charismatic religious fig-
ure, yet he distinguished himself by espousing
an even more radical militant agenda that was
not only tolerated, but even implicitly encour-
aged, by the sitting MMA government. If Faz-
lullah’s initial rise to prominence owes itself al-
most entirely to the radicalization of the entire
Pashtun belt in the face of the U.S. occupation
of Afghanistan, his ability to garner substantial
support in large parts of Swat must be explained
primarily in localized terms.
As a young boy, Fazlullah, hailing from the
Peochar Valley of Swat, enrolled in Sufi Muham-
mad’s madrassa in Maidan, Lower Dir. A Pash-
tun, but not hailing from an afuent, landed
family, Fazlullah was part of the generation of
radicalized youth that imbibed the Shariatiza-
tion agenda and was designated as heir- in- chief
of Sufi Muhammad’s TNSM. Importantly, the
Kabal and Matta tehsils of Swat, of which Peo-
char is a part, have been the heartland of land
movements of small and landless peasants, and
it is from these regions that the TTP has drawn
its most potent support.
Fazlullah became popular in 2004 as a
fiery preacher who was based in the Imam Dehri
area on the outskirts of Mingora city, which is
Swat’s major urban center. He gained notoriety
through his daily (unauthorized and illegal)
FM radio broadcasts, which led to his acquiring
the pseudonym “Mullah Radio.” Fazlullah’s first
major success was in generating substantial pub-
lic donations to build a madrassa in Mingora,
an initiative that appeared to be particularly
popular with women. Through the medium
of radio, Fazlullah reached out to women who
typically spend the majority of time inside the
confines of the home.
While much of what Fazlullah preached
to women reinforced strict orthodox behavior, I
found intriguing that many female informants
said that Fazlullah seemed very sincere when
he talked about women’s rights and the need to
protect them. Fazlullah is also said to have made
commitments to his women supporters that he
would provide an education and social mobility
for their sons. Many women went out of their
way to donate to the cause, giving up personal
belongings such as jewelry. Additionally, many
encouraged their sons to join the movement.
The majority of Fazlullah’s militia hails
from a rural background. The first big conglom-
eration of recruits is that of madrassa students
whose families are either landless or small land-
holders. Thus these recruits are motivated to be-
come militants both materially and ideationally.
Two informants — who agreed to share informa-
tion with me secretly and only after my promise
not to disclose their identity — informed me that
young men in their family joined Fazlullah’s mi-
litia, and in return their families were given Rs.
10,000 every month. After one of the men was
killed, the militia provided Rs. 300,000 as com-
pensation to the family.
Second, a large number of petty criminals
have also been co- opted into the movement. I
47. Magnus Marsden, in “Islam, Political Authority,
and Emotion in Northern Pakistan,” Contributions to
Indian Sociology 41 (2007): 41 – 80, notes that while
the victory of MMA candidates in Chitral should not
be understood in overly simplistic terms, there is ev-
idence that “many of their supporters in the 2002
elections had voted for them because they wanted
to weaken the power of the one- time princely family
in the region,” 70.
48. The MMA pursued a nebulous policy of provid-
ing access to the state and criticizing it at the same
time insofar as it ran the provincial government while
claiming to be part of the opposition to the central
government, which it condemned for being a stooge
of the United States and not paying heed to Islamic
dictates in the administration of the state.
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was told that small- time dacoits and smugglers
operate essentially as hired mercenaries.
49
Many
of these criminal elements also hail from rela-
tively poor families who were based largely in
and around the Kabal and Matta areas. Faz-
lullah also appears to garner support from more
organized criminal networks, particularly those
who supply military hardware. But generally,
it was difcult for me to gather more than cir-
cumstantial evidence of the nature of the links
between the TTP militia and bigger criminal
networks, largely because no one was willing to
speak about these links openly.
In the initial phase of the movement, Faz-
lullah also secured the support of afuent com-
mercial elements in Swat and its environs. As
I have noted above, the upwardly mobile com-
mercial classes did support Sufi Muhammad’s
TNSM as a means of countering the historical
dominance of the khanate elite and in the name
of establishing an alternative judicial order that
served the middle class’s accumulation needs.
