The AfPak Reader

September 17, 2009

Mainlining Bill Roggio – Summer 2009 – Week 12 – Volume 7

Filed under: Enemy Profiles,Summer 2009 — huntingnasrallah @ 2:33 am

Mainlining Bill Roggio – Summer 2009 – Week 12 – Volume 7

http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2009/09/pakistan_arrests_top.php

Pakistan arrests top Swat Taliban spokesman, a military commander, and shura members
By Bill Roggio
September 11, 2009 7:22 AM

Pakistani security forces detained three of the top Swat Taliban leaders on the government’s most-wanted wanted list, along with two other members of the group’s shura, during peace negotiations in the northwestern district.

Haji Muslim Khan, Mahmood Khan, and Mufti Bashir Ahmad were among five Taliban leaders taken into custody in the district, which was previously under the control of the Taliban.

Haji Muslim Khan, Mahmood Khan, and Mufti Bashir Ahmad (who is also known as Fazal Ghafar) were detained along with Swat Taliban shura members Sartaj, and Abdul Rehman, the Associated Press of Pakistan reported. The men were captured with nearly $200,000 in cash.

The five men reportedly were apprehended days ago while conducting negotiations with the military, according to a report in The News. The military has previously denied conducting peace negotiations with the Taliban and said it would fight until the Taliban is defeated and driven from the Swat Valley.

Muslim Khan is a top spokesman for the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. He also serves as a senior military commander in the main town of Mingora. Muslim Khan has taken credit for numerous Taliban attacks, including suicide bombings, ambushes of military and police convoys, bombings of schools, and the flogging of a young women. He has vowed that the Taliban will attack the US and retake the Swat Valley this winter.
Last month, Muslim Khan was also temporarily appointed as the overall spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban when Faqir Mohammed briefly took control of the movement after the death of Baitullah Mehsud.

Mahmood Khan is another senior Taliban commander in the Swat district. Detained in the same raid along with Mahmood Khan and Muslim Khan were Ahmad, Sartaj, and Abdul Rehman, three clerics who sit on the Swat Taliban shura. Mahmood Khan, Ahmad, and Muslim Khan appeared on the list of the Pakistani government’s 21 wanted Taliban leaders in Swat. Muslim Khan had a 15 million rupee ($185,000) bounty out for information leading to his capture, while Mahmood Khan and Ahmad had 10 million rupee ($123,000) bounties on their heads.

The detention of Muslim Khan means the Pakistani military has detained or killed two of the top four most-wanted Taliban leaders in Swat. The other man, Shah Doran, was killed during a raid in June. Doran was Fazlullah’s deputy and was notorious for preaching radical, anti-government sermons on the Taliban’s radio programs. He also served as the senior military commander in Swat. Since the Pakistani government issued its list in June of this year, five of the top 21 wanted Swat Taliban leaders have been detained or killed.

Mullah Fazlullah, the overall commander of the Swat Taliban, and military commander Ibn Amin are still on the loose. Ibn Amin is the leader of the Tora Bora Brigade, one of the six known brigades in al Qaeda’s paramilitary Shadow Army. The Tora Bora Brigade has an estimated 1,500 fighters and participated in the invasion of neighboring Buner [see LWJ report, Terrorists rally in Swat, march through region].

The arrest of the two senior Taliban leaders comes as the military is claiming victory in Swat, while acknowledging that further clearing operations are required.

The military has claimed that more than 2,000 Taliban fighters have been killed and thousands more have been captured in Swat and the neighboring districts of Dir and Buner, while losing only some 330 Pakistani soldiers. US military and intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal that the estimates of the Taliban killed and captured are high, and that civilians are being lumped in with these numbers. The Swat Taliban has an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 fighters under arms.

The military has estimated it has cleared more than 90 percent of the Swat Valley, and has begun to establish tribal lashkars, or militias, to battle the Taliban.

There are an estimated 8,000 tribal fighters under arms, and that number is expected to double by the end of the year, Dawn reported. The lashkars have been clashing with the Taliban.

