Peace in the Swat Valley

Villagers reclaim their shattered homes and lives from Taliban in northern Pakistan.


    The three battered white pillars clumped together are all the evidence that remains of the Pakistani Taliban's time here.
    High up in the mountains, I stand in a tiny village called Shakardara, which has changed radically since the Taliban was defeated here.

    Instead of the sight of crumbling bullet-hole ridden walls, the smell of fresh paint and cement fill the air. And that smell, obnoxious to most, is the smell of freedom, of victory.

    For the residents of the Swat Valley the past three years have been about rebuilding, about reconstruction.

    In 2009 the Pakistani Taliban ruled with a brutal hand. What began as a loosely organised movement in 2005 gelled in 2007 under the watchful and ruthless eye of Mullah Fazlullah. By then he had managed a campaign that saw local security forces attacked and sometimes beheaded.

    Fazlullah mixed brutality and a hardline Islam unrecognisable to most Pakistanis and ruled with an iron hand. The valley was wrecked. Whole villages lay in ruin as the Pakistani taliban sought to remodel the area in their own way. Girls' schools were bombed and for a while it felt like no one could touch Fazlullah and his band of heavily armed men.

    Taliban 'razed my house'

    Mohammed Fahim Khan remembers their rule.

    "For a while the Pakistani Taliban were decent enough to us," he recalls.

    "I had heard the stories, but they ruled now and I was in no state to fight them.

    "They had taken over my brother's house next door and we had no choice but to let them stay. But then in 2009 Pakistan's army came and the Taliban destroyed my house, they razed it to the ground, stole money from me and chased us away."

    Standing in the lush garden with its neat rows of vegetables edging their way up through the soil, it's hard to believe that this house was a bombed-out wreck.

    In late 2009, Pakistan's army finally got to this remote village.

    They fought pitched battles, street to street with the Pakistani Taliban and eventually got the upper hand.

    In 2010 only remnants of the Pakistani Taliban remained. Mohammed Fahim Khan's brother, Iqbal Khan, allowed Pakistan's army to take over the house that was once a base camp for the Taliban.

    Died instantly

    Then one Friday in August of that year, the armed group got its revenge. While Iqbal Khan was kneeling in prayer, a sign of his submission to God a bullet entered his body. He died instantly.

    A silence falls after his brother finishes the tale. To add dramatic effect, a summer thunderstorm gathers overhead and lightning fills the air.

    But Mohammed Fahim Khan is not a sad man. He, like much of his village, has rebuilt. The house is not as grand as it once was, but it's home.

    "I tried to settle in Islamabad, my sons were there, but I don't like it. I prefer it here, with the mountains. I was born here, my people are here, this is my home," he said.

    For many like Mohammed Fahim Khan, the past three years have been hard, but with each brick replaced, each tree replanted, hope has returned. Peace has come to the Swat Valley.



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