- Title: PAKISTAN: Swat refugees return home help security forces flush out Taliban
- Date: 1st September 2009
- Summary: LOCAL RESIDENTS BREAKING THEIR FAST IN THE MOSQUE (SOUNDBITE) (Urdu) AFTAB GUL, DISPLACED MAN WHO HAS RETURNED TO SWAT, SAYING: "Everything is working out fine. The market is fine. And people have come out into the markets." PEOPLE IN THE MARKET
- Embargoed: 16th September 2009 16:08
- Location: Pakistan
- Country: Pakistan
- Topics: War / Fighting,Population
- Reuters ID: LVACVFRXQDVC161NYS342CRCZVRP
- Aspect Ratio: 4:3
- Story Text: Displaced Pakistanis, returning to Swat, are helping security forces flush out Taliban militants in the region.
More than 80 percent of the 2.2 million Pakistanis who fled their homes after a military offensive against the Taliban have now returned to the Swat region, the government's top relief official, Lieutenant-General Nadeem Ahmed, told Reuters in an exclusive interview.
The returning people, "disgusted and disgruntled by the activities of the militants," were volunteering information about the militants so that the army could carry out action against them, Ahmed said.
The fighting in the North West Frontier Province has seen one of the largest internal displacements in recent times, as hundreds of thousands of people were forced to seek refuge in camps and with host communities, mostly since April.
Families began flooding back to their homes in Swat and Dir to rebuild their shattered lives after the army declared much of the conflict area safe last month.
Ahmed said he was surprised at how quickly the counter-insurgency operations and the return process had occurred.
Ahmed, who is the Chairman of the Special Support Group for the displaced, dismissed concerns from aid workers who say that returnees are at risk while the army conducted mopping-up operations.
He said people who had gone back were coming up with "very high-quality intelligence" which was helping the army hunt down remaining militants in snap operations.
"They are the people who say: 'We'll take you to the tunnels, we'll take you to the caches, we'll take you to the places where they have been storing ammunition and explosives and suicide jackets and other devices.' So I think we could not have done so much without the active support of the people themselves," Ahmed said.
The Taliban took control of the former tourist beauty spot of Swat valley in 2007 and attempted to impose their own version of Sharia law -- forcing women to wear burqas, stay indoors and destroying girls' schools.
The people, who were used to a less severe form of sharia, say they lived in fear of the brutal punishments carried out by the Taliban, who carried out executions and whippings in public.
Ahmed said it would take time to completely wipe out such a large-scale insurgency, but that did not mean that life could not go back to normal.
Humanitarians have, by and large, applauded the government's response to this crisis.
But some say the return process may have started too early with such a huge number of people returning so quickly to areas which are not fully secured or where basic services are not fully functioning.
Ahmed expected incidents of militant violence to continue, but not on a scale to merit holding back families from returning.
"You cannot hold 2.2 million hostage to a small little insurgent incident which may happen, which may not happen. And this was one unfortunate incident which happened," he said.
"But even if you ask me today - was the decision to send back these people right - I would say yes, because there was an incident, we moved in, took action on it and the people are back in their homes."
He said in most areas, civil administration and law enforcement had been established, basic health care and schools were operational, and markets were open.
Many locals who had returned shared Ahmed's optimism.
"Everything is working out fine. The market is fine. And people have come out into the markets," beamed Aftab Gul, a displaced man who has recently returned to Swat.
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