Previous attempts at establishing tribal lashkars in Swat and throughout the northwest have failed as the government failed to back the groups, and in many cases, the lashkars denied the backing of the government. In the past, the Taliban have capitalized on their military organization and firepower to destroy these lashkars piecemeal.
________________________________
Extended Notes (Roggio’s Links)
1) http://www.app.com.pk/en_/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=85814&Itemid=1

Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan, 4 others held: ISPR

PESHAWAR Sept 11 (APP): In a major break through, the security forces arrested the most wanted Taliban spokesman of Tahrik-e-Taliban Swat, Haji Muslim Khan along with his four accomplices.A spokesman of ISPR told APP that Muslim Khan and four other Taliban leaders have been arrested from Swat in a successful operation.

Muslim Khan along with Mahmud Khan carrying Rs.10million head money each have been arrested along with his close aides Fazal Ghafar, Sartaj and Abdul Rehman from Swat, said ISPR spokesman.

The arrest of most wanted Taliban Spokesman Muslim Khan has been described as a major breakthrough in war against terror.

Muslim Khan had accepted responsibility for majority of the terrorist act carried out in Swat by calling the local journalists on phone. According to a rough estimate, he had accepted claim for over 100 sabotage activities that included burning of schools and attacks on security forces and slaughtering of government officials mostly policemen. The security officials said more than 2,000 insurgents have been killed in the Swat offensive.

 

2) http://thenews.com.pk/top_story_detail.asp?Id=24446

Swat Taliban say five Shura members in govt custody   
Friday, September 11, 2009

Claim Muslim Khan, Mahmud among those arrested in garb of peace talks

By Rahimullah Yusufzai

PESHAWAR: The Swat Taliban on Thursday alleged that five leading members of their organisation holding secret peace talks with the military authorities for the past eight days had been taken into custody as they were no longer traceable.

The five men included the Swat Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan and an important commander Mahmud Khan. The remaining three Taliban representatives in the delegation were all clerics. They were Maulana Sartaj Ali belonging to Peochar in Swat’s Matta tehsil, Maulana Abdur Rahman from Baishban village and Mufti Bashir Ahmad, originally from Dir district but reportedly living in the Shamozai area in Swat.

Salman, officiating as the spokesman for the Swat chapter of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in Muslim Khan’s absence, told The News in a phone call from somewhere in the Swat Valley that he can no longer make telephonic contact with the members of the Taliban delegation in Islamabad. “I last spoke to Taliban commander Mahmud Khan three days ago. The way he talked made me suspicious. I figured out that he wasn’t allowed to talk freely. It seemed he was in the custody of the military,” the Taliban spokesman said.

The Pakistan Army and the government have in the past ruled out holding any more peace talks with the Taliban. A full-fledged military operation was launched in Swat and rest of Malakand Division after the collapse of the previous peace accord reached through the mediation of the Tehrik NifazShariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM) leader Maulana Sufi Muhammad, who also happened to be the father-in-law of the Swat Taliban head Maulana Fazlullah.

There has been no announcement in recent days about the arrest of any important Taliban leader. Attempts to reach the Pakistan Army spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas late in the night proved futile as he didn’t answer his cellphone.

This is the first time that the Taliban have admitted holding some kind of peace negotiations with the military. According to the Swat Taliban acting spokesman Salman, the fresh peace talks were mediated by one Kamal Khan, a resident of Deolai village in Swat settled in the US. He said Kamal Khan had contacted the Taliban commander Mahmud Khan and after certain guarantees from the military authorities the five-member delegation was constituted to hold talks with the Pakistan Army. “This time we wanted to talk directly with the Army as the previous two peace deals with the ANP-led NWFP government didn’t work,” Salman argued.