Fazlullah too enjoyed the support of this seg-
ment at the outset in the form of financial and
moral support.
Generally, Fazlullah and his band of fol-
lowers claimed that their brand of Sharia would
ensure speedy resolution of disputes and exem-
plary punishment, in contrast to the cumber-
some (for the poor) and easily manipulated (for
the rich and powerful) ofcial system of justice.
There was also a clear emphasis on the histori-
cal class inequalities that prevail in Swat soci-
ety — the major targets of Fazlullah’s polemic
and subsequent physical attacks were power-
ful khans. Prior to the deployment of military
forces in Swat, the religiously coated rhetoric
against class and state power garnered Fazlullah
considerable popular backing.
However, the nature and support base of
the movement changed when direct military
conflict erupted in the valley from November
2007 onward. My informants said that they
believed Fazlullah could be the harbinger of
a peaceful revolution in the area and never
expected that his challenge to state authority
would culminate in the kind of upheaval that
eventually took place. Until late 2007, Fazlullah’s
militia did not attempt to actually put into place
any alternative dispute resolution mechanism,
nor was any direct attack on the edifice of class
power — the khans — perpetrated.
Military battalions were dispatched to
Swat in late 2007 to “restore order” under the
guise that the “antistate” forces that were said
to be operating in FATA had also established in-
fluence in the valley. It was at this time that Faz-
lullah declared himself the Amir of the TTP in
Swat and peace was shattered in the valley. Until
this point, Fazlullah had retained the relatively
broad- based support of the original TNSM, in
large part because he had not matched his rhet-
oric with direct action against the status quo. It
took the direct deployment of troops to Swat to
underline the true fault lines of the movement.
The Swat TTP started to enact its version
of Sharia by attacking khans as well as those ac-
cused of being informers of the “infidel army.”
Fazlullah and a handful of other anointed aides
began executing summary justice, and brutal
punishments were meted out to those who were
considered a threat to the new TTP overlords.
50

An environment of fear was cultivated, which
drove khans and other influentials out of the
valley. The explosion of violence resulted in the
complete suspension of all normal social and
economic activities in the region, which neces-
sarily meant that middle- class support to the
movement virtually disappeared. In contrast,
the rural poor, particularly from the historically
polarized areas of Kabal and Matta, continued
to enlist in Fazlullah’s militia on account of the
manner in which the TTP empowered them vis-
à- vis the rich and powerful.
I was told by many in the refugee camps
that while most of Swat’s population was terror-
49. Dacoit is a term used extensively from the time of
British rule to refer to robbers and burglars.
50. A wide cross- section of the Swatis that I inter-
viewed said “Hum sub Musulman hain” (“We are all
Muslims”), and asserted that they had been surprised
when the TTP had insisted that Swatis prove their
commitment to Islam by renouncing age- old “un-
Islamic” customary practices. While they generally
lauded the fact that the TTP’s emergence had greatly
reduced petty crime and other such deviant behavior,
they clearly were more concerned with the TTP mul-
lah’s abilities to introduce speedy forms of confict
resolution and dispensation of justice than with any
form of moral policing. Some informants noted that
they simply had to maintain silence in the face of the
TTP’s moral edicts, because they did not want to be
singled out themselves.
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ized by the hostilities, socially and politically
marginal groups were in a state of nasha (in-
toxication), because the new TTP dispensation
turned the established social order on its head.
Of particular significance was the fact that the
medium and large landlords were either physi-
cally attacked or expulsed from their lands,
and a quasi land reform was actually enacted
through the course of 2008.
Importantly, however, the TTP did not
establish strongholds in some areas, including
Kalam (which has a nominal Pashtun popula-
tion). This means that it is important, as I as-
serted earlier, to understand the complex and
multidimensional dynamics of class and “ethnic-
ity” in understanding this last phase of the new
jihad in Swat. My informants also noted that as
Fazlullah became more and more connected
to Islamist formations outside Swat, the local
imperatives that informed the TTP became
increasingly less important than “pan- Islamic”
objectives. In other words, over time it became
apparent that Fazlullah’s “Islamic revolution”
was more “Islamic” than revolutionary.
