The Girl from the Swat Flogging
An interview with Saira Bibi
From the Feb. 7‚ 2011‚ issue
Nazar Ul Islam / Newsweek Pakistan
In early 2009, Pakistan surrendered Swat to the Pakistani Taliban. Then emerged the mobile-phone footage of the Taliban mercilessly flogging a 19-year-old woman—and everything changed. Pakistan was outraged. The government ordered a military operation against the militants in Swat and neighboring areas leading to the creation of the world’s largest population of internally-displaced. Newsweek Pakistan’s Nazar Ul Islam spoke with Saira Bibi, 22, in an exclusive interview in Swat, where she lives with her husband, two children and extended family. Excerpts:
Tell us about the day of the flogging.
I don’t remember the exact date, but it was in January 2009. My husband works at a coalmine in Hyderabad and he was away. He had asked us to organize a lunch for one of his friends who had recently got married. After the lunch guests left, we heard noises at our door. They were shouting for us to quickly come out of the house. My mother-in-law asked them who they were. They said they were the Taliban. They said there were some allegations against me, and they wanted to question me. I told my mother-in-law I had no reason to face them. They kept shouting, threatening to drag me out themselves. My brother-in-law took me to them. He said we have no choice, that I should trust Allah.
What did the Taliban say to your family? How were you feeling when you left with them?
They said I would have to defend myself in their Shariah court which was set up at a government-run primary school for girls about 200 meters from our home. So we walked there. I was scared. In my mind, I was walking toward my death.
What happened at the school?
When I got to this self-declared Shariah court, I saw three men with long beards who were fully equipped with weapons. One of the Taliban there accused me of having an illicit relationship with the friend of my husband whom we had had the lunch for. He said I would have to face punishment; that I will have to be flogged because that is what Islam says. I denied the allegation, but they didn’t listen to me. One of them told me to bend my head toward my knees, and then they started flogging me. Another one counted up to 15 for each time I was struck. They told me to walk to the nearby ground for the final decision. As I walked there I was thinking they are going to slit my throat and kill me like they have others. There was a mob gathered there. I was told to lie face down on the ground. Two men held my hands down, another had his hand on my neck, a third one held my feet. I kept shouting I am innocent. I kept crying to Allah to help me. They lashed me another 15 times. After the second round of flogging, I wasn’t able to walk and my brother-in-law had to assist me back home.
Did the Taliban continue to harass or threaten you?
The Taliban announced that I had been punished, so if anyone teased me they said they would search for them [and punish them, too]. The militants were in power, they had vehicles, they had weapons, and they patrolled the streets and bazaars and mountains. The whole area was in their control. The people here know me and have been sympathetic. And everyone knows the Taliban were killing innocents for no reason except to impose fear. I wasn’t the only girl to be flogged. There were a lot of others. One of them left when the military operation started and she isn’t coming back.
How is your life now?
Everything is normal now. It’s best to forget the past. The area is now under Army control, and we feel safer.
Did you favor the military operation?
May God destroy them. The Taliban had made everyone’s lives hell. People were fed up with them. Every single person was affected by their brutality. We were all against them but could not utter a single word against them. The people of Swat have suffered too much. The Taliban have been defeated and there isn’t any chance of them coming back. If, God forbid, they do, we will leave.
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