Ceasefire ends

Half a million set to flee Swat valley

A human tide of up to 500,000 people could pour out of Pakistan’s troubled Swat valley after officials told residents to flee as a controversial peace deal with the Taliban appeared finally to fall apart.

As clashes intensified between government troops and Taliban fighters - effectively marking an end to the three-month ceasefire - officials told residents in Swat’s main town, Mingora, that they should leave. Last night, thousands were said to be on the move, adding to countless others who have already been forced from their homes in north-west Pakistan in recent weeks. The development comes as Barack Obama is tomorrow due to meet with leaders Asif Ali Zardari and Hamid Karzai to discuss America’s new "Af-Pak" policy.

With so many people fleeing their homes, aid organisations said they were scrambling to set up extra camps for the anticipated flood. The government also said it was rushing to provide facilities ahead of what might be a new military operation in Mingora.

"Naturally, we are very concerned about these displaced people," said Ariane Rummery, an Islamabad-based spokeswoman for UNHCR. "Already we have been looking after 550,000 people who have been forced from their homes by conflict since last August. Last week another 20,000 people came out of Buner and Lower Dir."

Bewildered and frightened residents are leaving because of the threat from both the Taliban and because of the military operation to drive the militants from several locations little more than 60 miles from Islamabad that was launched last week. The military operation underlined growing concern within Pakistan about the increasing spread of the Taliban and of the failure of February’s ceasefire to bring stability.

The deal in Swat, combining as it did an agreement to enact Sharia law in the valley in exchange for a ceasefire, was controversial from the start, both in Pakistan and internationally. Many believed it was only a matter of time before the Taliban rescinded on their undertakings. That moment appeared to come last month when, encouraged by their success in Swat and by the fact they had not been forced to lay down their arms as the deal stipulated, they swept into the neighbouring district of Buner.

Under considerable international pressure and with the meeting with Mr Obama looming, Mr Zadari and the Pakistani military launched what they described as a major offensive to drive the Taliban from Buner. The military said dozens of fighters had been killed, though it has been impossible to verify such claims.

What is easier to measure is the surge of displaced people fleeing from the fighting - a surge that is likely to grow after officials said they were lifting a curfew in Mingora so that people could leave. Senior official Khushal Khan said Taliban fighters had been seen roaming the area and laying mines and that people should move to a temporary camp established in the nearby town of Dargai. That order was later rescinded but reports said people were already leaving. Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the information minister for the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), said up to 500,000 people were expected to flee the valley and that a total of six new refugee camps were being readied.

"We are leaving the area to save our lives," Sayed Iqbal, a 35-year-old cloth merchant who was putting household goods in a pickup truck already loaded with his family, told the Associated Press. "The government has announced people should leave the area. What is there left to say?"

Last night, with black-turbaned Taliban reportedly on the main roads in Mingora, a Taliban spokesman, Muslim Khan, said the peace deal had "been dead" since the military last week launched its operation in Buner. "Everything will be OK once our rulers stop bowing before America," he added.

As Mr Obama prepares to outline his regional strategy to Mr Zardari and Mr Karzai, Washington has also been seeking fresh assurances about the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. Previously it had always been considered the weapons were safely in the control of the country’s military leadership, but as militants have moved ever closer to Islamabad, concern has grown in Washington. This may reflect that Washington does not know the location of all of Pakistan’s weapons. Yesterday it was reported that US officials may already be in behind-the-scenes talks with their counterparts about helping Pakistan safeguard its nuclear stockpile.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Your picture is everything in the shallow world of online dating
i100
News
The Swiss Re tower or 'Gherkin' was at one time the UK’s most expensive office when German bank IVG and private equity firm Evans Randall bought it
news
Life and Style
Attractive women on the Internet: not a myth
techOkCupid boasts about Facebook-style experiments on users
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Reconciliation Analyst

£200 - £250 per day: Orgtel: Reconciliation Analyst Gloucestershire

Soutions Architect TOGAF - Reading

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Excellent Corporate Benefits: Progressive Recruitm...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on