MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. More than a year ago, Pakistan's army went into the Swat Valley in the northwest of that country. The army promised to get rid of Taliban militants there. Many Pakistanis thought the military would win in a few weeks, but the war is still going on and the Taliban is stronger than ever. As NPR's Philip Reeves reports, the conflict is taking a nasty turn. In the last two weeks, there has been a spike in the number of corpses dumped in the streets - victims of tit-for-tat assassinations.

PHILIP REEVES: Sometimes it's just one body found lying in the open as the sun rises over the valley. Sometimes it's more. Sometimes the bodies are beheaded. Sometimes they come with a note, threatening death to anyone who moves the corpses before a stated hour. It's not easy for Western journalists to visit Swat. The militants have a strong presence, but you can call people there albeit on a crackling phone line.

Mr. SIUDIN YUSATSA(ph) (Peace Activist, Mingira, Swat Valley): Yeah, yeah, yeah, (unintelligible) please.

REEVES: Siudin Yusatsa is a peace activist in Swat's main city, Mingora. He's heard about the bodies. He says the daily killing is adding to the mood of deep fear.

Mr. YUSATSA: The situation is very much horrible and very much uncertain, and the people are thinking to migrate from this area.

REEVES: Swat Valley is beautiful. Tourists used to come from across the country to relax amid the mountains and apple orchards. Then the Taliban moved in. The militants are led by a rabble-rousing cleric called Mullah Fazlullah, also known as the FM Mullah because he uses radio broadcasts to rally support. Professor Kadeem Hussein(ph) belongs to a think tank studying the conflict in Pakistan's northwest.

Professor KADEEM HUSSEIN: Yeah. Well, I have got a list here of the statistics, and it shows us a few patterns. Civilian killed - 1,250. Security forces, civil servant killed - 289. Militants killed - 77.

REEVES: Hussein's gathered details from media and military reports, itemizing the violence in Swat during 2008.

Professor HUSSEIN: The displaced are 700,000 people. The number of children who are out of school now are 400,000. Now this tells us about the expansion of Fazlullah's influence in Swat, 2008. So it tells us very clearly that Fazlullah is actually winning war in Swat.

REEVES: Pakistani security sources claim some of these figures are exaggerated. Others believe the Pakistani authorities are understating the civilian death toll. They include Bushra Gohar.

Ms. BUSHRA GOHAR (Senior Official, Awami National Party): We are not getting correct assessments of the losses. The devastation is far more, I feel. And also those who've been injured, those who've been maimed, those who've been displaced.

REEVES: Gohar is a senior official in the Awami National Party, or ANP.

Ms. GOHAR: It's on a daily basis that our activists or our elected representatives who were voted in by the people are now being targeted.

REEVES: The ANP sees itself as a secular and progressive party for the Pashtuns. That's the main ethnic group in northwest Pakistan. It was elected to run the provincial government last year, defeating Islamist parties on a promise of negotiating peace. But the militants have set about trying to wipe out the party, literally. Gohar says she knows of at least 50 party officials or their relatives who've been killed in Swat, though she suspects the number is higher. Almost all the ANP's leaders have been forced to flee the area.

Ms. GOHAR: They can't go back to their areas because they know for sure that they'll be killed. Their family members have been killed. Even if they've left their homes, their homes have been destroyed.

REEVES: Many in Swat Valley accuse the Pakistani security services of widespread human rights abuses, saying that this has made the conflict worse. Gohar feels the Pakistani army has let down her party.

Ms. GOHAR: The Awami National Party was expecting an effective, sharp operation from the military. It didn't get that. And instead it appeared as if they were hitting civilian targets. One started wondering whether our own security agencies had the capacity to deal with militancy and insurgency, you know, at that scale.

REEVES: Security sources say the number of bodies dumped and put on display on the streets of Swat over the last several weeks is 36. Nearly half were from the security services. Four were Taliban. That's led to speculation the security forces are retaliating by adopting the Taliban's tactics. However, Pakistani officials suggest the four were killed in revenge by relatives of the Taliban's victims. The picture is getting worse. Kadeem Hussein says in 2007 the Taliban only held a small pocket of territory in Swat. Now, he says, they run Islamic courts, they decide who buys and sells properties, and they've hooked up with other militant networks in Pakistan's tribal belt.

Professor HUSSEIN: Actually, what is happening is that the militants' writ is established in the whole valley.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad.

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