Understanding the humanitarian situation in turbulent Swat Valley, some 160km from Islamabad in North West Frontier Province (NWFP), requires some knowledge of the political background to the current tensions and violence.
In 1995 radical clerical leader Sufi Muhammad Khan, leader of Tehrik-e-Nifaz e Shariah-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) in Swat Valley, demanded imposition of Islamic law in the area. Violence followed as the Frontier Constabulary, a paramilitary force, began an operation against Khan. Tourism, a major source of income, was disrupted and 13 militants died in fighting.
After the operation, the NWFP government agreed to enforce Shariah law in Malakand Division (in Swat District). TNSM's main demand - the replacement of regular courts with Islamic courts - was partially met, but arguments over the peace deal led to sporadic violence.
In 2001 Sufi Muhammad Khan took a force of some 10,000 people from Swat and the tribal areas to fight against US forces invading Afghanistan. Nearly 3,000 were killed, while others were jailed in Afghanistan or sent back to Pakistan, including Sufi Muhammad Khan, who was imprisoned. The TNSM was banned by the government.
In 2002 Sufi Muhammad Khan's son-in-law, the firebrand cleric Maulana Fazalullah, emerged as a force in Swat and set up his headquarters at Imam Dehri. Linked to the militant Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), he stepped up efforts to impose hardline Islam.
In January 2003 incidents of violence began to increase in Swat. The Afghan writer Fazal Wahab, whose work was viewed as being critical of Osama bin-Laden and the Taliban in Afghanistan, was shot dead in Swat by unidentified assailants.
Between 2004 and 2007 Maulana Fazalullah set up at least 30 illegal FM radio stations to get his message across. Girls’ education and any active role for women in society was opposed. Several schools, music shops and barbers’ businesses were attacked.
July 2007 - Violence in Swat increases after Fazalullah urges his followers to launch 'jihad' (holy war) to avenge an operation carried out by the Pakistan military against the Lal Masjid (mosque) in Islamabad, where clerical leaders were accused by the government of harbouring “terrorists”.
4 July 2007 - Four civilians are killed and two police wounded by a roadside bomb. In a separate incident a policemen is killed and four others injured in a rocket attack on a police station in the Matta area of Swat District.
12 July 2007 - A suicide bomber kills three police.
13 July 2007 - President Pervez Musharraf approves a plan to deploy paramilitary forces in Swat to crush growing militancy. Troops are positioned in Swat.
15 July 2007 - At least 13 paramilitary personnel and six civilians, including three children, are killed and more than 50 people injured at Matta in Swat District when two suicide bombers ram two cars packed with explosives into an army convoy.
August 2007 - NGOs and international humanitarian organisations are asked by the administration to leave Swat after threats by militants. Attacks on several girls' schools are reported.
30 August 2007 - Seven security forces’ personnel are killed as militants attack a checkpoint in Swat. Owners of video centres and barber’s shops receive threatening letters.
21 September 2007 - Maulana Fazalullah urged his supporters to attack government officials after a demand to release three militants held after a hotel bombing incident was rejected by the authorities.
October 2007 - Fazalullah sets up his own Islamic courts.
21 October 2007 - Eighteen soldiers and two civilians die and 35 others, including nine civilians, are injured in a bomb blast aimed at a vehicle carrying paramilitary personnel at Nawan Killi, about 1km from Swat city.
26-29 October 2007 - Fierce clashes erupt between troops and militants in Swat, leaving at least 29 dead. Thirteen security personnel are executed by militants.
1-2 November 2007 - Fighting resumes after a brief ceasefire. 60-70 people die after a clash in Khwazakhela town; 48 troops who surrendered to militants are paraded in public.
3-6 November 2007 - Militants extend their hold over Swat, capturing key towns including Madyan and Kalam.
November 2007 - The Pakistan military intensifies its operation in Swat. Helicopter gunships pound villages. Thousands flee the valley. There are conflicting accounts of casualties, but dozens are feared dead.
28 November - 6 December 2007 - Security forces say militants have been forced out of Swat and many key leaders arrested. Key centres such as Imam Dehri are seized. Hundreds are feared dead in the operation; 500,000 of Swat’s 1.8 million people are reported to have fled.
23 December 2007 - Fourteen die in a suicide attack on a military convoy near Mingora, Swat’s main city. Sporadic violence continues in Swat, including attacks on shops, schools and government buildings.
January 2008 - Low-level violence between troops and militants continues in Swat.
29 February 2008 - Forty killed and more than 75 wounded when a suicide bomber targets the funeral of a police officer in Mingora.
1 March 2008 - Militants behead a 22-year-old man accused of passing on information to the security forces.
April 2008 - NWFP government launches a fresh peace process, setting up a committee to initiate dialogue with different groups of militants. Militant leaders, including Fazalullah, re-enter Swat. Maulana Sufi Muhammad Khan of the banned TNSM is released.
21 May 2008 - Taliban militants operating under Fazalullah in Swat District sign a 16-point peace agreement with the NWFP government and agree to disband their militia; they also denounce suicide attacks and stop attacks on the security forces and government buildings.
June-July 2008 - Attacks on schools and other buildings continue in Swat. Militants say the government refused to keep its part of the peace deal by retaining troops. At least 50 girls’ schools are reported to have been attacked by militants in 2008. Thousands of girls quit school, fearing for their safety.
27-30 July 2008 - Fierce clashes erupt again, after incidents involving the killing of military personnel.
August-December 2008 - The military moves tanks, heavy artillery and helicopters into Swat to combat militants. Hundreds are reported killed in heavy clashes. Reports of atrocities by militants increase - including the killing of women who decline to stop work and public beheadings of those accused of spying. Human rights activists say 60 percent of Swat's 1.8 million people have fled. Thousands of homes are reported to have been damaged and 150 schools destroyed.
December 2008 - Press reports say the militants control 75 percent of Swat. Fazalullah announces a ban on education for girls.
29 January 2009 - Pakistan's government announces a new strategy to combat militancy in Swat and pledges to ensure girls resume schooling. Schools for girls remain closed in Swat after the winter break leaving 80,000 girls out of school. Militants are reported to have seized control of almost all of Swat.
31 January 2009 - Fazalullah, leader of the TTP in Swat, says he will relax the ban on education to allow girls to attend school up to grade 5. The ban had been met by a nationwide outcry.
February 2009 - Renewed military offensives are reported against militants as the Pakistan Army pledges to regain control of Swat. Mingora said to be under government control. Fierce fighting continues and more people flee.
February 16 – Ameer Hussain Hoti, the chief minister of NWFP, said a bill had been signed that would implement Islamic Sharia law in the Malakand division, which includes Swat. This would mean a separate justice system from the rest of the nation. The Taliban reacted by announcing a 10-day truce and said they would examine the document before ending hostilities permanently.
(Sources: Dawn, The News, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan State of Human Rights in Pakistan annual reports, and the South Asian Terrorism Portal, run by the Institute of Conflict Management, New Delhi)
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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