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Glorious past of Swat State

The life of Swat State clearly exhibited that smaller units were closer to the people and better suited the diverse and multidimensional polity of Pakistan

Glorious past of Swat State
Ayub Khan and Wali-e-Swat Miangul Jehanzeb. — Photo courtesy Swatnama

Out of the four states which lay in the North West of Pakistan, Swat State made exemplary progress in the years following its accession to Pakistan. The reign of Miangul Abdul Wadood till 1949, and then of Miangul Jehanzeb, his son, clearly exhibited that smaller units better suited the diverse and multidimensional polity of Pakistan. The rule of the Mianguls was so popular that even today people fondly recall that era, not with just nostalgia but firm grains of reality.

In 1926, Swat was the last princely state to be recognised in the British Indian Empire. The state emerged from a largely tribal society, where the tribes in a Jirga elected their own ‘king,’—Miangul Abdul Wadood. At its inception therefore, the state was almost illiterate. Ruler Miangul Jehanzeb once noted that when his father, Miangul Abdul Wadood, took the reigns of Swat, “…he could not find a single literate person to employ as his scribe in all of Swat.” While Miangul Abdul Wadood did try to introduce some educational institutions in Swat, real progress only took place in the state when his son Miangul Jehanzeb took over in 1949.

By 1949, the state only had a handful of schools, and just one high school. Between 1949 and 1955, the state dramatically increased its educational provision to one degree college, 5 high schools, 20 middle schools and over a hundred other schools. The state also led the way by abolishing all fees in schools, which was certainly a revolutionary step, as none of the other adjoining states, or even the adjoining NWFP province had managed to introduce this provision.

Furthermore, the establishment of Jehanzeb College in 1952 was a watershed moment in the history of the state as none of the adjacent states or districts had a degree college at that time. This college soon became the hub of educational activities in the region and became a premier higher education institution. The Wali, as the ruler was known, also spent his Rs10,000 government subsidy solely for the purpose of giving college level scholarships. All these initiatives simply changed the educational landscape of Swat State as the literacy rate, which was just above one per cent in 1947, rose to double digits by 1961—a dramatic increase by any standards.

The great progress of Swat State also impressed the government inspector of school who gleefully noted in 1957 “…I am glad to remark that the educational progress of the State in all its activities under the able guidance and sympathetic patronage of its talented Wali is really appreciable…At present 135 institutions are functioning in the length and breadth of the state for the benefit of the masses.”

Swat State also made considerable progress in terms of improving communications in the state. Being mountainous, remote and cut off due to heavy snowfall for certain months of the year, the importance of a good road and communications network was key for the survival of the state. Hence, one of the main tasks of Maingul Abdul Wadood was to build a network of roads to connect all parts of this small yet logistically complicated state.

The establishment of Jehanzeb College in 1952 was a watershed moment in the history of the state as none of the adjacent states or districts had a degree college at that time. This college soon became the hub of educational activities in the region and became a premier higher education institution.

Miangul Jehanzeb continued the work of his father and by the end of 1957 there were over 400 miles of roads, with fifteen of them being metalled. These initiatives made travel and communication much easier in the state and had a positive impact on the economy, and especially tourism, in the state. Miangul Jehanzeb also made local administrators — the Hakims — in charge of road construction and maintenance in their areas, thus ensuring local initiative and accountability.

Swat was also exemplary in the use of telephones. Telephones were the primary source of contact between the Wali, his administrators and his people, especially during the winter months when a lot of roads would be blocked due to heavy snowfall. Miangul Jehanzeb noted about his father: “For contact with his people, he used the telephone most often…Every evening he telephoned most of the people and asked them how things were, what was happening and so on…In this way, he kept close contact with everyone and knew what was up all over the state.”

In terms of the judiciary and law and order, Swat State however remained primitive. The state had Islamic law for Muslims, but local custom also heavily affected decision-making. One unique feature of the system was the absence of capital punishment, as that was understood as promoting revenge. Also life sentences were also infrequent and fines were the mainstay of the system. Miangul Jehanzeb noted: “I always had to acknowledge the existence of local custom, and take it into account in judging the consequences of decisions. There were old disputes coming from previous generations; if one person killed another person, then the latter’s relatives later used to kill a close relative of the killer. And this same thing would go on for a long time. So I could not give a death sentence for that, as it was a kind of revenge. But we could fine them, and imprison them, or both.”

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Despite the personalised nature of justice in Swat, the adjudication process was swift, and largely fair. Hence, in spite of the fact that an independent system of justice was never introduced in the state crime remained low, and the people generally content with the system of justice in the state.

The nature of government in Swat State was certainly personal, and depended largely on the whim of the ruler. A bad ruler, like in the case of Dir State, could retard development in the state, and make the people almost prisoners. However, an enlightened ruler, like that in Swat, could bring about major positive changes in the lives of the people. Despite the drawbacks, the life of Swat State did clearly exhibit that smaller units were closer to the people, understood their problems and issues better, and were able to deliver in a more timely, creative and cost effective manner.


To be continued

Yaqoob Khan Bangash

Yaqoob Bangash
The writer teaches at the IT University in Lahore. He is the author of ‘A Princely Affair: The Accession and Integration of the Princely States of Pakistan, 1947-55.’ He tweets at @BangashYK.

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