By BosNewsLife Asia Service  with BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos

Taliban militants and their supporters have taken control of Swat Valley. The Pakistani military has launched a counter offensive.

SWAT VALLEY, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– Hundreds of thousands of people, including Christians, have fled Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled Swat Valley and nearby areas as the Pakistani military on Saturday, May 9, continued to pound suspected militant positions.

Witnesses said troops attacked three Taliban-held districts northwest of the capital, Islamabad, claiming gains but also blaming Taliban militants for endangering civilians by allegedly firing indiscriminately and basing themselves in local homes.

The latest battle came shortly after the central government ended a peace deal in Swat because Swat Taliban fighters moved into Buner, a neighboring district just 60 miles (100 kilometers) from Islamabad, as part of a plan to increase their influence across Pakistan. 

Under the, now unravelled, peace deal, the Taliban was allowed to introduce strict Islamic law in the region. At least some rights investigators have said they hope the latest military operations will end the rule of the Taliban, which has been linked to attacks against minority Christians and other non-Muslim groups. 


In addition, advocacy group International Christian Concern (ICC) said the Taliban imposed the “jizya tax” required by Islamic law on religious minorities, forcing hundreds of Christians, Sikhs and others to flee.  

“The jizya tax is imposed by fundamentalist Muslims on members of other religions who refuse to convert to Islam and has been used by Muslim governments for centuries,” ICC told BosNewsLife. The aim of the jizya tax and other similar restrictions is punishment and slow strangulation. It aims to humiliate non-Muslims and impoverish them so that they are forced to convert to Islam.”

ICC also said that Christian and Sikh families living in an area similar to the Swat Valley, the Orakzai Agency, left their homes after the Taliban demanded 50 million rupees (roughly $622,200). “The Taliban announced that they would provide protection for religious minorities if they paid the amount, but the tax is so financially debilitating that minorities had to flee.” 

Religious minorities living in another tribal area have already paid 20 million rupees (about $249,000) as ‘tax’ to the Taliban after militants forcibly occupied some of their homes and kidnapped a Sikh leader last month, said ICC, which has close contacts in the area. 


ICC’s Advocacy Director Jeremy Sewall said he welcomed the latest assult on the Taliban. However, “We urge the Pakistani Army to completely root the Taliban out of Swat Valley. Only the total defeat of the Taliban can ensure protection of the fundamental right to religious freedom that the Christians and Sikhs of the Swat Valley deserve,” Sewall said. 

But residents trapped by the fighting, have appealed for a ceasefire. Military statements issued Saturday reported 15 militants killed in helicopter attacks in the Swat Valley district capital, Mingora, and as many as 40 militants killed in other parts of the district.

However observers said those claims — and the military’s overall count of more than 140 slain insurgents — were impossible to verify independently as aid agencies and journalists have been barred from the conflict areas.

At least half a million people have either already left the Swat Valley and nearby districts or want to leave but can’t because of the fighting, Pakistani officials and the United Nations said. Reporters said that would bring the number of people likely to be displaced due to anti-militant offensives across Pakistan’s volatile northwest region to one million.


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