Beards no longer a personal choice in Swat

wearing white Shalwar kameez and black shades over his eyes, sitting at reception area.

“He has an appointment with you, he has come from Swat” my assistant informed me. I was confused; I had a meeting scheduled with Sarmad Behzaad, one of my dedicated news sources from the Swat region. “Send him in”, I asked my assistant. He sat down and started with the usual polite greetings in the Swati Urdu accent. This was Sarmad, "My God", I said, "You look so different".

I had met Sarmad some 6 months back, then a cluster of thick hair hung on his face, a beard from which it was difficult to locate his mouth and nose. “How did this happen”? I asked.
Sarmad smirked and said, “ We had been forced to grow beards because of the strong Taliban influence. All the barbershops were closed and clean-shaven men were intimidated by them, so we all had to grow beards”.

"Did you shave when the Taliban left?" I asked.

“No it wasn’t that the Taliban went away and we shaved, actually we were now used to it, but recently having a beard has become more of a problem. Now that the security forces have taken control, they are suspecting every bearded man as being part of the Taliban, it was so much hassle that I had to let it go”.

Back in the spring, Swat was one of the most affluent places of the entire northern region.  Since it was a popular tourist destination, the people had more interaction and in general were more cosmopolitan.  

People in Swat were more advanced in terms of education and business. But during the time of Taliban control, the people of swat had to obey absurd regulations in the name of Islam. Taliban banned men from wearing pants as well as from shaving their beard and moustache. Barbershops were closed and barbers were threatened and ordered not to shave any man labelling it as ‘ haraam’.

According to Sarmad, during the Taliban period it was hard to find any clean-shaven men. Since the military operation has been completed 80% of the men are now clean-shaven in Swat and the surrounding area.

As Sarmad states, “ To keep a beard or not to keep beard, its not a personal choice in Swat, it’s directly related to the ruling agenda in the region”.