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Pakistan: Situation in the Swat valley; whether the government has control and displaced civilians have returned; status of Taliban insurgents in the Swat valley

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa
Publication Date 2 November 2009
Citation / Document Symbol PAK103309.E
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Pakistan: Situation in the Swat valley; whether the government has control and displaced civilians have returned; status of Taliban insurgents in the Swat valley, 2 November 2009, PAK103309.E, available at: [accessed 24 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

In February 2009, the Pakistani army signed an agreement concerning the Swat valley, an area in north-western Pakistan located 160 kilometres from the Pakistani capital Islamabad (The New York Times 14 Sept. 2009). According to The New York Times, about 4,000 Taliban militants took advantage of the agreement to seize control over much of the Swat valley (ibid.). On 13 April 2009, Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari reportedly agreed to de-facto Taliban control over the Swat Valley when he signed an ordinance establishing Sharia law over the area (HRW 15 Apr. 2009). According to Human Rights Watch (HRW),

[t]he Taliban have imposed their authority in Swat and adjoining areas through summary executions – including beheadings – of state officials and political opponents, public whippings, and large-scale intimidation of the population. Girls' schools have been shut down, women are not allowed to leave their homes unless escorted by male family members, polio immunization programs have been halted, and nongovernmental organizations have been expelled. Music and film have been banned and stores trading in them have been destroyed. All men have been required to grow beards. (ibid.)

In April (BBC 13 July 2009; AP 30 Sept. 2009) or May 2009 (The New York Times 14 Sept. 2009), the Pakistani army began an offensive against Taliban insurgents in Swat to regain control of the area. Roughly 30,000 Pakistani troops aided by the Pakistani Air Force participated in the fighting (ibid.). Between 1,700 (BBC 13 July 2009) and 2,000 insurgents (Press TV 8 Oct. 2009) and 300 army soldiers were killed (ibid.). The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reports that none of the Taliban leadership was killed in the offensive (BBC 13 July 2009). During the offensive, the Pakistani authorities imposed a curfew reportedly "creating a major humanitarian crisis for the hundreds of thousands of civilians still trapped in the region" (HRW 26 May 2009). Many Swat residents were left without access to power and water (BBC 13 July 2009; AI 18 Sept. 2009). About two million people fled the Swat valley during the fighting (ibid.; The New York Times 14 Sept. 2009), temporarily settling in districts such as Mardan and Swabi (HRW 26 May 2009).

By July 2009, media sources reported that Pakistani authorities were beginning to return the displaced people to their homes in the Swat valley after they had regained control over the region (Christian Science Monitor 13 July 2009; BBC 13 July 2009). For instance, 200 families living in camps in the district of Nowshera were promised approximately 300 US dollars by the Pakistani authorities to voluntarily return to their homes in Swat (ibid.). Once people living in camps are resettled, the army planned to return those living in schools and other locations (ibid.). According to The Economist, the two million people displaced in May had returned home by August (1 Oct. 2009).

Signs of the Taliban's departure from the Swat valley include the resumption of the local court system (AP 30 Sept. 2009) and the re-opening of a few schools for girls (BBC 15 Oct. 2009). Also, movies, banned under the Taliban, have begun playing again at local cinemas (The New York Times 29 Sept. 2009; BBC 24 Oct. 2009). In addition, the government has plans to reopen the valley to tourists (Press TV 8 Oct. 2009).

However, the BBC indicates that "more than 300 schools in Swat were damaged" when the Taliban took control of Swat and that "[m]any of the destroyed schools in Swat remain closed" (15 Oct. 2009). The Associated Press (AP) further states that "plenty of obstacles remain to achieving a viable, just legal system in Swat – not least that police are still rebuilding, the government has yet to fully establish its authority and military operations continue" (30 Sept. 2009).

Despite the large Pakistani military presence in Swat, some returnees are reportedly unsure about the region's security situation (BBC 13 July 2009; The New York Times 14 Sept. 2009). In September 2009, citing some of those who had fled, The New York Times wrote that

[s]igns abound that the military's effort has been less than decisive. Even in the areas where progress has been made, the military controls little more than urban centers and roads. (ibid.)

