Bodies pile up in Swat Valley as tribesmen (and military) turn tables on Taleban tormentors

At least 18 bullet-riddled bodies discovered in Swat
Sunday, 16 Aug, 2009
Atifur Rehman, administrative chief of Swat district, confirmed that 18 bodies had been found but he had no further details. — Photo by Reuters

PESHAWAR: The bullet-riddled bodies of 18 Taliban militants apparently killed by furious residents seeking revenge were discovered Sunday in Pakistan’s northwest Swat valley, officials said.

The military claims to have cleared Swat of militants in an offensive launched earlier this year after militants extended their grip into the valley, terrorising residents with public beheadings and other violence.

‘Eighteen dead bodies of militants were found in Barikot, Shamozai, Kabal and Kanju,’ a local military spokesman told AFP.

‘They had been apparently shot dead by residents who fear that the Taliban might return. These militants were not killed in any military operation…the heads of some of the bodies had been smashed with hammers.’

Atifur Rehman, administrative chief of Swat district, confirmed that 18 bodies had been found but he had no further details.

Swat slipped out of government control after Mullah Fazlullah mounted a violent campaign in which his followers beheaded opponents, burnt schools and fought government troops to enforce sharia law.

The army launched an offensive in late April to dislodge Taliban guerrillas from the districts of Buner, Lower Dir and Swat after militants flouted a peace deal and marched further south towards Islamabad.

Pakistan says more than 1,800 militants and over 166 security personnel have been killed in the offensive since late April, but the death tolls are impossible to verify independently. (Dawn).


Bodies pile up in Swat Valley as tribesmen turn tables on Taleban tormentors

His hands tied behind his back, the body of a young bearded man lay in a pool of blood on a busy market road. Two bullets had pierced his skull, indicating that he was shot from close range.

Residents recognised him as Gul Khatab, a notorious Taleban commander. “People remember him for his brutality,” Mohammed Nasir, a trader, said.

Since the body was discovered in the main town of Pakistan’s Swat Valley, other corpses have appeared on the streets. All were killed in the same manner as the security forces cleared the area of Taleban fighters.

The people of Mingora have long been used to the sight of bullet-riddled bodies dumped on the streets. They used to be those of government officials, policemen or women killed by the Taleban who virtually controlled the Swat Valley. This summer the militants were driven out by the army after a month-long battle.

Now the pattern of death has been reversed. The Taleban are being hunted down by the security forces and families of the victims of their atrocities.

There have been reports of militants’ bodies being slung from electricity poles and bridges in other towns of Swat. Last week tribesmen killed two Taleban fighters in a village near Kalam and left their bodies hanging from an electricity pole for several days. Similar incidents were reported in Malakand, Batkhela and Thana. district of Swat Valley.In many cases notes were left on the bodies warning that this would be the fate of all enemies of the state and Swat.

Some of the notes urged people not to remove the bodies, borrowing from Taleban dictats at the height of their power. “It is like repaying the militants in the same coin,” Rahimullah Yousufzai, a local senior journalist said.

Senior army officials deny that troops were involved in the killings but analysts said that it could not happen without the army’s blessing. “There is an element of revenge for the soldiers who were brutally murdered and beheaded by Taleban,” an official said.

The militants used to make videos of the beheadings and distribute them to the media. One of the most brutal incidents happened a week before the army offensive in the valley, when militants captured and beheaded four officers of a commando unit.

Such actions by the insurgents enraged the troops. An officer confirmed that they would not take prisoners. Some officials argue that there was no choice but to eliminate the hardened militants as the judicial system was so weak that suspects often went free. Judges were often too terrified to convict.

Life is fast returning to normal in the valley after the two-month army operation that left 2,000 militants and more than 160 soldiers dead. Schools are open again and civilian administrators are back at work in most areas. Militants are holding on in some remote mountainous districts where their top leaders are believed to be hiding.

People in Mingora appear much more relaxed and optimistic about the future. “There is much more peace here now,” Mohammed Ishaq, a clothing merchant, said. “We hope Taleban would never come back.”

Residents have started co-operating with security agencies in tracking down militants, making it more difficult for them to blend in with the population.

“The security forces are tipped off immediately about the presence of militants in the neighbourhood,” Saeed Iqbal, a local journalist, said. Dozens of militants have been picked up by security agents in Mingora in recent weeks. Some would not return alive.

Security forces are blowing up the houses and properties of Taleban fighters and their leaders who have not been captured or killed. The authorities are arming tribal militias to fight the remaining Taleban. They are mostly led by influential landlords whose properties were taken over by the Taleban. They believe they could not live in peace if the Taleban were not completely eliminated.

In many cases the extended families have also suffered because of destruction of joint properties. In some cases the actions have forced militants to surrender. But some analysts contend that such actions close the door on militants to repent or surrender.