"New crisis in Swat valley as residents run out of food; Civilians caught between Pakistan's army and the Taliban begin to buckle under pressure of curfew
Watch Declan Walsh's audio slideshow on the crisis
guardian.co.uk, Friday 19 June
The refugees hurried down the deserted road in the searing midday heat, their suitcases clattering on the tank-scarred tarmac. Waving white flags, they crossed one ghostly village after another. Shuttered shops, destroyed buildings, stray dogs panting in the shade were all passed as the group veered around craters in the road.
A warplane hissed overhead, the crump of artillery shattered the silence. At a checkpoint nervy soldiers searched the group – about two dozen men, children and burkha-clad women – at gunpoint. "We have to get out," said Muhammad Tahir, a burly man sheltering under a black umbrella. "No food, no electricity, no gas – we can't take it any more."
The government says that total victory is imminent. But military success has come at a human price. More than one million people have fled Swat, according to revised government figures. And inside the valley, hidden from the world, a second crisis is brewing.
Tens of thousands of people – nobody is sure how many – have remained in Swat through the fighting, stuck between the army and militants and straining under a strict military curfew.
Last week the Guardian spent three days in Swat, slipping in through rough mountain roads controlled by neither Taliban nor army. The route was littered with the debris of war – a levelled mosque, white smoke billowing from the forests and a destroyed police station at the peak of a desolate mountain pass, blue uniforms strewn outside.
Inside Swat, where the curfew was in force, soldiers waved civilians off the road. But it was not applied in the fields, where farmers toiled furiously to save their crops from ruin.
"The fields cannot hold them any longer. We have to do it now," said Muhammad Sher, a squat man in a white turban who wrenched onions from his riverside plot. His 23-year-old nephew, Razaullah, lifted his shirt to reveal a shoulder wound.
"The army shot me during the curfew," he said. "No doctor was available so a neighbour extracted the bullet."
A jet fighter zipped overhead followed by an explosion that boomed across the valley. Sher Muhammad pointed across the flowing water. "Taliban territory," he said.
The river Swat is the frontline of the conflict. The army controls the east bank; the black-turbaned militants hold out on the far side.
But they are crumbling: the army captured several key villages this week. Before torching the school at Manyar, further up the valley, they left a glimpse of their mindset in the form of graffiti-scrawled blackboards. Childish drawings depicted helicopters, tanks, and crossed scimitars, the Taliban symbol. "The Pakistan army are queers," read one message.
The army estimates that 10-20% of the population remains in most villages. Life under curfew is increasingly difficult. No electricity means no fridges, no mobile phones, and no fans to still the summer heat. But, with shops closed or emptying, the most urgent need is food.
But the army is proud of its progress....
After sweeping through Nawagai village, soldiers flung the corpses of Taliban fighters on the road, where they were later eaten by dogs. "We left the bodies there so people would get the message that these guys are not coming back," he said.
It was an apparent breach of the customary rules of war, which require combatants to "take all possible measures to prevent the dead from being despoiled".
Many Pakistanis point to the Taliban's sophistication – soldiers have discovered bomb manuals, chequebooks and bundles of dollars and euros – as evidence of the "foreign hand", a euphemism for everything from al-Qaida to Indian intelligence and the CIA....
Please see: The Perceptive Pakistani People and Propaganda
Also see: Holbrooke's Hubris
The generals have already turned their attention to Waziristan, where an assault on the mountain domain of the Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud is imminent. "It's going to be a tough one," said Aziz.
To what, kill a dead guy?
In Swat the curfew continues. In Barikot, at the bottom of the valley, six men shuffled down the road carrying a rope bed and a groaning, cholera-stricken woman.
"We tried to find a doctor but there is none," said one of the bearers. "So the only thing is to take her home."
Of course, Muslims hate their women.
And ABOUT those CORPSES left out in the streets:
Pakistan: Corpses lie exposed in retaken Swat town
MINGORA, Pakistan — Corpses lay exposed in the Swat Valley's main town on Sunday, and residents rushed to mostly empty markets in search of food a day after the military claimed to have retaken the city from the Taliban....
Many buildings were damaged in parts of Mingora seen by The Associated Press, but not badly. Two decomposing bodies, apparently those of insurgents, lay unburied in a cemetery, while a third charred corpse lay close to a shopping mall. The smell of explosives hung in the air.
"We have been starving for many days. We have been cooking tree leaves to keep ourselves alive. Thank God it is over," said Afzal Khan. "We need food, we need help. We want peace."
[Despite] the estimated 3 million refugees, the Swat offensive has earned Western praise....
Most of Mingora's around 375,000 residents fled before or during the offensive. The military briefly lifted a curfew Sunday, allowing some of the 20,000 or so that remained to buy provisions in the few shops that were open.
Ali Rehman said he had not left his house for 25 days.
"I never knew who was fighting and who was being killed," he said, clutching two bags of flour. "I need help to keep my family alive because I do not have any source of income anymore."
It will be at least two weeks before power is back on....
Proud of yourselves, Americans?