ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Miangul Aurangzeb excused himself for being a little hard of hearing, and smiled wistfully.
"I'm happy I am not the ruler today," he said. "It was a no-win situation."
Aurangzeb, an affable octogenarian, is still affectionately known as the "Wali," or ruler, of Swat, even though it has been 40 years since his family was in power.
In 1969, when the Swat Valley was incorporated into Pakistan (more than 20 years after the partition of British India), Aurangzeb's family kept their hereditary title and their homes – but lost their right to rule.
The Taliban would not have gained control of the idyllic Swat Valley, once known as the Switzerland of Asia, if Swat had remained sovereign and the Wali still ruled – at least that's Aurangzeb's view.
|VIDEO: Former Swat ruler: 'revenge' motivates Taliban|
Nonetheless, he blames former President Pervez Mushrraf and the United States for the bulk of Pakistan's troubles with the Taliban.
"They should not have involved Pakistan in Afghanistan's affairs. If they (the U.S.) wanted to bomb Afghanistan, they could have done it from America," he said.
"Pakistan produced the Taliban to help America throw the Russians out. And then Musharraf stabbed them in the back to please the Americans. Now the Taliban are taking revenge," said Aurangzeb, with a raised voice for added emphasis. "Revenge is a very important factor. They (the Taliban) have been let down by Pakistan."
He claims Musharraf allowed the Taliban to grow in strength in order to frighten President George W. Bush into giving him more money and weapons.
'People just ran'
Aurangzeb left Swat in April – just before the Pakistan army launched an offensive to clear the Swat Valley of local Taliban militants. More than two million people fled the fighting, but they didn't run away from the Taliban, he explained. The Taliban already lived there.
"They ran away from the army," he insisted. "They (the army) would tell a village to vacate in one hour. Now tell me if someone would tell me to vacate this house within one hour, can I do it? So the people just ran."
Aurangzeb follows the news out of Swat from his home in Islamabad – a spacious two story house filled with fine furniture and carpets. The house also chronicles several generations of family history through photographs of Aurangzeb's ancestors, his seven children, his grandchildren, and even snapshots of relatives with numerous heads of state – including President John F. Kennedy.
Aurangzeb describes his father, the former ruler of Swat Valley, as a benevolent autocrat.
"Ask anyone, even our enemies," he said. The valley was peaceful when his family ruled the area, he said. Justice was quick and fair based on a system he described as a combination of Islamic law and common sense.
"If someone was arrested and told to go to jail, he went to jail. Now people are fed up with the justice, cases never finish and the courts are corrupt." It's the lack of justice that angers Aurangzeb the most and the reason why he believes that people eventually accepted the Taliban.
But Aurangzeb is quick to point out that he doesn't support the Taliban. What he wants is a proper democratic system and a proper judicial system – for Swat and for all of Pakistan. "We are among the top ten corrupt countries in the world."
How is it, he points out, that a policeman who takes a bribe of about ten cents, is dismissed and sent to jail and a person who takes billions of dollars in kickbacks gets away with it.
"Is that fair?" he asked. "And the Taliban exploited that, which is why they became heroes of sorts – they stood up and said this is unfair."
Waiting for the Internet
Aurangzeb is making plans to return to his home in Swat in the next few weeks – as soon as the Internet is back up and the electricity is back on. His house is intact – just shrapnel here and there, or so he was told.
"The army killed my old servant," he said. "When I asked someone why, they said people were saying his son was a Taliban. You see, they (the army) couldn't get the son so they killed the father."
Aurangzeb is not optimistic about the future of Swat. The army offensive may be over for now, but he says people don't feel secure: "It's an insurgency and you will find there are very few insurgencies that have been crushed in the world."