I got a chance to spend last weekend in Mingora, Swat. I had been longing to see post-operation Swat for quite some time now so when Dr. Abdul Hadi invited me to attend the annual function of SPS Trekking Club, I couldn’t resist at all.
SPS Trekking Club is one of the most active and well organized non-commercial trekking clubs in Pakistan. The club was started by the teachers and students of Swat Public School which is one the most prestigious schools of the whole region. Club started its activities in late 80s with short hikes around Mingora. It entered into the world of formal trekking in 1991 with the Kachi Khani trek. Since then, SPS Trekking Club has done one major trek every summers in the great mountain ranges of Pakistan. The year 2009 is the only exception when there was a military operation going on in the whole area and most of the Swat population had to migrate in those unfortunate times.
SPS Trekking Club holds an annual function every year in which they review previous year’s activities, select a trek for the next year and also elect fresh cabinet for the new year. This year’s event was scheduled on 6th March. I was also invited to attend this event which was a great honor indeed for me. It was a great motivation to be among some of very seasoned and experienced trekkers. Unlike the trekking community in big cities where it is generally considered as the youth activity , surprising thing here was the active participation of senior members. The event was well attended by club members some of whom had come from other cities. There was also some participation by the senior students of Swat Public School which was a sign that club’s future will be as energetic as its present. One of the most interesting agenda item is next year’s trek selection. Iftikhar Ali who is called by friends as club’s John Mock presented three different options with their details. These were Concordia and Ghondogoro La, Chillinji Pass and a trek in Tangir valley, Kohistan. After a very interesting discussion among club members who were equally divided between the first two, Chillinji Pass was finally selected as the 2011 Expedition. Good Luck Guys!
I used this opportunity to see the post operation Swat and interacted with people about the current situation. Things in Swat overall are although peaceful but the army is present everywhere on the streets. From Mardan to Mingora, vehicles are stopped for checking at eight to ten different places. One must have the national identity card with him without which entry to Swat is impossible. People generally have a mixed feelings about the presence of army in the area. They do not see the situation in a global or regional paradigm rather discuss it in the context of Swat itself. While some of the highly educated urban youth overwhelmingly support the army operation, people with roots in the villages looked more against it. Militants initially enjoyed the support of local population however they eventually lost it or were forced to loose it. Pakistan army has been very harsh in tackling them stories about the extra judicial killings and torture are common. Devastating floods in 2010 came as another blow for the people of Swat and caused great damage. Only four wheel vehicles can go at the moment beyond Bahrain. Hotel and tourism industry has suffered miserably from these situations. Despite all these hardships, people of Swat have not lost the hope and their endurance and patience cannot go unnoticed.