Page last updated at 10:22 GMT, Saturday, 11 July 2009 11:22 UK

Fears abound in Swat's main town

Empty street in Mingora, 9 July 2009
Mingora is a ghost town - but most of it is still standing

Pakistan says the army has almost ended operations against the Taliban in the former tourist resort of Swat and nearby districts. Some two million people are being urged to return to their homes in the north-west. The BBC's Syed Shoaib Hasan reports from Swat's main town, Mingora.

As we move deeper into the Swat valley, the ravages of war are all around us.

Destroyed buildings and broken roads mark the passage of fighting which was heaviest close to Mingora.

There is also a steady stream of people moving to and from the region.

"We came back to check out whether our house and belongings had survived the fighting," Abdullah, a Mingora resident, told us.

"Thanks to Allah, it has survived intact. Now I am going back to my family, who are in a camp in Mardan."

Abdullah tells us the situation has improved greatly and the army is largely in control.

"Hopefully, we can come back soon."

He had just one complaint: "The army is still making it very hard for us to get around. We have to stop at every checkpoint and identify ourselves.

"This makes it impossible for most public transport to move about."

Checkpoint in Swat, 9 July 2009
Swat residents face many curfews and checkpoints

Because of such restrictions, most travellers we met, including Abdullah, were on foot.

Curfews can leave people stranded for hours - after nearly three hours of arguments and phone calls with local military and civil authorities, we were able to get a curfew pass.

But even so, it took us nearly four and a half hours to cover a distance which usually takes two. The main reason were security checkpoints lining the road to Mingora.

In addition, bands of soldiers on patrol would also stop anyone they deemed suspicious.

'Like doomsday'

We pass the village of Qamber, strategically located on a hill outside Mingora guarding the road into town.

"This is where the Taliban made their stand against the army," says Mingora resident Yousuf Khan.

There are no buildings left in Qamber, just ruins, pieces of brick and scorched roads, a testament to the intensity of the fighting that went on here.

But the militants finally had to retreat and Mingora is now in complete control of the army.

Troops in Mingora, 9 July 2009
Troops control Mingora but fighting is still going on not far away

Contrary to many reports, most of the town is largely intact.

Fighting has taken place in some quarters of the city, and a number of buildings and premises have been damaged.

But, by and large, the markets and residential areas are still standing.

"Most of the fighting in Mingora took place in the first three days," Yousaf Khan tell us.

"It began after the army moved to seize control of the emerald mines."

Mr Khan stayed behind during the entire conflict and says he still feels shaken when he thinks about those events.

After all that has happened, this is our greatest fear - the Taliban can still return
Mingora resident Yousuf Khan

"It was like doomsday. My children were very scared but there was nothing we could do."

Another Mingora resident, Wasif Ali, agrees.

"The gunships were right over the neighbourhood when they shelled the mountainside."

He adds that the exchange of fire went on for three days, after which the Taliban were pushed out of the mines.

"A lot of them were using the tunnels in the mines as cover to fire back at the army."

Mr Ali explains that the army then used aircraft and artillery to target the mountainside, which collapsed.

"Many of the militants were buried alive when that happened.

"But others managed to escape using passages they had dug connecting the mines to wells inside the nearby houses.

The passages were built to take take away the emeralds safely, but ended up providing an unlikely escape route for the Taliban.

"They escaped through the narrow lanes and into the fields," Wasif Ali explains.

Subsequently, the army was able to quickly oust the militants, who did not put up much of a fight.

'We can hear firing'

Thanks to the curfew, Mingora resembles a ghost town.

Only army patrols moved through the streets.

The only real sign of life was the presence of dozens of locals outside a military-run relief goods distribution centre.

Damaged building in Mingora, 9 July 2009
Unlike these shops, most buildings have survived largely unscathed

They were waiting to get a bag of wheat, as food supplies remain drastically low.

While some were highly critical of the government, others were hopeful that peace would now be restored.

But almost all were critical of the army, which they say has done little to help residents.

"Their attitude is like we are all supporting the Taliban."

We witness this ourselves when a man is arrested and driven away in a security convoy.

And when we are leaving town, we also encounter another detainee being dragged half naked to a building next to the relief goods office.

As we leave Mingora, we cannot help but wonder at the prime minister's announcement that refugees can return from 13 July.

"The army may have seized the region, but it still does not control all of it," Yousuf Khan says.

"The Taliban, despite Maulana Fazlullah being seriously injured, are still very strong. At night, we can hear the exchange of fire between them and the army.

"After all that has happened, this is our greatest fear - the Taliban can still return."


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