Thousands protest increased violence in Pakistan’s Swat Valley

Residents take to the streets after a school bus driver was shot dead in the latest of a growing number of violent incidents.

Residents take part in a protest a day after an attack on a school bus in Mingora
Residents take part in a protest a day after an attack on a school bus in the Swat Valley in Pakistan [AFP]

Islamabad, Pakistan – Thousands of people have rallied in Pakistan’s Swat Valley to protest against growing insecurity following the killing of a local school bus driver who was shot by an unknown assailant on Monday.

Chanting slogans against the increasing number of killings in the area, protesters took to the streets on Tuesday afternoon in Nishat Chowk, demanding that the government do more to ensure the safety of residents there.

Ahmed Shah, spokesperson for Swat Qaumi Jirga, a representative body of local residents, said more than 15,000 people had attended the protest – the sixth in the past two months.

“We held one protest last week but the one today is among the largest demonstrations ever in Swat,” he told Al Jazeera.

Fawad Khan, an activist with Swat Olasi Pasoon (Swat People’s Movement), who was at Tuesday’s protest, told Al Jazeera that there had been a clear increase in violent incidents in the region.

“We are demanding the government control the terrorist elements who are back and spreading terror here,” he said. “We must be given protection, which is our constitutional right.”

According to police officials, the latest incident of violence took place in Mingora on Monday morning when the school bus driver was shot dead by a man riding a motorcycle.

Hussain Ahmed, 33, was driving two young students, one of whom was wounded and taken to hospital before being discharged.

Police officials told Al Jazeera they have ruled out “terrorism” since this was a targeted attack on an individual, but they are continuing to investigate. They added that there has been no claim of responsibility for the attack so far.

Monday’s attack came a day after the 10th anniversary of the shooting of Malala Yousafzai by the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP or Pakistan Taliban) when she was a schoolgirl.

Mohsin Dawar, a member of Pakistan’s National Assembly, condemned the latest attack and said this should be a wake-up call for the state.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Dawar said that he has voiced concerns about the increased presence of “militants” in the area since he joined parliament, but nothing has been done.

“Mainstream Pakistan perhaps does not realise the severity of the situation because they are not feeling the heat yet,” he said. “If Pakistan’s political and military leadership does not sit together to resolve this menace, I fear that in coming days the situation will be out of control.”

TTP stronghold

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, a civil rights group, also issued a statement on Monday saying that residents of Swat are justified in holding security forces responsible.

“It was callous and short-sighted to have downplayed the threat from militants given residents’ growing protests and calls for security,” the statement read.

Last month, five people – including an influential anti-Taliban tribal leader – were killed in a bomb blast in Swat’s Kot Katai village.

Swat, which is roughly 240km (150 miles) from the capital, Islamabad, was a major TTP stronghold until 2009, when the Pakistani military drove the armed group’s fighters out.

The recent surge in violence comes as peace talks between Pakistan’s security forces and the TTP have failed to yield any progress.

Source: Al Jazeera