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Wealthy landowners reluctant to return to Swat: Report

Source: PTI
July 28, 2009 14:38 IST
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The wealthy landowners who turned the picturesque Swat Valley into a tourist paradise and who are considered to be economic pillars of the region are still shunning away from their native place.

The wealthy are showing great reluctance to return despite a strong persuasion pitch by the Pakistan military and influential North West Frontier Province politicians, even as hundreds and thousands of ordinary people have headed back, the New York Times reported on Tuesday. The wealthy, who own resorts and hotel and are people with huge land and orchard holdings, are staying away as they are still not confident that the army and authorities would provide them adequate security.

Though the army is proclaiming that Swat is free of gun-toting Taliban militants, the local wealthy say the Taliban militants have mingled with ordinary residents after stashing away their weaponry.

"The reluctance of the landowners to return is a significant blow to the Pakistani military's campaign to restore Swat as a stable, prosperous part of Pakistan, and it presents a continuing opportunity for the Taliban to reshape the valley to their advantage," the newspaper reported.

The hesitancy shown by the wealthy is because about four dozen landlords were singled out over the past two years by the Taliban and beheaded. Their land and crops were given to the landless.

Some of the peasants joined the Taliban against the army during the recent offensive. The NYT said that reports emerging from Swat show that the Taliban still have the strength to terrorise major areas and counter-insurgency experts feel that Pakistani army pre-maturely called the people back.

The paper said it was a sign of the lack of confidence that Pakistani military declined a request by the Obama administration's special envoy Richard Holbrooke to visit Mingora last week. "There is no apparatus to replace the army," the NYT quoted an American official as saying. "The army will be the backstop."

The NWFP officials say that if the wealthy don't return their land, houses and businesses would be usurped by the peasants, who are Taliban sympathizers. In such a case, there can be no possibility of Swat, Buner and Dir returning back to their old glory.

The persecuted wealthy say that the top leaders of the Taliban are still in Swat or perhaps in neighbouring Dir and "as long as they are free, there can be no return to normalcy."

If such a situation continues, the landlords' absence will have lasting ramifications not only for Swat, but also for Pakistan's most populated province Punjab, where the landholdings are vast, and the militants are gaining power.

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