Amnesty International (AI) reports that, "insurgents remain very active in more remote areas" of Swat (18 Sept. 2009). A correspondent for Dawn, an English language Pakistan newspaper, told the Christian Science Monitor that the Taliban had found safe havens in the region's mountains (12 Oct. 2009). In addition, AI states that "[i]n some cases displaced people are being forced to return to areas that are not secure and that lack electricity, water and transportation infrastructure necessary for basic living and trade" (18 Sept. 2009).

Radio France internationale (RFI) indicates, however, that in September 2009 the Pakistani army arrested five Taliban leaders in the Swat valley, including Muslim Khan, the Taliban spokesperson in Swat, and Mahmood Khan, senior Taliban commander (RFI 11 Sept. 2009).

There are media reports of extrajudicial killings of suspected Taliban insurgents (The Economist 1 Oct. 2009; The New York Times 14 Sept. 2009; AI 18 Sept. 2009). The sources consulted are unclear whether these executions have been perpetrated by the Pakistani army, local civilians or other Taliban insurgents (ibid.; The Economist 1 Oct. 2009; The New York Times 14 Sept. 2009). There are also allegations that some of these killings have been perpetrated by lashkars, otherwise known as "village-defence committees" that have been "set up across Swat as unpaid private armies to guard individual districts," reportedly with government support (The Economist 1 Oct. 2009; see also Christian Science Monitor 12 Oct. 2009). The Economist also indicates that "some innocents have perished horribly" since the offensive ended, citing the example of an electrical repair store owner killed in September 2009 (1 Oct. 2009).

On 12 October 2009, the Taliban were reportedly responsible for a suicide bombing that killed more than 40 people in Shangla district within the Swat valley – an area deemed secured by the Pakistani army (Christian Science Monitor 12 Oct. 2009; The New York Times 13 Oct. 2009; Reuters 12 Oct. 2009).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Amnesty International (AI). 18 September 2009. "Extrajudicial Executions Highlight Insecurity in Pakistan's Swat Valley." [Accessed 29 Oct. 2009]

Associated Press (AP). 30 September 2009. Nahal Toosi and Zarar Khan. "A New Kind of Justice in Pakistan's Swat Valley." (Google news) [Accessed 26 Oct. 2009]

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). 24 October 2009. Shaheen Buneri. "Culture Makes a Comeback in Swat." [Accessed 27 Oct. 2009]
_____. 15 October 2009. Aleem Maqbool. "Defying the Taliban to Get an Education." [Accessed 27 Oct. 2009]
_____. 13 July 2009. "Pakistan's Displaced Begin Return." [Accessed 26 Oct. 2009]

The Christian Science Monitor [Boston]. 12 October 2009. Issam Ahmed. "Latest Militant Attack Rocks Pakistan's Swat Valley." [Accessed 26 Oct. 2009]
_____. 13 July 2009. Howard LaFranchi. "Pakistan Begins Returning Swat Valley Refugees Home." [Accessed 26 Oct. 2009]

The Economist [London]. 1 October 2009. "Pakistan's Swat Valley: The Law in Whose Hands?" [Accessed 26 Oct. 2009]

Human Rights Watch (HRW). 26 May 2009. "Pakistan: Lift Swat Curfew for Trapped Civilians." [Accessed 27 Oct. 2009]
_____. 15 April 2009. "Pakistan: Swat Deal Grave Threat to Rights." [Accessed 27 Oct. 2009]

The New York Times. 13 October 2009. Pir Zubair Shah and Jane Perlez. "Car Bomb Kills at Least 41 in Restive Region of Pakistan." [Accessed 27 Oct. 2009]
_____. 29 September 2009. Jason Tanner. "Now Playing in Swat." [Accessed 27 Oct. 2009]
_____. 14 September 2009. "Swat Valley." [Accessed 27 Oct. 2009]

Press TV. 8 October 2009. "Pakistan Army to Reopen Swat Valley." [Accessed 26 Oct. 2009]

Radio France internationale (RFI). 11 September 2009. "Five Taliban Leaders Arrested in Swat Valley." [Accessed 26 Oct. 2009]

Reuters. 12 October 2009. Robert Birsel. "Suicide Bomber Kills 41 Near Pakistan's Swat." [Accessed 26 Oct. 2009]

Additional Sources Consulted

Internet sites, including: International Crisis Group, United States (US) Department of State.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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