Facts about conflict in Pakistan's Swat
Pakistani forces attacked Taliban fighters in the Swat valley with artillery and helicopters on Wednesday after the United States called on the government to show its commitment to fighting militancy. Here are some facts about Swat and the insurgency there.world Updated: May 06, 2009 11:48 IST
Pakistani forces attacked Taliban fighters in the Swat valley with artillery and helicopters on Wednesday after the United States called on the government to show its commitment to fighting militancy.
Expanding Taliban influence in nuclear-armed Pakistan has spread alarm at home and abroad and will be a core issue when US President Barack Obama meets his Afghani and Pakistani counterparts in Washington later on Wednesday.
A February peace pact aimed at ending Taliban violence in Swat is in tatters and thousands of people fled from Mingora, the region's main town, on Tuesday after a government official said fighting was expected.
The militants have captured several important government buildings in the town, 130 km (80 miles) northwest of Islamabad.
Here are some facts about Swat and the insurgency there.
* Swat, about 130 km (80 miles) northwest of Islamabad, is not on the Afghan border. Nevertheless Western countries with troops in Afghanistan fear the area could turn into a bastion for militants fighting in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
* Islamist militancy emerged in Swat, an alpine beauty spot and former tourist favourite, in the 1990s when cleric Sufi Mohammad took up arms to impose sharia law there and in neighbouring areas of the Malakand region.
* Mohammad was arrested after he returned to Pakistan having led thousands of fighters to Afghanistan in 2001 in a vain attempt to help the Taliban resist US-backed forces.
* Pakistani authorities released him in 2008 in a bid to defuse another uprising, led by his son-in-law cleric Fazlullah, who has ties with other Pakistani Taliban factions and al Qaeda.
* Fazlullah called his men to arms after a military assault on the Red Mosque in Islamabad in mid-2007 to put down an armed movement seeking to impose Islamic law. Fazlullah used illegal FM radio to propagate his message and became known as Mullah Radio.
* The army deployed troops in Swat in October 2007 and used artillery and gunship helicopters to reassert control. But insecurity mounted after a civilian government came to power last year and tried to reach a negotiated settlement.
* A peace accord fell apart in May 2008. After that hundreds, including soldiers, militants and civilians, died in battles.
* Militants unleashed a reign of terror, killing and beheading politicians, singers, soldiers and opponents. They banned female education and destroyed nearly 200 girls' schools.
* About 1,200 people were killed since late 2007 and 250,000 to 500,000 fled, leaving the militants in virtual control.
* Pakistan offered on Feb 16 to introduce Islamic law in the Swat valley and neighbouring areas in a bid to take the steam out of the insurgency. The militants announced an indefinite ceasefire after the army said it was halting operations in the region. President Asif Ali Zardari signed a regulation imposing sharia in the area last month.
* But the Taliban refused to give up their guns and pushed into Buner, only 100 km (60 miles) northwest of Islamabad, and another district adjacent to Swat.
* Amid mounting concern at home and abroad, security forces launched an offensive to expel militants from Buner and another district near Swat on April 26.
* A Taliban spokesman said on Monday the peace pact would end unless the government halted its offensive in Buner, but it has continued and there has been fresh fighting in Swat itself.
First Published: May 06, 2009 11:47 IST