The Taliban spokesman said an officer of Military Intelligence Maj Abdullah was the contact person for undertaking the peace negotiations with the Pakistan Army. “Since June, Major Abdullah had been in contact with us and was offering peace talks. Finally we agreed to his offer when Kamal Khan became involved as an intermediary between the two sides,” he explained. Salman said eight days ago Major Abdullah and Kamal Khan came to Manglawar near Mingora and took the five Taliban negotiators including Muslim Khan and Mahmud Khan with them. He said he was in regular contact with Mahmud Khan during the initial round of talks between the Taliban and the military authorities in Mingora and Peshawar.

According to Salman, the Taliban delegation was given full powers by their leader Maulana Fazlullah and the Shoora for holding talks with the Army. “We made two demands only. One was enforcement of real Shariah and the other release of Taliban prisoners. We made it clear to the military authorities that we would not oppose the presence of the Army in Swat and rest of Malakand Division,” he disclosed.

The Taliban spokesman said the military authorities were angry that some Taliban commanders sabotaged the previous peace efforts by refusing to dismantle roadside checkpoints and by sending fighters to Buner. “The Taliban delegation told the military authorities that mistakes were committed in the past by all sides but it was time to forget and forgive and move ahead,” he recalled.

Taliban spokesman Salman said he was given an impression by Commander Mahmud Khan that the military authorities were putting pressure on them to surrender the Taliban commanders who refused to abide by the terms of the previous peace accords and continued to use force against the security forces and political opponents. “We sincerely entered the peace negotiations with the army but it seems this was a trap. We became suspicious when our proposal for a ceasefire in Swat before starting formal peace talks wasn’t accepted. The military action continued and now five of our leading members have been taken into custody,” he stressed. Salman added that Maulana Fazlullah had conveyed a message that arresting Taliban peace negotiators was a breach of trust. “Maulana Fazlullah pointed out that the government and the military may announce the arrest of the five Taliban leaders who were all Shoora members. That is the reason we decided to go public with this information and tell the media about the arrest of our five men who were invited for peace talks and then made prisoners,” he added.

 

3) http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/pakistan/18-taliban-claim-swat-chief-alive-vow-jihad-am-05

Taliban claim Swat chief alive, vow jihad
Thursday, 23 Jul, 2009 | 06:04 PM PST |

PESHAWAR: The Taliban on Thursday denied claims that Maulana Fazlullah, architect of a brutal uprising in Pakistan’s Swat valley, was wounded and threatened to unleash renewed holy war.

Pakistan said on July 8 it had ‘credible’ information that Fazlullah was injured during a blistering offensive designed to crush Taliban militants who fought for two years to enforce Islamic law in the northwest Swat valley.

‘Taliban chief Fazlullah is alive, healthy and has never been wounded,’ the spokesman, Muslim Khan, told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location.

Neither the claim by the military nor the Taliban has been supported by any evidence or independent confirmation.

As the architect of an uprising that marked the only time that a district under Pakistani government control effectively slipped into hands of the Taliban, Fazlullah has a 50-million-rupee price on his head.

He led thousands of supporters, a mixture of hardcore ideologues and disenfranchised young men, in a brutal campaign that beheaded opponents, burned scores of schools and fought against government troops since November 2007.

‘All of the Taliban leadership in Swat are alive and are in hiding with a strategy. We will continue our jihad until the enforcement of Islamic sharia,’ the Taliban spokesman told AFP on Thursday.

‘Army artillery and tanks cannot prevent us from achieving our objective,’ he added.

Khan was the main mouthpiece for Fazlullah, but went to ground with the rest of the Taliban Swat leadership when the offensive began.

He is included in a list of 16 most-wanted Taliban commanders and the Pakistani government has slapped a 10-million-rupee price on his head.

Military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told AFP he had not heard the statement from Muslim Khan and reserved making a direct response.

But he reiterated that the military received information from the area of an air strike that Fazlullah had been wounded in the raid.

Fazlullah is a son-in-law of elderly pro-Taliban cleric Sufi Mohammad, who secured a government deal to put three million people in the northwest under sharia law in February – an agreement that failed to stem the fighting.

