LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
Some militants still doubt all these reports and claim Mehsud is alive. He is or was a leader of Taliban forces who battled Pakistan's military for the Swat Valley, which was once a premier tourist destination. Combat changed that. But now, residents who fled in the spring are gradually returning to their homes, uncertain of what they'll find.
NPR's Philip Reeves reports.
(Soundbite of moving vehicles)
PHILIP REEVES: They're coming through the mountains. Trucks, cars, buses trembling up the road to Swat, carrying men, women and children eager to return to their beautiful valley, yet worried, too, about what they'll find there.
(Soundbite of vehicle engine)
REEVES: These days, Mingora - Swat's main city - is snarled with traffic. Most of the buildings are intact, but you see the marks of war everywhere. Rubble from bombed buildings spills onto the roads. Police and soldiers use wrecked cars as makeshift checkpoints. You can sense the war, too, in the tense, anxious eyes of those who live here.
(Soundbite of crowd chatter)
REEVES: Traders in this narrow alley have returned to find all their shops wrecked. There was a great deal of looting during the conflict. A knot of workmen lugs in boxes of new goods, gingerly picking a path across the debris. Morad Khan(ph), a painter, isn't sure if he'll be able to reopen his ruined shop.
Mr. MORAD KHAN (Painter, Shop Owner): (Through translator) I don't know whether I will be able to start my business here, whether the work will be revived, because there is so much uncertainty and every man is gripped by fear.
REEVES: In May, the Pakistani army launched an offensive to drive out the Taliban. The militants had taken over Mingora. The authorities had struck a peace deal with them, but it didn't last long. As war took hold, more than one million people left the valley, including Aimal Hayat Khan and his family. Aimal's 18. It takes him a while to find the word that sums up the last few months.
Mr. AIMAL HAYAT KHAN: Traumatic.
REEVES: Aimal was born in England and spent most of his childhood in the city of Manchester. Today, in his family home, Aimal's clearing up a room hit by a shell. He's covered in dust.
Mr. KHAN: I'm not used to this. I like England more.
REEVES: Do you sometimes think that you kind of - like you're in a dream?
Mr. KHAN: Oh, yeah. That's what I do think. It's like, I want to go back to Manchester. It's more safe.
REEVES: Aimal and his younger brother and sisters took refuge from the war in the city of Peshawar, a couple of hours drive away. There was fighting near their home before they left.
Mr. KHAN: We had to hide in that room over there - all of us, my uncle and my sisters.
REEVES: You've got a special security room there that you…
Mr. KHAN: Not secure, but it's better than all of the other rooms in the house.
REEVES: Aimal recently returned to life in Mingora to a life curfews, power cuts and shortages - a life that bares no resemblance to that of his friends in Manchester. He and his siblings now live with their mother and uncles. Aimal says the family's short of money, so his father, an engineer, has gone back to England to work. Aimal's worried about what might happen next. He is also just bored.
(Soundbite of paper rustling)
Mr. KHAN: And there's nothing to do, so I just collect shrapnels of the mortar bombs, and I've got big load of them, a kind of souvenir.
Mr. QAZI HIDAYATULLAH (Attorney): My name is Qazi Hidayatullah.
REEVES: Qazi Hidayatullah is a middle-aged lawyer. He practices in the high court in Peshawar. He's used to working in English. That's a little tricky right now, as he seems to have forgotten most of it.
Mr. HIDAYATULLAH: (Through translator) I can speak fluent English. But now, I'm experiencing this memory loss. I have lost words, I cannot speak. So this is the impact of the trauma that I have been through.
REEVES: Hidayatullah stayed in Mingora throughout the conflict. He says the Pakistani military indicated his home was not in the area that was going to be affected by its military offensive. Hidayatullah thought he'd be okay. Later as the bullets started smacking into his walls, he and his family found themselves trapped. Part of the trauma he's now suffering can be blamed on the Taliban. All those stories we heard about Taliban atrocities are true, he says.
Mr. HIDAYATULLAH: Yes, really, it happened. (Through translator) The Taliban would carry out beheadings and they would slaughter people and they would hang the dead bodies from the trees and lamp posts, and they would also leave a note asking the local people not to take this body till certain time.
REEVES: The Pakistani army says it killed many hundreds of Taliban fighters during the operation to win back Mingora. But the Taliban's leaders escaped. They're now hold up in the nearby mountains. That's something Hidayatullah says he just doesn't understand.
Mr. HIDAYATULLAH: Why don't they do? And so why don't they kill the person -the leaders of Taliban?
REEVES: There's one leader in particular, Mullah Fazlullah, AKA the FM Mullah, because of his rebel arousing radio broadcasts. Many in Mingora believe while Fazlullah's alive, there's a chance the Taliban will one day return. Major Nasir Khan, a spokesman for the Pakistani military, says the army very nearly captured him.
Major NASIR KHAN (Spokesman, Pakistani Military): We came very close to apprehending him, but he escaped. He abandoned his two Land Cruisers and he escaped, taking advantage of the darkness. The problem is that the terrain is very tough and basically, there, the guerilla fighters, they always operate in small bands of two, four, six and eight persons.
REEVES: The Taliban and their sympathizers are still being killed in Mingora. Dozens of their corpses have been dumped on the streets over the last month. Residents suspect they're assassinated by the security forces. Major Kahn denies it.
The Pakistani army's keen to show the international community it's making headway against the Taliban.
Maj. KAHN: (Foreign language spoken)
REEVES: Kahn introduces journalists to some boys who he claims escaped from Taliban camps. He says they and several hundred other boys were being trained, some as informers, some even as suicide bombers. Kahn believes the army's success in Mingora shows the Taliban's incapable of taking control on any city in Pakistan. Yet he also says it won't be easy to rid Pakistan of Islamist militancy.
Maj. KAHN: This would be a long, drawn warfare, and we are prepared to offer all sort of sacrifices to contain and eliminate them.
REEVES: Kahn's words aren't much consolation to Aimal, the 18-year-old from England. Aimal knows the Taliban leaders are still somewhere out there, up in the hills.
Mr. KHAN: We are not happy. We're scared, you know. What if something happens? So that's why, like, I'm not happy. I want to go back to England.
REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad.
INSKEEP: Across the border in Afghanistan, an American commander is deciding if he needs more troops. General Stanley McChrystal is reviewing his strategy, and President Obama's national security advisor says he will not rule out anything, including the possibly of even more U.S. troops to follow those arriving now.
WERTHEIMER: Right now, U.S. forces are helping with security for this month's presidential election. Taliban forces are attempting to prevent people from voting. Many polling places will be closed for lack of security, and in at least one Afghan town, notes are being dropped off warning people that if they vote, they will be killed.
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