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Militants disrupt peace in Swat valley

30 April 10 17:38 GMT

By Syed Shoaib Hasan
BBC News, Mingora

One year on from the launch of the massive army offensive against Taliban militants around Pakistan's Swat valley, peace still eludes local residents.

This is especially the case for people on the government-backed peace committees which have been set up across the valley.

"The Taliban killed my uncle," says Sabih-ur-Rahman.

His uncle was the head of one such committee near the town of Mingora.

Mr Rahman has now taken on that dangerous mantle.

The aim of the peace committees is to help locals ensure that their neighbourhoods are secure.

They also provide information to the army in case of militant activity.

As such they are on the front line - and primary targets for the Taliban.

The militants were firmly in control of this region from 2007 until last year, when the government offensive forced them into retreat.

They originally appeared in the area under the leadership of radical local cleric Maulana Fazlullah in 2004.

He had been calling for the implementation of his version of Islamic Sharia law in the Malakand administrative region.

This includes the Swat valley, the main point of origin for most Taliban members in this part of the world.

Pakistan's government eventually acquiesced to Maulana Fazlullah's demand and signed a peace deal with the militants which included their Sharia law demand.

But despite this, the militants continued to expand their power in other parts of the North West Frontier Province.

Eventually, the army took decisive action.

'Killed on the spot'

At the conclusion of the operation, the military said the Taliban had been eliminated from the region.

For a while it seemed that peace - a rare concept in this part of the world - had finally been restored.

But that turned out to be illusory, as the militants are back in the area.

Currently keeping a low profile, they are carrying out targeted killings of influential local people.

Local journalists say seven have been shot dead in the past 17 days.

"We had just finished a meeting when the attack took place," said Mr Rahman, recalling how his uncle, Bahr-e-Karam, was killed on 19 April.

"My uncle and another peace committee member were talking on the road near our home," he says.

"I was standing at a distance when suddenly the shooting started.

"It was pitch dark due to power outages and we couldn't see anything.

"But I knew it was my uncle and I ran towards where I had last seen him."

Mr Rahman says his uncle and his uncle's companion were found lying in a pool of blood.

"They had both been killed on the spot," he said.

The army, however, maintains that the situation is under control.

"There have been three targeted killings recently," said Col Akhtar Abbas, spokesman for the Pakistan army in Swat.

"But such attacks can take place anywhere in Pakistan."

He added that the perpetrators had since been killed in a shoot-out with security forces.

Reduced to rubble

I visited the house where one such "encounter" between the army and militants had taken place.

Located on the outskirts of the city, the house is now a pile of rubble.

Local residents said the shootout had lasted nearly 20 hours.

"Initially the Taliban resisted very fiercely," said Usman, a local citizen.

"But then the army brought in big guns and mortars."

A stream of visitors had also come to look at the ruins.

Large holes decorated the roof and the walls were riddled with bullets.

But despite the fire-power locals say at least one of militants managed to get away.

The others were found dead in the basement. Darkened stains on the wall and floor clearly indicated where they had fallen.

"One of the dead was a senior commander and this will be a blow for the militants," a local journalist says.

Military rule

He says the Taliban are now regrouping. The main reason, he explains, is the region's lack of civil administration.

Problems with the justice system are a case in point.

"The army is still running the administration and their way of handling things has created more resentment," says a local lawyer.

"The army will detain anybody who has the flimsiest of links to the Taliban."

He cited an example of one man who had been detained by the army and later handed over to police.

"When the police finally registered a report against him, the only charge was that he had said his prayers in a congregation behind Maulana Fazlullah."

Most people are still supportive of the Pakistan army.

But they want the government to start playing its part as well.

And as the militants' spectre continues to haunt the Swat valley, the region's hopes of real peace seem as distant as ever.

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