The Taliban spokesman accused Pakistan of ‘claiming’ killings and injuries in order ‘to get more and more dollars,’ an allusion to Pakistan’s alliance with the United States that has inflamed radical groups.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said earlier this month that the military had ‘eliminated’ extremists and the government statistics show that 385,000 of 1.9 million civilians who were displaced by the fighting have returned.

But skirmishes have continued, raising fears that the Taliban escaped into the mountains, as after previous military offensives. The army said Thursday that two ‘terrorists’ had been killed over the past 24 hours in Swat.

Pakistan says more than 1,800 militants and 166 security personnel have been killed since April, but the death tolls are impossible to verify independently.

Militants bitterly opposed to Pakistan’s alliance with the United States, whose troops are fighting a Taliban insurgency in neighbouring Afghanistan, carry out daily attacks on security forces in the northwest.

Police said a bomb hidden in a supposed gift of a tape recorder killed a policeman and injured another at a checkpoint outside the northwest town of Karak, which borders the Taliban-infested North Waziristan tribal district.

 

4) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8208750.stm

Pakistan Taliban spokesman named
Published: 2009/08/19 13:23:26 GMT

A new chief spokesman for Taliban militants in Pakistan has been named following the capture on Monday of Maulvi Omar, Taliban officials say.

Spokesman Muslim Khan is to replace Maulvi Omar, who was arrested while travelling near the Afghan border.

Meanwhile a senior Taliban commander says he has taken over leadership of the Pakistani Taliban umbrella organisation on a temporary basis.
 
Maulvi Faqeer told the BBC he was now acting chief of Tehrik-e-Taliban.

He said he was just replacing Baitullah Mehsud for a short time because he was sick. Mr Mehsud was reported to have died in an American drone attack earlier this month.

But under questioning on Tuesday, Maulvi Omar confirmed that that Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud had been killed, the Pakistani authorities say.

Intense pressure

A Taliban official said Muslim Khan had been appointed with immediate effect.

The BBC’s Syed Shoaib Hasan in Islamabad says his nomination appears to be an effort by the Taliban to create more of a unified structure in Pakistan.

Mr Khan is from the Swat valley, where militants have been under intense pressure recently because of advances by the Pakistani army.

Our correspondent says there has been tension in recent weeks between Taliban groups who have borne the brunt of the military’s offensive in Swat and elsewhere in the north-west, and militants in North and South Waziristan who have so far not been seriously affected by the fighting.

The announcement of Muslim Khan’s appointment was made by Maulana Faqir Mohammed, the head of the Taliban in Bajaur, another area that has seen heavy fighting.
Pakistani intelligence officials have been questioning Maulvi Omar since he was arrested on Monday in Mohmand tribal area while travelling to South Waziristan.

Observers say that while Maulvi Omar was never a military commander, as a senior and trusted associate of Baitullah Mehsud, he would have been able to tell his interrogators much about Taliban plans and strategy.

Mr Omar was the second prominent Taliban figure to be arrested in 24 hours.
Qari Saifullah, a commander affiliated to Harkat Jihad-e-Islami, was detained while being treated at a private hospital in Islamabad, officials said, reportedly after being wounded in a missile strike.

Both men are still being questioned about their possible roles in militant attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, police said.

Mr Omar was the official spokesman for Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) – an umbrella organisation of regional and tribal-based Pakistani militant groups – and is said to have been a senior aide of Baitullah Mehsud.

Correspondents say his arrest is significant because he had been acting as a liaison between the various Taliban groups and was a key figure in Taliban propaganda campaigns.

 

5) http://www.nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/Politics/25-Jun-2009/Fazlullah-deputy-Shah-Doran-killed-during-operation-in-Swat

Fazlullah deputy Shah Doran killed during operation in Swat
June 25, 2009

The deputy of Swat Taliban supremo was killed in security forces operation in Swat, sources here said. Shah Doran, a Taliban commander and deputy of Taliban supremo Moulvi Fazlullah was killed in fighting with the forces, sources said. His body was found in an area in Kabal. He had earned notoriety for his venomous speeches at the militants FM radio in Swat.

