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 Many believed it was only a matter of time before the Taliban rescinded on their undertakings.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
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
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

SEN Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you that teacher who c...

SEN Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you that teacher who c...

IT Auditor

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: IT Auditor , Information Governance, NHS...

Process Improvement Analyst (Testing)

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform