Pro-Taliban militants have strengthened their hold on the Swat valley in northwestern Pakistan by seizing several key towns after outnumbered security forces laid down their arms and fled their posts.
Militants are now controlling key towns like Matta, Khwazakhela, Madyan and Charbagh, all located near Imamdheri, the stronghold of radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah.
Hundreds of militants have taken over the police stations in these towns, have established their own check posts and are patrolling the streets. In Matta, militants replaced the Pakistani flag with their own at the police station after over 120 security personnel surrendered earlier this week, daily The News reported.
President Pervez Musharraf cited the growing threat from militants and extremists as one of the main reasons behind his decision to impose emergency on November 3. His move, however, has not been translated into a stepped up drive against militants in tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, described by the US as a "safe haven" for Al-Qaeda and Taliban elements.
Fazlullah, known as "Mullah Radio" for his calls for jehad broadcast from an illegal FM station, is moving around Swat like "a ruler with full protocol", the paper said.
He has appointed "governors" in Kabal, Matta and Khwazakhela and ordered the setting up of Islamic courts in areas under his control.
He has also opened a register for complaints in his headquarters at Imamdheri, the report said.