- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 19, 2009

MINGORA, Pakistan

An uneasy peace has returned to Swat Valley following a summer military offensive against the forces of local Taliban leader Mullah Fazlullah, with soldiers and armed policemen now patrolling the streets of Mingora instead of the Taliban.

Hundreds of thousands of people who fled the valley when the fighting began at the end of May are now back, milling about in the streets. But it was impossible to tell whether Taliban in disguise mingled with locals.

“The man walking two steps ahead of you could be a Talib,” said Maj. Mushtaq Ahmed, the local military spokesman.

The military imposes a nightly curfew, from midnight to 6 a.m., he said.

Operations were still going on in the mountains about 40 to 60 miles north of Mingora, Swat’s administrative capital. The day before this reporter arrived, 15 Taliban guerrillas were killed in clashes as troops searched for rebel hideouts. A large cache of arms was also discovered.

Jan, a police officer who asked that only his first name be used to avoid retaliation from the Taliban, was ordered by the major to accompany reporters as they moved through the town. He said he had taken part in fighting against the guerrillas.

“It was easy to recognize them in those days,” he said. “They usually had long hair and long beards.” Now they may be moving about with clean-shaven faces and their hair cut short.

Jan said he never left the valley, even when the Taliban were in control.

“One night I heard a knock on my front door. When I checked I found my nephew there. He told me the Taliban were coming to get me and that I should get out quickly.”

Jan said he climbed onto the roof of the house and let himself down from there to the back. “It was raining heavily,” in the middle of the monsoon season. “I stayed away from my home for 47 days,” hiding in the homes of friends or relatives.

Another police officer was not so lucky. An inspector, he was on his way to a wedding when the Taliban intercepted him. “They beheaded him in front of his wife and children,” Mr. Jan said.

With the Taliban no longer in control, life was returning to normal. Many, if not all, the men seen in the streets were now clean-shaven.

A natty clean-shaven businessman who gave reporters a ride through the town laughed when asked if he had sported a beard during the Taliban rule. “I’ve shaved it off now,” he said. The businessman declined to give a name, fearing he would be killed by the Taliban for speaking with a Western reporter.

But to demonstrate his newfound freedom, he clicked on a DVD player and the image of a female singer appeared on his rear-view mirror with the music on the two speakers behind the rear seat. He would not have dared to do that when Taliban were around.

The majority of Swatis are ethnic Pashtuns, and many of them pray five times a day. But they still love their Pashtun singers, male or female. Wherever the Taliban is in control, music is outlawed.

Songs by female Swati singer Nazia Iqbal and male singer Rahim Shah can now be heard in the streets again as one nears shops selling CDs and cassettes.

At a CD shop on a crowded Mingora street, there were several customers buying their favorites. “This shop was burned down by the Taliban,” said the store clerk, who also refused to give his name, citing the Taliban threat. He said his was the biggest CD shop in Swat, and that belonged to his brother.

“They did it at night, when the shop was closed. We suffered a huge loss of 400,000 rupees” (about $5,000). The shop was rebuilt after the Taliban were driven out of Mingora.

At the district courts in another part of town, judges were working to move cases as quickly as possible under a new government directive.

The slow pace of the judicial work since the princely state of Swat was annexed by Pakistan about 40 years ago had become a major source of discontent among Swatis. Older residents recalled that justice was dispensed quickly during the prince’s rule.

During his campaign to take over the state, Mullah Fazlullah pledged to reintroduce Shariah or Islamic law. A milder form of Shariah had been enforced under the prince.

However, when Islamabad agreed return Swat to Shariah during negotiations with Fazlullah’s father-in-law, Sufi Mohammad, in the spring, the Taliban leader reneged on a pledge for the guerrillas to put down their arms.

“The Taliban didn’t want the Shariah,” said lawyer Adil Khan. “They wanted power. When the government promised them Shariah with review powers exercised by the Supreme Court, they said they did not recognize the Supreme Court.

“They did not recognize the Constitution and did not believe in Pakistan,” Mr. Khan said.

• Khudayar Khan contributed to this story.

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