I have been to Swat several times, but lived in Saidu Sharif for two years as a neighbour of Prince Amir Zeb, the Wali's second son, in the mid seventies. At the present time of the year, early Autumn, the weather is glorious and the fall is just beginning. The massive maple that grows so well in the entire valley changes colour and just about begins to shed its leaves. The evenings have become chilly but the days are wonderful; you can just sit and feel good. The fall, driving up along the Swat river is a spectacle to behold. The first time I went to Swat was in 1969. This was in connection with the merger of the state. As a part of the merger exercise, my task was to look at the structure, composition, resources and functions of the state militia and recommend action on their future. The Wali ran a tight administration. He toured extensively, had an excellent intelligence system and was the most active supporter of education and health programmes in the state. The result was that Swat in the times of the Wali, Miangul Jehanzeb, was a progressive and well administered area where rules were obeyed and justice and fair play prevailed as a rule. Access to justice was available to the last man. There were exceptions, but in general such was the case. But I got to know the family closely when I went there on a posting in 1974. We knew both the elder sons of the Wali, Aurangzeb and Amir Zeb, from before, but got to know them and the family better now. Both of them were married, respectively, to Field Marshal Ayub Khan's two daughters. Aurangzeb was the heir-apparent and by virtue of having been to Doon School, a brief commission in the Pakistan army and his position as President Ayub's ADC, he was more conspicuous in the state. Amir Zeb, the younger son of the Wali, had been to Aitchison College and was a simpler person. But both were hospitable and likeably effusive. I had a distinct feeling then and know this now, that the Wali himself, for a number of reasons, was fond of Amir Zeb than his elder son, Aurangzeb. The whole issue of being close to the ruler, even after the merger, remained quite complex and therefore as late as 1974 it mattered that the Wali had a preference for his younger son. The Wali, Miangul Jehanzeb, was a remarkable man in many ways. He was an excellent administrator, a quiet and soft-spoken but very firm man who could ensure implementation of big decisions without the slightest pressure on nerves. A progressive and enlightened man, in some ways he was a romantic. Several times during the course of an average evening he would talk about his dream of a modern Swat, an example of good governance that the rest of the province could follow. He sounded bitter that the state was merged just when he was getting close to realising his dream. As the principal eyewitness of the process of merger, he had a reason for that claim. In 1969 I could see that the rule of law prevailed in Swat, albeit with the carried over momentum of the Wali's state administration. Sustainable development and the criminal justice system went hand in hand; the citizens in the state seemed contented. They had schools to send their children to, hospitals and dispensaries to look after the sick, a functional public health system and a state of the art hospital in Saidu Sharif, the capital of the state, where patients could be referred for any specialised treatment if required. Today my Swat experience seems like a short lived sweet dream. The valley is up in flames. Inhabited for two thousand years and a long history of religious leadership, the valley is in a state of siege. People are leaving the state as safe areas are shrinking and the ongoing war spreads. The choice for the average Swati is between an extreme version of Islam and the army action that is out to establish the writ of the state. In this tussle, innocent men, women and children are being killed, their homes destroyed and communities being subjected to displacement with all kinds of negative consequences. Swat is on fire. Miangul Aurangzeb, former Governor of Balochistan and the NWFP, shares with me his comments on the situation there from time to time. This is what he sent me recently (with permission to quote): "...Shame on Swiss courts for not being able to decide these cases for eight years. This is why our people want shariah where all this would not have taken more than a month. You can imagine a poor man in a Pakistani court. He can do nothing even if his mother was buried alive." The writer is a former ambassador at large