Page last updated at 15:51 GMT, Tuesday, 27 April 2010 16:51 UK

What have Pakistan offensives achieved?

Pakistani female students walk by their make-shift classroom set up in a tent in Kanju in Pakistan's Swat valley, April 26, 2010.
Girls are once more back at school in the Swat Valley

A year ago Pakistan launched the first of a series of major military assaults against the Taliban in the country's north-west. The BBC's Syed Shoaib Hasan looks back at the anti-militant operations and how successful they have been.

On 26 April 2009, Pakistan army commandos stormed into Buner district in the North West Frontier Province.

The Pakistani authorities had been under growing pressure to take action after the Taliban took control of the district.

Under their leader, Maulana Fazlullah, the local Taliban had been expanding their power from Swat Valley, once a popular tourist area, to other parts of the region since 2007.

After the move into Buner, Pakistan's army declared all-out war.

Black Thunderstorm - as the Buner operation was called - was soon expanded into a fully-fledged military offensive.


Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told the nation the militants had two choices - surrender or die.

Over the next two months the operation widened out from Buner to nearby Swat and other parts of Malakand division.

More than two million people fled the fighting in Swat.

By August they were told it was safe to come back and the operation was declared a success.

But Maulana Fazlullah was never captured and the militants, despite being on the back foot, continued to maintain their strongholds in the tribal areas in other parts of north-west Pakistan.

For the reinvigorated military, these were the next targets - especially South Waziristan, the heartland of the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Humanitarian cost

Operation Path to Salvation was finally launched in South Waziristan on 17 October 2009. The army deployed 35,000 troops backed by tanks, artillery and aircraft.

Pakistani soldiers in Dera Ismail Khan
Pakistan army: Two divisions totalling 28,000 soldiers
Frontier Corp: Paramilitary forces from tribal areas likely to support army
Taliban militants: Estimated between 10,000 and 20,000
Uzbek fighters supporting militants: several hundred

Before the operation began the militants suffered a big blow - their top leader Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a US missile attack in August 2009.

Even without him, the Taliban initially made it very tough going for the army, but superior troop numbers and firepower took their toll.

On 12 December, the military claimed victory over the Taliban in South Waziristan and said the militants were now neutralised as a viable threat in Pakistan.

The militants' power had been amply demonstrated in a wave of suicide bombings and other attacks around the country which left hundreds dead in a matter of weeks. Attacks have continued in 2010 but not at the same rate.

There was also a huge humanitiarian cost to the fighting in the north-west.

As well as the millions of people displaced, thousands of homes, businesses, schools and offices were also destroyed.

Civilian authority and infrastructure were ruined. On the ground there is little evidence the billions of dollars in aid received by the government have been put to good use.

There have been allegations of official corruption, although no firm proof. But certainly money has been mismanaged.

Schools in Swat are one example. According to official figures, 700 were destroyed and have yet to be rebuilt.


"We're crying for help but no one's listening"

Many people displaced by the fighting returned - only to find rubble where their homes and businesses once existed.

"The people can never forsake the region," says a local journalist in Swat, now based in Islamabad. "While many have returned, thousands are still unsure about home."

But fear of the Taliban is also keeping people away.

"The army has enforced peace here through the barrels of their guns," says a local from Mingora. "But we know they will eventually leave and then the Taliban may come back."

Militants 'down but not out'

At the moment, the militants remain a real but distant fear in Swat - but not elsewhere.

"The army's operations have dented the militants' ability to carry out attacks within Pakistan. But the Taliban leadership and most of the local militants have simply relocated," one observer says.

An elderly Pakistani vendor washes a cucumber at his roadside stall in Mingora, the capital of Swat valley on March 25, 2010.
People in Swat know the militants could one day return

New Taliban strongholds have emerged in North Waziristan, which is now the focus of a sustained bombing campaign by US drones.

Pakistan's army has resisted US pressure to extend its assault into North Waziristan, largely due to a deal with local Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur.

His group is not part of the Tehrik-e-Taliban organisation which has carried out attacks across Pakistan. Instead, its fighters are said to carry out strikes against Nato forces over the border in Afghanistan.

In Bajaur, another tribal region, the army's stop-start operation against the militants has continued. Troops have claimed victory several times, but the militants have returned. Fighting has also been fierce recently in Orakzai.

The army remains in control of the Mehsud tribal heartland in South Waziristan, but few locals have dared to return. The Taliban continue to exact terrible vengeance on anyone who dares side with the government.

Beheaded bodies regularly turn up in North and South Waziristan, with notes identifying them as "ISI" or "CIA" spies.

More ominously, though, the killings are now slowly spreading to places like Peshawar and Swat. The military are also accused of extra-judicial killings.

"The Taliban may be down, but they are far from out," says the Islamabad-based Swat journalist. "The fact that the army has said 'no' to any new operations has come as a shot in their arm.

"All they have to do is lie low for the next six months".

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