Drivers of conflict in the Swat Valley, Pakistan


What were the main drivers of ‘militancy’ (conflict) in the Swat valley of Pakistan in 2008-2009, and what has been the impact of interventions, such as the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation 2009, in addressing key grievances?


There is a substantial body of literature that explores drivers of conflict in the Swat Valley, but assessments of the impact of interventions are more limited. While the drivers of conflict in the Swat Valley have some unique characteristics, it is difficult to separate these from the genesis of militancy in the wider Afghanistan/Pakistan border region given their shared history.

Drivers include:

  • Historical factors linked to the colonial and post-colonial legacy of the Swat Valley’s absorption into the British Empire and later independent Pakistan.
  • Religious factors and the role religious leaders play in Swat Valley society.
  • Political and judicial factors such as the underdeveloped judicial system and ineffective local government which created social cleavages and played a major role in the rise of TNSM and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan as political forces in the area.
  • Cross-border ethnic ties and insurgent activity in the context of Pakistan/Afghanistan.
  • Women’s participation in education and work. Although this was not initially a central conflict issue, it became a focal point at a later stage with the destruction of girls’ schools and attacks on working women.
  • Marginalisation and inequity.

Attempts to resolve the underlying drivers of conflict in the Swat Valley have included military, humanitarian/developmental and legislative interventions. The Pakistan Government’s response to the conflict has been the adoption of a three-pronged strategy based on dialogue, development, and deterrence. The Nizam-e-Adl Regulation formally enshrined Sharia law in the Malakand in a bid to placate insurgents and to address grievances that are understood to drive support for Sharia law. However, literature suggests that more needs to be done to implement the objectives set out in this legislation.


Suggested citation

Avis, W. (2016). Drivers of conflict in the Swat Valley, Pakistan (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 1,398). Birmingham, UK: GSDRC, University of Birmingham.