Page last updated at 23:33 GMT, Monday, 14 September 2009 00:33 UK

Witness to violence in Swat valley

Eyewitness accounts of violence during Pakistan's anti-Taliban offensive in the Swat valley went largely unreported as journalists were not allowed in the area.

BBC Urdu's Abdul Hai Kakar has since collected a series of first-person narratives from villagers in the area.

Here Javed Iqbal from Hajiabad describes what happened when the army raided his village.

Pakistan's army says it has investigated the incident and denies Mr Iqbal's version of events.

Pakistan Army soldiers patrol in Kanju, near Mingora, capital of Pakistani troubled Valley of Swat, Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2009
Pakistan's army says it has largely driven militants out of Swat.

Our village is called Hajiabad and is located in the Charbagh area of Swat.

The security forces came into our village on 20 June 2009 and blew up the house of a local Taliban Commander, Sher Mohammad Qasab.

After doing this, they searched my house and that of my sister, which are located side-by-side next to the Taliban commander's.

At that time I told the army officials that they must inform us before coming as the Taliban are hiding in the area.

"If they ambush you, while you are on such a mission, it will be us villagers who will suffer most in the crossfire," I said.

That day they went away quietly, but they came back two days later.

This time they arrested five of my neighbours, although we told them they are not Taliban militants.

After that they asked me the whereabouts of the home of another commander, Shireen.

When I told them all I knew, they went to his brother's house rather than his own and set it on fire.

At that point, they asked Shireen's sister-in-law, who had come out of the house, where he was.

She said she had no knowledge of his whereabouts.

They then asked her to go and search for him immediately.

She replied that was not possible as she was a lone woman but they insisted.

During this argument, some of the army personnel opened fire and the woman was hit and injured.

Some of us villagers had been brought along on this "raid".

Now the army told us to move ahead of them as they turned back from their mission.

We were just marching back to the vehicles when the Taliban attacked with rockets.

We immediately ran for our lives and hid behind the wall of nearby house.

Meanwhile a fully-fledged battle ensued between the army and the Taliban, which lasted for 12 hours.

Later, we saw that eight soldiers had died in the fighting.

Carrying the dead

After the battle, we went around and gave water to the tired and injured soldiers.

We also helped carry the dead to the army vehicles.

After they left, my father said to me, "You have helped the army, now the Taliban will not let you live."

"You must leave the village immediately."

Subsequently I left the village, and came to Mingora with my younger brothers.

Mr Iqbal's father - killed in Swat in July 2009
Mr Iqbal says his father (pictured above) was killed in his own home.

My 70-year-old father, Munir Khan, my elderly mother, Bibi, and my two teenage sisters, Saira and Shazia remained behind in our home.

A few days later I saw my parents in a dream after which I started getting worried about them.

[At this point Iqbal starts crying]

Local phone lines were not working due to the army operation, therefore I sent my youngest brother back to the village.

He came back a few days later with the news I was dreading - my family had been massacred by the army.

I immediately returned home and was told by my neighbours that it happened on 3 July.

According to them, on that day, security forces personnel came to the village and went into my home.

They set the house on fire and moments later gunfire was heard from inside the house.

My neighbours said they later learned that all my family had been killed.

The bodies lay inside the burned courtyard for two days, after which neighbours quietly went in and buried them there.

They later apologized to me and said it was to risky to take them to the nearby graveyard.

Soldiers were hiding in bunkers in the nearby mountains and they would fire on anything that moved in the valley.

I just burst into tears when I saw my torched home and my family's buried bodies in the courtyard.

I can still see my two young sisters playing there, especially Saira.

She was a bright young girl, on her way to earning a high school diploma at the local college.

She was also the captain of her college baseball team and had led them to victory at district and provincial level.

At this moment, I just feel very helpless and alone.

Who can I appeal to for justice? At the moment, even my own life is not safe.

The BBC later spoke to the local army public relations official. He said the entire episode was made up of baseless accusations. He added that after the incident became public knowledge, the army investigated the events.

The official said that it was discovered that the forces had not raided the home of any civilian on 3 July, nor killed any of his family members. He further said that on the days mentioned the army was indeed searching for the Taliban Commander Mohammad Qasab and had launched an operation in the area.

But, he reiterated, it was not the policy of the army to target civilians, indeed they could not even think of doing such a thing. The spokesman said the army needed the civilian help in its campaign against the Taliban, and it could not do anything to jeopardise this.

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