Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Thousands flee Pakistan assault on Taliban in Swat Valley

Residents prepare to flee Tuesday from Mingora, the main town of Pakistan’s Swat Valley, which was seized by the Taliban on Sunday as a peace deal in the region crumbles.

Associated Press

Residents prepare to flee Tuesday from Mingora, the main town of Pakistan’s Swat Valley, which was seized by the Taliban on Sunday as a peace deal in the region crumbles.

PESHAWAR, Pakistan —Residents flooded out of the Swat Valley by the thousands Tuesday as the government prepared to mount a new military campaign against Taliban militants and a much-criticized peace accord with the insurgents unraveled.

People crammed into cars and buses and headed south after the local government told them to leave Swat ahead of a government military offensive. On Sunday, heavily armed, black-turbaned Taliban fighters seized control of the Swat district capital, Mingora.

Since then, Taliban and government forces have accused each other of killing the peace accord, and traded gunfire and shells. The Taliban dug in and mined the streets, girding for battle, residents said.

The military push toward Swat comes as President Asif Ali Zardari is scheduled to meet today with President Barack Obama in Washington, where American officials have sharply criticized the peace accord and urged the government to fight the Taliban. Two weeks ago the Taliban used the territory that was all but ceded to it under the accord to push into another district, Buner, just 60 miles from the capital, prompting American calls for tougher action.

A new operation in Swat may signal the harder stance American officials have been looking for. But the question remains whether the Pakistani military has the will and capability to sustain its operations against the insurgents, the vast majority of whom are Pakistani.

The American special envoy for the region, Richard Holbrooke, said Tuesday that the Obama administration "unambiguously" supports Ali Zardari, even as it puts "the most heavy possible pressure" on his government to fight the extremists.

"Until yesterday, the momentum did not appear to be in the right hands," he told Congress. "It's a state under extreme test from the enemies who are also our enemies."

The Pakistani military has battled the militants reluctantly in the past but is now engaged in heavy fighting with the Taliban in Buner and Dir, districts that border Swat in the North West Frontier province.

Those campaigns are daunting enough. But the task in Swat remains hugely difficult. The military had already failed to drive out the Taliban in two years of fighting before it finally conceded to the truce in February and agreed to allow Islamic law.

But public opinion in Pakistan has undergone an important shift against the Taliban since the deal and has now apparently given the military more confidence to move with full force.

A recent video showing the Taliban in Swat flogging a woman as the militants enforced their version of Islamic law shocked the nation. The government has taken pains to show its efforts to make the Swat peace deal work, going as far as to agree to appoint judges trained in Islamic law.

The Taliban incursion into Buner two weeks ago solidified a growing consensus that the Taliban had gone too far and that the military needed to stop them.

The media, politicians and even religious leaders are now speaking out against Maulana Sufi Muhammad, the main negotiator of the Swat deal, and Mullah Fazlullah, his son-in-law, who has links to the al-Qaida-backed Taliban movement based in Pakistan's tribal areas.

Leaders of the Awami National Party, which governs the North West Frontier province, continue to stand by the deal, which they say was critical in winning people away from the militants.

The deal was popular among the people of Swat, who were desperate for peace. An estimated half-million people have been displaced by the fighting in the tribal areas and the North West Frontier province over the last two years.

But Taliban leaders have shown in the past three months that they have no intention of ending their insurgency inside Pakistan proper.

Thousands flee Pakistan assault on Taliban in Swat Valley 05/05/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 5, 2009 10:43pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Protectors of Confederate statue readied for a battle that never materialized

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Big Dixie flags were waving. County employees had erected a barrier around the Confederate soldier statue at Main and Broad streets. Roads and parking areas were blocked off. Uniformed local officers and federal law enforcement patrolled.

    Police tape and barricades surround the Confederate statue in Brooksville.
  2. Manhattan Casino choice causes political headache for Kriseman


    ST. PETERSBURG — Days before the mayoral primary, Mayor Rick Kriseman's decision to let a Floribbean restaurant open in Midtown's historic Manhattan Casino has caused political angst within the voting bloc he can least afford to lose: the black community.

    Last week Mayor Rick Kriseman chose a Floribbean restaurant concept to fill Midtown's historic Manhattan Casino. But that decision, made days before next week's mayoral primary, has turned into a political headache for the mayor. Many residents want to see the building's next tenant better reflect its cultural significance in the black community. [JAMES BORCHUCK   |   Times]
  3. FSU-Bama 'almost feels like a national championship game Week 1'


    The buzz is continuing to build for next Saturday's blockbuster showdown between No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Florida State.

  4. Plan a fall vacation at Disney, Universal, Busch Gardens when crowds are light


    Now that the busy summer vacation season is ending, Floridians can come out to play.

    Maria Reyna, 8, of Corpus Cristi, TX. eats chicken at the Lotus Blossom Cafe at the Chinese pavilion at Epcot in Orlando, Fla. on Thursday, August 17, 2017.  Epcot is celebrating it's 35th year as the upcoming Food and Wine Festival kicks off once again.
  5. USF spends $1.5 million to address growing demand for student counseling


    TAMPA — As Florida's universities stare down a mental health epidemic, the University of South Florida has crafted a plan it hopes will reach all students, from the one in crisis to the one who doesn't know he could use some help.

    A student crosses the University of South Florida campus in Tampa, where visits to the school's crisis center more than doubled last year, part of a spike in demand that has affected colleges across the country. The university is addressing the issue this year with $1.5 million for more "wellness coaches," counselors, online programs and staff training. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]