It is important to bear in mind that Fazlullah’s
fall from grace in the public eye coincided with
Sufi Muhammad’s meteoric reemergence. For
the fourth time in a twenty- year period, Sufi Mu-
hammad endeared himself to Swat’s people by
brokering a peace agreement, thus confirming
the continued importance of charismatic fig-
ures in times of crisis. By the same token, how-
ever, when peace was once again shattered, the
realities of the new jihad in Swat became clear.
My informants were traumatized about
the series of events that culminated in their dis-
placement in the wake of the May 2009 military
ofensive. They recalled the euphoria associated
with the TTP’s emergence as well as the fear that
descended on the valley after the deployment
of troops in 2007 and the ensuing violence for
which they blame both sides of the conflict. In
retrospect, they were highly critical of the tradi-
tionally powerful players, including khans, for
deserting them in their time of need. They re-
mained convinced of the merits of an “Islamic
system” even though they are now wary of the
TTP’s model of Islam, which proved to be quite
diferent from what was originally envisioned.
Crucially, my informants also warned that
in the aftermath of the military ofensive, the
TTP continues to find willing recruits, particu-
larly among those who have lost innocent family
members in attacks by the security forces. Thus
the resort to violence by the state, far from un-
dermining the support base of the political mul-
lah, actually widens it. I found that many refu-
gees were hesitant to openly criticize Fazlullah
and his key aides, which was a reflection of the
fact that many TTP recruits were actually pres-
ent among the refugees. This simply confirmed
that the government’s attempts to flush out the
“extremists” through the use of force were a
failure from the outset. Having said this, many
refugees — including poor and landless fami-
lies — said that their nasha had been “cured,”
and they were no longer convinced that Faz-
lullah’s “Islamic revolution” represented a ho-
listic answer to their problems.
Nevertheless, the majority of Swatis re-
main unable and/or unwilling to completely re-
pudiate the new jihad in Swat, as I have defined
it in this article. This is because of the historical
significance of Islamic idiom in Pashtun soci-
ety and also the fact that orthodoxy has been
imbibed by both Pashtuns and non- Pashtuns
in Swat over the past two decades. Meanwhile,
in the absence of other political formations in
this region — an absence that is likely to become
more and more conspicuous so long as U.S.
troops remain in the region — the political mul-
lah will continue to be the sole claimant of a
popular politics. In efect, varying segments of
Swat’s population are likely to remain loyal to
the political mullah on account of both “tradi-
tion” and pragmatic concerns.
Having said this, the TTP — like other
religio- political movements — appears to be
committed not necessarily to revolutionary so-
cial upheaval as much as a revised socio- political
order in which it replaces the incumbent khan-
ate elite and is able to brutalize Swat society
accordingly. It is another matter whether the
social forces unleashed by the political mullah
can be tamed, even if the Pakistani state does
eventually renounce its age- old policy of patron-
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izing the religious right. In any case, it is clear
that the old order in Swat (and other Pashtun
areas) cannot be rehabilitated, and therefore a
new order must be fashioned that meaningfully
addresses the local sources of discontent that
were instrumentalized by the TNSM and TTP.
This will require more than renegade violence
or rhetorical concessions by the state.
51
51. It is worth considering here the argument made
by David B. Edwards, in “Learning from the Swat Pa-
thans: Political Leadership in Afghanistan 1978 – 97,”
American Ethnologist 15 (1998): 712 – 28, about com-
peting Islamist factions in Afghanistan in the 1990s
that ultimately lost credibility in the eyes of the Af-
ghan people, because it became clear that they were
engaged in parochial battles for self- aggrandizement
and were concerned little with genuine social uplift,
notwithstanding their claims. When the Afghan Tali-
ban actually established some semblance of peace in
1995, then, ordinary Afghans viewed this default ar-
rangement positively not because of the promise of
social change but because “new leadership (even if
it came with certain austerities and purist doctrines
that deviated from established custom) . . . promised
a degree of stability absent for a generation.”

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