Monday, May 04, 2009

Militant Islam Moves to Dominate Pakistan's Prosperous Swat Valley

When the straggly-haired holy warriors took over his village in Swat valley, 18-year-old Fawad Ali resigned himself to obeying their strict Islamic rules.

At least the fighting and bloodshed was over, he reasoned. But he was wrong.

First the strutting Taliban gunmen demanded 100,000 rupees (£800) a month from his family's dried fruit business. Then when they had drained it of cash they decided to make a bloody example of his two young uncles who could no longer pay.

"They took Aminullah and Sajjar away to the outskirts of the village and there they beheaded them. Afterwards they threw the bodies in the river," he said in a quiet voice.
"We have run from Swat to this new place. But now the Taliban have nearly caught up with us again."

After leaving Swat, escaping through Buner valley, the family arrived at a village near the town of Swabi, where they rented a house with what was left of their savings.
But then the Taliban invaded Buner, bringing them to within 20 miles of Mr Ali's new home.

Now the Taliban seem poised to spread like a rising tide into the fertile farmlands that lie between them and the capital Islamabad, only about 40 miles away.
Unlike the poor rural border areas where the Taliban have their main strength, the region around Swabi is one of the wealthiest in Pakistan, its rich farmlands irrigated by canals, modern roads with petrol stations every few miles, and a standard of living of which most can only dream.

Mr Ali's eyes filled with tears as he told his story, one which is all too familiar to refugees fleeing the Taliban. His family has suffered not just at their hands, but at the hands of the Pakistani security forces tasked with hunting them down. He lost 11 of his relatives in Swat in an army bombardment, unleashed after a bogus tip-off that Taliban fighters were hiding in their home. Many refugees claim that the army has killed more civilians than the Taliban when it has used heavy firepower.

A few days later another nine members of his extended family died, caught in crossfire while trying to escape fighting. The survivors fled, as more than half a million have in Pakistan, to become refugees in their own land.

Mr Ali has no doubt why his family was singled out by the Taliban. It was not because they were held to have violated some extremist Islamic doctrine, but because they owned a business...

There's a lot more to this story and to what it portends. Read it here in the Telegraph (U.K.)