Pakistan: Militants in Swat Valley create wave of displaced people
|Publisher||Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)|
|Publication Date||28 January 2009|
|Cite as||Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Pakistan: Militants in Swat Valley create wave of displaced people, 28 January 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4981788f1e.html [accessed 27 March 2015]|
LAHORE, 28 January 2009 (IRIN) - Islamist militants in Swat Valley, North West Frontier Province (NWFP), appear to be strengthening their hold over most of the valley, and media reports suggest up to 200,000 of Swat's 1.8 million inhabitants have fled the area.
"We see terrible events here every day. The central square in Mingora [the largest city in Swat] is now known as 'khooni chowk' [the bloody square] because someone is beheaded or executed in some other manner here virtually every day," Shahzad, a resident of Mingora, told IRIN on the phone.
He preferred anonymity, fearing reprisals by the militants, who have ordered women not to leave their homes and men to grow beards and wear prayer caps. A few days ago a man was reportedly killed for failing to raise his 'shalwar' (baggy trousers) above the ankle - a requirement that militants deem necessary at prayer time.
The local daily Dawn reported that the government's writ in Swat now extends only to some 36sqkm - covering parts of Mingora and Saidu Sharif, the administrative capital. The other 5,337sqkm are in militant hands.
"I would estimate that about 60 percent of the population of Swat has been displaced. Certainly all my relatives have left," Mussarat Hilali, the vice-chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in NWFP, told IRIN. The HRCP's deputy chairman, Iqbal Haider, has sought "immediate steps to alleviate the humanitarian situation in Swat".
Families forced to move often face hardship.
Manzar Ahmed, now in Lahore, decided to move his family from Swat after the government school his two daughters attended was threatened: "I have a cousin here. We are living with him, but this means eight people in a single room. He is poor and cannot support us, so my sons are now working as I cannot find a job."
His two daughters had hardly been to school in six months. At least 170 schools have been attacked or blown up in Swat since 2007, according to local media reports.
Manzar's sons, Faraan and Shakir, have jobs in a car workshop in Lahore. "Life has changed for us. I do not like working at the workshop because the hours are long and we often get scolded. But I know we have no choice till things return to normal at home," said Faraan.
Swat Valley, a former idyllic tourist resort area some 160km from Islamabad, but not bordering on Afghanistan, has been in the grip of a militant Islamist insurgency since 2007 led by Maulana Fazlullah. The Pakistan military has been unable to crush the rebels and is more or less confined to camps.