Militancy Spills Over Into Pakistan's Swat Valley Not long ago, visitors from far and wide flocked to the sumptuous Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan. But these days, Swat — once seen as the 'Switzerland of Asia' — stands on the front line of a conflict between the Taliban and the Pakistani government's security forces.

Militancy Spills Over Into Pakistan's Swat Valley

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel. In the northwest frontier province of Pakistan lies the Swat Valley. It's a lush region known for its green meadows and sweeping mountain vistas. But it's also been the scene of daily conflict between Islamist militants and the Pakistani army.

NPR's Philip Reeves went to the Swat Valley and filed this report.

PHILIP REEVES: Dr. Zahid Hussein(ph) cannot sleep. He cannot work. He cannot concentrate. He gestures at the aging stethoscope on the desk of his cramped ramshackle surgery. That's no use anymore, he says. He can't hear properly as he has a perforated eardrum.

A few months back, the doctor was caught up in a suicide bombing; 50 people died in that attack.

Dr. ZAHID HUSSEIN: Mentally, I am depressed due to these things and these incidents and this trouble. I am in grief, I am in strong grief.

REEVES: The attack happened at the funeral of the doctor's son-in-law, a policeman blown up by the Taliban earlier that day. Among the dead was the doctor's 20-year-old grandson. Hussein, a worn-looking man in his mid-60s, is confused. He can't figure out why people are doing this to his community.

Dr. HUSSEIN: I don't know what they want. Here, they are killing the people. I don't know, I don't understand their aim.

REEVES: That community is a city called Mingora in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Before the trouble started, the valley attracted tourists from far and wide. The local people call it the Switzerland of Asia. You can fish for trout surrounded by peach orchards and poplar trees. You can even ski.

But war has crept down from the nearby mountains, the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and into the valley. The Taliban is here, and so is the Pakistan army. They are both causing havoc.

Zahid Khan(ph) is sitting in the courtyard of his fancy hotel. Tea is served by the one waiter still on his books. Khan says all the others have been sent home.

How many guests do you have now in this hotel?

Mr. ZAHID KHAN (Hotel Owner, Swat Valley, Pakistan): There are no guests this year.

REEVES: Khan heads the Swat Hotel Association. He says 75 percent of Swat Valley's nearly 900 hotels and restaurants are now closed. Tens of thousands of people are out of work. Many have left. Yet, says Khan's business partner, Mohammed Ibrahim(ph), when you start talking about whose fault this is, people are frightened.

Mr. MOHAMMED IBRAHIM: Because if any person says something, there is no (unintelligible) protection for him.

REEVES: People are afraid?

Mr. IBRAHIM: People are afraid, definitely.

REEVES: Are you afraid?

Mr. IBRAHIM: Yes, me too.

REEVES: Last year, Pakistan's government sent the army into Swat to clear out the Taliban. After months of fighting, a peace agreement was struck in May, but it fell apart. So, the army's launched what it calls the second phase of its operation against the militants.

Mr. MULLAH FAZLULLAH (Taliban Commander): (Speaking foreign language)

REEVES: This is their opponent. His name Mullah Fazlullah, and he's the leader of the Taliban in Swat Valley. Many just call him the FM Mullah.

Mr. ZIHADIN YUSUBSAI(ph) (Resident, Swat Valley): He was - assigned this task to make trouble in this area.

REEVES: Zihadin Yusubsai(ph) is a Swat resident and a leading peace activist.

Mr. YUSUBSAI: He (unintelligible) the opportunity of running an FM channel. We are his (unintelligible).And on other channels in this area, they are (unintelligible) in English. So especially the women folk, they were his listeners.

REEVES: The FM Mullah's men have attacked music and barber shops and torched nearly 100 girls' schools. They regularly assassinate government and security officials.

Sajad Khan, the local police chief, acknowledges he's a likely target himself.

Mr. SAJAD KHAN (Police Superintendent, Mingora, Pakistan): Police has been the main target of the militants since we are the - a symbol of the (unintelligible).

REEVES: The army imposes a curfew every night and at times in the day, further damaging the economy. It's been bombarding militant positions in villages, sometimes killing civilians with stray shells.

The people of Swat are religiously conservative and, like the Taliban, Pashtuns. Those brave enough to talk will tell you they despise both sides in this conflict - especially the army.

Estimates vary over how much of Swat Valley is in Taliban hands. The police say it's roughly 15 percent; others say it's more. There's something else the people of Swat will tell you. Conspiracy theories abound in this part of the world, and here many are convinced that Pakistan's security agencies are covertly encouraging war and working with the Taliban.

Peace campaigner Zihadin Yusubsai says both sides are playing a game in which they contrive to keep fighting to ensure the U.S. keeps paying Pakistan hundreds of millions of dollars every month. He says American financial support is not the solution.

Mr. YUSUBSAI: It's the most corrupting force. It is the most corrupt because then the target of the army is not peace, it's not the elimination of tourism; their target is to show to Americans that we are using our gun ships, we are firing mortars, and that your money is being used.

REEVES: Yusubsai says the effect of this game on the community is devastating.

Mr. YUSUBSAI: There is only one business, and that is war business. All other businesses are gone.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News.

SIEGEL: Philip Reeves will have another report from the Swat Valley of Pakistan on tomorrow's program.

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