 

6) http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123963706622913745.html

ASIA NEWS | APRIL 14, 2009
Pakistani Peace Deal Gives New Clout to Taliban Rebels
By ZAHID HUSSAIN and MATTHEW ROSENBERG
MINGORA, Pakistan — Thousands of Islamist militants are pouring into Pakistan’s Swat Valley and setting up training camps here, quickly making it one of the main bases for Taliban fighters and raising their threat to the government in the wake of a controversial peace deal.

President Asif Ali Zardari effectively ratified the government’s deal with the Taliban Monday by signing a bill that imposes Islamic law in Swat, a key plank of the accord, hours after legislators overwhelmingly approved a resolution urging it. Pakistani officials have touted the deal, reached in February, as a way to restore peaceful order in the bloodied region — which lies just a few hours’ drive from the capital — and halt the Taliban’s advance.

Yet a visit to the Taliban-controlled valley here found mounting evidence that the deal already is strengthening the militants as a base for war. U.S. officials contend the pact has given the Taliban and its allies in al Qaeda and other Islamist groups an advantage in their long-running battle against Pakistan’s military.

The number of militants in the valley swelled in the months before the deal with the Taliban was struck, and they continue to move in, say Pakistani and U.S. officials. They now estimate there are between 6,000 and 8,000 fighters in Swat, nearly double the number at the end of last year.

Taliban leaders here make no secret of their ultimate aim. “Our objective is to drive out Americans and their lackeys” from Pakistan and Afghanistan, said Muslim Khan, a spokesman for the group, in an interview here. “They are not Muslims and we have to throw them out.”

Militant training camps are springing up across the valley’s thickly forested mountainsides. “Young men with no prospect of employment and lack of education facilities are joining the militants,” said Abdur Rehman, a schoolteacher in Swat.

Until the fighting began nearly two years ago in the valley, it was a popular weekend getaway for well-heeled Pakistanis, known for its alpine ridges, fruit orchards and trout-filled streams. With the Taliban now imposing its harsh version of Islamic law, floggings and even executions are fast becoming commonplace. Residents said many young men are joining the militants to ensure the safety of their families, who they hope will be left in peace if one of their own is fighting the government.

“We are all frightened by this brutality. No one can dare to challenge them,” said Fazle Rabbi, who owns a cloth shop in Mingora, Swat’s main town. The shop sits on a square that has become known among residents as “Slaughter Square” because the Taliban have begun using it to dump bodies after executions.

Since the new peace deal was made, the militants are beginning to push into neighboring areas. Last week they overpowered a village militia in the adjacent Buner district. The attack was a violation of the peace accord. But the Taliban faction that controls Swat says it has no intention of withdrawing. “We want Islamic sharia [law] also to be enforced in Buner,” said Mr. Khan. “No one can force us out from any part of the province.”

Many of the longer-term jihadist fighters are loyal to groups with ties to al Qaeda, such as Jaish-e-Mohammed. They have been hardened on battlefields in neighboring Afghanistan and the Kashmir region claimed by India and Pakistan — underlining the growing confluence between the various Islamist groups fighting on either side of the Afghan-Pakistani border, the officials say.

The Taliban and al Qaeda were once largely confined to a mountainous ribbon that runs along the Afghan border and has long existed in a semiautonomous limbo, technically part of Pakistan but never fully under the control of its government.

In the past two years, however, the Taliban and its allies have pushed into areas where Pakistan’s state had held sway, such as Swat, about 100 miles from Islamabad.

Striking peace deals with some Taliban factions is part of Pakistan’s broader strategy to counter the militants. The government’s logic is that such accords can exploit the groups’ fractious nature; one enemy can be neutralized with a peace deal while another is defeated on the battlefield. The deals also have been struck when the army has struggled to overcome militants. In Swat, about 3,000 militants pushed four times as many soldiers out of the valley in 18 months of fighting, leaving some 1,500 people dead.

