Trout from Swat
IN these times, thoughts about Swat and its recent past must inevitably include the excesses of the TTP and the attack it carried out on Malala Yousufzai last year. Yet previously, the scenic valley was a flourishing tourist spot, with unique industries such as the farming of the rainbow trout. The large volume of visitors, mostly domestic, was catered to by bustling hotels and several touring choices. These included Saidu Sharif where the palace (now a hotel) of the first king of Swat is located, Kalam with its stunning views of the Falaksair peak, and Malamjabba, which remained filled with visitors during the winters too thanks to its ski slopes. It is instructive to note, though, that when the TTP first eyed its prospects in the valley and attempted to take control, it was initially given some measure of backing by the local population because of the perception that the state was not willing to offer sufficient support in terms of development. A prime point of contention was the judicial system traditionally seen as slow-moving and corrupt.
Post-Taliban, improvement has been introduced in some areas, for example the 2010 initiative to reform the legal system. Meanwhile, many of the hotels have reopened and visitors have started trickling in. More is needed, though, as a recently unveiled strategy to revive the trout farming sector underscores. According to the Swat Aquaculture: Sector Recovery and Development Strategy, this sector came to a complete halt in 2009 when the military operation was launched. Despite some interventions, including by USAID and the Provincial Relief, Rehabilitation and Settlement Authority, its commercial outlook remains poor — potential notwithstanding. Support from the government and donors, however, could turn the situation around. The proposal deserves serious consideration, for such interventions can prove crucial to restoring a citizenry’s faith in the state.