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Return to Pakistan's valley of death

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Displaced people return to Swat valley

By Orla Guerin
BBC News, Swat

They left in fear, and many are going back the same way.

The Pakistan government says it is safe for families to return to the Swat valley, and it's paying them 25,000 rupees to do so (£180; $300).

But plenty of those making the journey to the picturesque and formerly peaceful region are not so sure.

Nineteen-year-old Adnan is one of them.

He says it was hell when he fled two months ago, and it could be again.

"Everyone's scared to go back because they're afraid the fighting might start again," he said.

After we welcomed [the Taliban to Swat] and showed them love, they committed atrocities
Nadir

But after two months living in a disused sugar mill, he and his relatives were ready to take the risk.

And so were hundreds more families who had been trapped in the same makeshift camp, near the city of Peshawar.

We found them queuing to load their belongings onto buses bound for Swat.

Camp squalor

Among the crowds was Adnan's father Mohammed - a small, bearded man in traditional dress, clutching a tiny bundle to his chest.

It was his baby daughter, Gulalai, who was born 40 days ago in the camp.

He was determined to get her away from the squalor of the camp to the fresh mountain air of Swat.

Mohammed, returning to Swat
Now that we're here, we are scared
Mohammed
Returning resident

When space ran out on the buses, the family found a truck.

They were waved off by a camp volunteer called Nadir, also from Swat.

He left a labouring job in Dubai to come home and help those forced to flee.

When asked who was to blame for the chaos and carnage which engulfed Swat, his response was swift.

"We blame ourselves because the people of Swat gave the Taliban permission to come in," he said.

"After we welcomed them, and showed them love, they committed atrocities."

Others here point the finger at the government, which signed a controversial peace deal with the militants in February.

The agreement backfired, allowed the Taliban to tighten their grip on Swat and expand into the neighbouring district of Buner.

The authorities are trying to prevent Taliban fighters slipping back into Swat, with the displaced.

There are checkpoints on the narrow roads that snake into the valley, and the returning families are registered by troops.

Details were recorded at checkpoints along the route
Checkpoints along the route slow down the return

It took several hours, under a blazing sun, for Mohammed and his family to reach Mingora, the largest town in Swat - a tourist resort turned battleground.

But the damage in the town is limited. Troops were under instruction to minimise collateral damage.

At a local hotel, fish tanks in the lobby were smashed, and there were bullet holes dotting the walls.

But the receptionist beamed at the sight of visitors. "You are most welcome," he said. "Sorry things are a bit uneven."

Around Mingora the shutters are going up. Schools and businesses are re-opening.

But the town remains tense and the army is still on high alert. It is still facing pockets of resistance in the region.

The militants avoid direct confrontation, according to Major Nasir Khan, military spokesman in Mingora.

"It's a guerrilla war. The terrain is very hostile," he said, glancing up at the hills looming over the town.

"But we will take the fight to its logical conclusion."

Many doubt that the militants can be eradicated. Back in his modest home, Mohammed looked a worried man.

He sat on a rough-hewn bed, cradling Gulalai in his arms.

"Now that we're here, we are scared," he said.

"We don't know if the Taliban have left, or if they are still on the hilltops, and could come back."

While the beheadings and the brutality have stopped, at least for now, Swat was terrorised and many bear the scars.

Trainee Taliban

We met five teenage boys who provided harrowing accounts of their time in Taliban training camps.

One of the teenaged boys who trained in Taliban camps
The boys said they were threatened with death if they tried to escape

The boys are now co-operating with the army. It says children as young as nine were taken for training as informers, fighters or suicide bombers.

The boys told us they were among hundreds of children at two separate training camps, established in schools.

"When we tried to escape they surrounded us," said a boy of 16.

"They told us that if they caught us, they would shoot us, or cut our throats.

"They told us that if your parents don't allow you to go for jihad, then you should kill them. But how could we kill our own parents?"

He said that he and some of the others were taken to the camp by force.

"We were working in the fields," he said.

"These people came and said: 'Let's go'. I said I didn't want to go. Then they took us. They blindfolded us and loaded us on to a vehicle."

'Enemies of God'

A younger boy, aged just 13, told us about the daily routine of prayer, physical exercise and brainwashing.

"We were asked to fight the army, because they are against Islam and they are the enemies of God. That's what they told us," he said.

Before the Taliban came, the boys were bound together by a shared passion for cricket. All five were on the same team. Now they are united by worries about the future.

They're afraid they could be tracked down and punished by the Taliban. They could also be targeted by some in the local community.

The army is promising rehabilitation for the boys, who are now back with their families.

Their relatives asked us to deliver a message to the outside world - about the urgent need for aid and investment in the Swat valley.

Otherwise, they warned, the Taliban would find plenty of willing young recruits.



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