Nearly all the peace accords reached in the past few years in areas near the Afghan border, where the Taliban are strongest, have collapsed. Often they have left the militants more powerful. A similar deal in Swat fell apart last year after the Taliban renewed attacks on Pakistani forces.

The Taliban’s actions since the new peace deal was unveiled have alarmed Washington, where officials fear that Swat will become an effective launching pad for expansion into Pakistan’s more densely populated plains. “This is a rest stop for the Taliban, it’s nothing more,” said a U.S. official in Washington.

Swat now offers a glimpse of the Taliban’s vision for Pakistan. They have taken control of the local government and the police, who have been ordered to shed their uniforms in favor of the traditional Shalwar Kameez, an outfit comprising a long shirt and loose trousers. They also have seized Swat’s emerald mines, which extract millions of dollars a year in gemstones.

At barbershops, notices warn men not to shave their beards. Women are no longer allowed to leave their homes without their husbands or male blood relatives. Girls’ schools have been reopened after initially being closed but the students must be covered from head to toe, and Taliban officials routinely inspect classrooms for violators.
“We used to have lots of cultural and extracurricular activities in the school, but all that has been stopped,” said Ziaullah Yousaf Zai, a principal of a private girls’ school in Mingora. “We do not want to give any pretext to the Taliban to shut the school again.”

Mr. Khan, the Taliban spokesman, predicted there would soon be more executions, showing off a list of people whom the Taliban want to try in Islamic courts for what he called their “anti-Islamic” ways. The list includes senior government officials, a woman whose husband is in the U.S. military, and others. Many of them have fled or are in areas outside Taliban control.

“These kinds of people should not live,” said Mr. Khan, who also is a commander in the Tehrik-e-Taliban, a broader Taliban alliance focused on battling the Pakistani government.
Islamic courts haven’t yet been set up in Swat because Pakistani President Zardari had delayed signing the bill to impose sharia, as the peace deal stipulates. Until Monday, he had maintained there first must be complete peace in the valley, though he didn’t explain how he would determine that, nor did he address it Monday.

Mr. Zardari’s delay was widely viewed as an attempt to save face with opponents of the deal in his own government and Washington. He relented after the Parliament vote established support from almost every national political party, said a senior official close to the president. One party walked out in opposition.

Mr. Khan had warned of more bloodshed if Islamic law was not formally imposed. “It does not matter to us whether the peace deal stays or not. No one can stop us from setting up our own courts,” he said.

The Taliban were already imposing their own version of sharia, which has been interpreted with wide variations by Islamic scholars for centuries. Pakistani television stations recently broadcast a video of a woman being flogged by black-turbaned Taliban in Swat. Most official accounts say she was alleged to have left her house without a male blood relative.

While Mr. Khan insisted the video was a fake, he acknowledged that such an incident did happen. “As a Muslim, we cannot allow a woman to violate Islamic values,” he said.

Write to Matthew Rosenberg at matthew.rosenberg@wsj.com

 

7) http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/pakistan/provinces/12-how+the+tide+is+turning+in+swat–bi-09

How the tide is turning in Swat
By Issam Ahmed
Thursday, 10 Sep, 2009 | 05:00 AM PST |

TOTANA BANDAI: When a posse of Taliban fighters entered a mosque in this village during evening prayers last week to demand the allegiance of the congregation, long-suffering locals decided they had enough.

The villagers, of whom a majority had only just returned to their homes following the conclusion of major military operations in Swat by the Pakistan army in June, sent out word to a local Lashkar (tribal militia) who promptly arrived at the scene, shot dead three Taliban and forced the rest to flee.

One local villager was injured, and, in a sign of growing cooperation between the militia and the Pakistani army, was whisked away to a military hospital. The Pakistani military is increasingly relying upon such militias to maintain the peace and act as a first line of defence in Swat.

The first Lashkar was formed in August, and plans are now afoot to ensure every union council in the Swat valley eventually boasts its own Lashkar, according to Swat military spokesman Major Mushtaq Khan.

