Thousands of people in northwestern Pakistan took to the streets Tuesday for a second day to protest a surge in suspected militant attacks in the scenic Swat valley, fearing the violence could disrupt years of peace, development and tourist activities.
The mass demonstration came a day after an unknown assailant riding a motorcycle opened fire on a school van in Mingora, a central town in Swat. Police said Monday’s shooting left the driver dead and a student wounded.
Protesters, including students and teachers, kept the driver’s body on a main road and refused to bury it until their demands for preserving the peace were met.
“We demand peace on our soil,” the crowd chanted.
One placard at the protest read, “We cannot let the hard earned peace be destroyed.” Another read, “Act now against the attackers before it becomes too late.”
Later Tuesday, after a 40-hour sit-in, demonstrators agreed to disperse following negotiations with government officials that resulted in assurances that victims’ families would receive financial compensation, that all possible efforts would be made to arrest the shooter and restore peace in the area.
No one has claimed responsibly for Monday’s attack, but residents accused the outlawed Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also known as the Pakistani Taliban, of being behind the rise in violence in the area.
The TTP, which is the Pakistani offshoot of neighboring Afghanistan’s ruling Islamist Taliban, has denied responsibility. The extremist group, designated as a terrorist organization by the United Nations and the United States, has long waged attacks in Pakistan, killing thousands of civilians and security forces.
Swat used to harbor TTP strongholds until 2009, when a major military-led counterterrorism operation evicted the militants and restored government authority there.
In the years that followed, the impoverished region has seen sustained development, construction of new schools, educational institutions, sports grounds and a boom in local tourism.
The economic prosperity has effectively shrunk space for extremist forces in religiously conservative Swat, said local government officials and observers. They cited recent massive protests denouncing militancy, unlike in previous years when locals used to support TTP activities.
Pakistan in recent months has engaged the militant group in peace talks brokered and hosted by the Taliban government in Afghanistan, where fugitive TTP leaders are sheltering. But the peace process has not ended the violence, nor is it known if the talks remain on track.
Malala in Pakistan
The resurgent violence and ensuing pro-peace protests come a decade after Nobel Peace laureate Malala Yousafzai, who advocated for the education of Pakistani girls, was shot in the side of her head by the TTP while riding in a school van in her native Swat in 2012.
Yousafzai, who was 15 when she was attacked and received life-saving treatment in Britain, became a global education advocate and the youngest recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize.
On Tuesday, she landed in the southern Pakistani city, Karachi, to visit the country’s flood-hit areas, her second visit to Pakistan since the shooting.
Her organization, Malala Fund, said in a statement it aims “to help keep international attention focused on the impact of floods in Pakistan and reinforce the need for critical humanitarian aid.”
Some information in this report came from The Associated Press.