The Utror river in Kalam Bazaar in happier days
Fighting in the Swat Valley in north-western Pakistan between the Army and Tehreek-e-Taliban militants is still fierce, even though people are beginning to return to their houses in the southern parts of the region. Yesterday the Pakistan Army said 16 militants were killed in the Maidan area of Lower Dir, while another five were killed in different parts of the Valley.
One incident in particular, in the beautiful Kalam Valley, indicates just how fierce the fighting has become. When a group of Taliban fighters set up a checkpoint close to the the village of Urtror, the villagers called the security forces who arrived and shot dead one of the militants. Another jumped into the river Swat and was reported drowned, while six others escaped.
However, that was not the end of the affair. According to The News International, "the security forces reportedly hanged the body of the slain militant from a pole on Gammon bridge near Kalam town. This practice is apparently being followed to warn the militants of a similar fate."
This report accords with others I have seen that suggest the bodies of militants have been put on public display or left in public places by the Army as a warning to others.
The viciousness of the TTP fighters who have arrived in the area is not in doubt either. Ghazala Khan, writing for the blog All things Pakistan recounts a horrific story from a young woman called Palwasha from the Charbagh area of the Swat Valley. TTP militants tried to force her father to marry off Palwasha and her three sisters on the spot to four men they brought to the family house. Read her blog to find out what happened.
The situation in Swat - not to mention other parts of the North West Frontier Province and FATA - is nothing if not complex. It has always been my belief that a good knowledge of the tribal structure and history in this part of the world is essential. Without it, most military action can only exacerbate problems.
After years in which the US Army in particular has failed to distinguish between the different Taliban factions - or even between those that operate in both Pakistan and Afghanistan and those that confine themselves to the tribal territories - things now seem to be changing. In this context a new report by the Nine Eleven/Finding Answers (NEFA) Foundation is to be welcomed.
Written by NEFA Foundation Senior Investigator Claudio Franco, The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan: The Bajaur Case is to be welcomed. It is the first of three reports that aim to explain the background to the various Taliban factions in Pakistan. This first report looks into the Pakistan Army's offensive in Bajaur, which started a year ago and which was the first indication that there had been some kind of change of policy by the army in its attitude towards the militants who had effectively declared independence from Islamabad. It concentrates on the history and background of Faqir Mohammed.
Franco makes the point that up until 2007 Bajaur mainly functioned as a logistical base for the more active TTP campaigns further south in Waziristan. However, he says, "Terrorist plots targeting both London and Barcelona, respectively, in 2005 and 2007, were linked to al-Qaida operatives based in the Bajaur area. Moreover, the Agency border passes, in particular the Nawa Pass, have functioned for years as a revolving door to and from neighboring Kunar Province in Afghanistan."
The report is invaluable and personally I can't wait to see the next two.