The Taliban’s paradise is taking shape in the Swat valley and beyond: Among other things, polio has resurfaced, and the girls’ schools have to close in less than three weeks. They must be so proud of their “progress.”
“Scenic Pakistani valley falls to Taliban militants,” by Nahal Toosi for the Associated Press, December 29 (thanks to all who sent this in):
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Taliban militants are beheading and burning their way through Pakistan’s picturesque Swat Valley, and residents say the insurgents now control most of the mountainous region far from the lawless tribal areas where jihadists thrive.
The deteriorating situation in the former tourist haven comes despite an army offensive that began in 2007 and an attempted peace deal. It is especially worrisome to Pakistani officials because the valley lies outside the areas where al-Qaida and Taliban militants have traditionally operated and where the military is staging a separate offensive.
“You can’t imagine how bad it is,” said Muzaffar ul-Mulk, a federal lawmaker whose home in Swat was attacked by bomb-toting assailants in mid-December, weeks after he left. “It’s worse day by day.”
The Taliban activity in northwest Pakistan also comes as the country shifts forces east to the Indian border because of tensions over last month’s terrorist attacks in Mumbai, potentially giving insurgents more space to maneuver along the Afghan frontier.
Militants began preying on Swat’s lush mountain ranges about two years ago, and it is now too dangerous for foreign and Pakistani journalists to visit. Interviews with residents, lawmakers and officials who have fled the region paint a dire picture.
A suicide blast killed 40 people Sunday at a polling station in Buner, an area bordering Swat that had been relatively peaceful. The attack underscored fears that even so-called “settled” regions presumptively under government control are increasingly unsafe.
The 3,500-square-mile Swat Valley lies less than 100 miles from the capital, Islamabad.
A senior government official said he feared there could be a spillover effect if the government lost control of Swat and allowed the insurgency to infect other areas. Like nearly everyone interviewed, the official requested anonymity for fear of reprisal by militants. […]
Swat’s militants are led by Maulana Fazlullah, a cleric who rose to prominence through radio broadcasts demanding the imposition of a harsh brand of Islamic law. His appeal tapped into widespread frustration with the area’s inefficient judicial system. […]
In some places, just a handful of insurgents can control a village. They rule by fear: beheading government sympathizers, blowing up bridges and demanding women wear all-encompassing burqas. […]
A lawmaker and the senior Swat government official said business and landowners had been told to give two-thirds of their income to the militants. Some local media reported last week that the militants have pronounced effective in mid-January.
Several people interviewed said the regional government made a mistake in May when it struck a peace deal with the militants. The agreement fell apart within two months but let the insurgents regroup….