Pakistan-Taliban Swat battle rages

PM vows to restore peace as Al Jazeera finds Taliban in control of violence-racked valley.

    Nearly 200 schools have been destroyed in the region since 2007 [EPA]

    Residents were living in fear and government forces and other state employees were bearing the brunt of many attacks, some even being beheaded, as fighters loyal to Maulana Fazlullah, a local leader, waged an armed campaign against the government, our correspondent said.

    Escalating violence

    In depth

     Swat: Pakistan's lost paradise
     Video: Taliban sway over Swat

    The Pakistan military launched an operation against the groups operating in Swat in 2007, but Fazlullah's supporters have blown up 173 schools - 105 of them for girls - since 2007, Sher Afzal, a Pakistani education ministry official, said last month.

    The violence was getting out of control, with decapitated bodies of policemen left with notes warning the authorities, a common sight on streets in the area, our correspondent said.

    Elected representatives who had promised to bring peace left the area after the escalation of violence, leaving the people in the lurch, he added.

    Have you witnessed the violence in Pakistan's Swat valley?  

    Send your video, pictures or tell us of your experiences here

    Hundreds of people have reportedly fled the area in recent days, heading for two relief camps opened at schools in and near the region's main city of Mingora.

    Wajid Ali Khan, a provincial minister, said "the fighting in the valley has made it almost impossible for civilians to stay there".

    Up to a third of the 1.5 million population are estimated to have left Swat, which until recently was a prime tourist destination because of its natural beauty and ski resorts.

    'Complex situation'

    Imtiaz Gul, a Pakistani security analyst, told Al Jazeera that what prevails in Swat "is a very difficult and complex situation" that will need both a military and political approach to resolve.

    "It has to be a combination of blitzkrieg, surgical strikes and operations in the Swat valley, backed up by the civilian administration as well as the political leadership," he said.

    "Most of the representatives have simply abandoned the area for fear of their lives ... more than 70 per cent of policemen have either left their jobs, are sitting at home, or have been eliminated or executed."

    Prime Minister Gilani suggested that negotiations could end the violence.

    "We are looking at various options. We have both the capacity and the will, but we want a strategy in which there is no collateral damage," he said.

    But some security officials have criticised a previous peace deal with pro-Taliban fighters for allowing them to regroup and strengthen.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


    Survivor stories from Super Typhoon Haiyan

    Survivor stories from Super Typhoon Haiyan

    The Philippines’ Typhoon Haiyan was the strongest storm ever to make landfall. Five years on, we revisit this story.

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    Russian-Saudi relations could be very different today, if Stalin hadn't killed the Soviet ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

    Thou Shalt Not Kill: Israel's Hilltop Youth

    Thou Shalt Not Kill: Israel's Hilltop Youth

    Meet the hardline group willing to do anything, including going against their government, to claim land for Israel.