Current estimates by local leaders hold the number of fighters to be over 8000, a number which some tribal elders claim will at least double by the end of October.

The idea of sponsoring the traditional tribal security structure is nothing new – during the era of British-rule, the system was used to great effect to quell the empire’s Wild West frontier.

Modern, government-sponsored Lashkars, however, have lost currency in the face of a marauding, well-organised and well-supplied Taliban that effectively outgunned and demoralised local opposition.

The government sponsored Lashkars post-2005 made matters worse, say analysts, and dealt a blow in the battle for hearts and minds. But tapping into a pre-existing groundswell of disaffection may make this experience different, according to Dr Rifaat Hussain, a security analyst at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad.

‘In the case of Swat the army had a sense there was a local resistance to the armed militants from outside. Even the diehard supporters of Fazlullah (the Swat Taliban commander) didn’t have deep roots as far as masses are concerned.’

Totana Bandai was till recently a key base for Taliban insurgents. Lying to the west of the River Swat and bordering the district of Dir, its picturesque stepped green hills, lush open fields, and neat rows of houses became the backdrop to pitched battles during the last military operation.

Insurgents occupied homes abandoned by locals in the village’s main street, and today, every second or third house and shop in the village’s main street is either bombed out, riddled with bullet and shelling holes, or both.

While reconstruction gets under way, resentment against the Taliban’s disdain for tribal ethics runs high, and many are eager to share their stories.

‘They coerced people into giving them money and shelter, they put guns to the heads of our elders, they cut down our trees, blew up schools, and killed anyone who got in their way,’ says Tilawat Shah, a farmer in his mid-fifties, on his way to a meeting called by Saifullah Khan, Totana Bandai’s Lashkar leader (he is also the village mayor).

‘They gave Islam a bad name,’ adds Shah. At the meeting, Ajmir Khan, a Lashkar leader from a neighbouring village who led last week’s clash against the Taliban notes that ‘when the Taliban first came, they were greeted here because they talked about Islam and implementing Shariat, which people supported’.

That initial trust dissolved when the Taliban refused to lay down arms despite concessions by the government to their demands for new Shariat courts.

‘We won’t let them come back,’ he says, adding that the mosque incident was just one of many skirmishes the villagers have faced since returning.

From teenagers to old men in their seventies, the men who form the Lashkar don’t look particularly fierce. But they have handled guns since childhood, and what they lack in advanced combat training and sophisticated equipment, they compensate for in bravado.
‘When the army first came to ask for our help, they told us they would lead the fight but they needed us to back them up. We told them that we’d lead them and they should back us,’ says Tilawat Shah.

The government has in the past been criticised for initially backing, but ultimately failing to fully support the Lashkars, though judging from the protective army cordon around Saifullah Khan’s farmhouse, the cache of new rifles, and dozens of crates stencilled ‘BOMBS’ in English (presumably provided by the military) stashed in the backyard, this isn’t the case here.

A short while into the meeting, a loud explosion is heard not far away from the farmhouse and the earth shakes noticeably, though nobody looks startled.

‘Probably an IED (improvised explosive device), probably planted by the Taliban last night,’ says a non-plussed Saifullah Khan. ‘The army is clearing them for us.’

Back in Mingora life is beginning to return to normal after a suicide bomb erupted outside the central police station, killing 18 cadets on August 30. Dozens of police patrol the streets (according to Swat’s chief of police Qazi Ghulam Farooq there are now 1,295 officers on active duty), children make their way to and from schools (some in makeshift tents), and slow crawling traffic passes through military-run checkposts.

A strict curfew is enforced at 8pm, while in the rest of Swat it’s 6pm. Some of the townsfolk, like Ziauddin Yusufzai, a private-school principal, believe further militarising the people of rural Swat may backfire.

‘Creating these private militias may work in the short-run, but what if they later turn on each other to settle personal scores?’ he says. ‘If the army could clear and hold a town of 400,000 like Mingora, I don’t understand why the villages are so difficult.’

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