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Story Publication logo August 5, 2011

Life in the Swat Valley



Shaheen Buneri, a Prague-based journalist for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, returns to his native...

Mingora is not only the administrative capital of Swat Valley; it is also the main center of social, cultural and economic activities in the Malakand region. It's a beautiful city with moderate weather and tourist attractions. Since the time of the Swat State (1915-1969) tourists from inside and outside the country stayed in Mingora before moving to the upper valleys of Swat. The city is also home to rare Buddhist ruins and stupas.

According to 1998 census 175,000 people reside in Mingora.

Apart from the local Yousafzai tribe of the Pashtuns (predominantly Muslim), Hindu and Sikh families also live in the city—giving diversity to its cultural life.

The rise of the Taliban insurgency in 2007 changed the traditional pattern of life in Mingora. Fazlullah, a former lift operator turned militant commander, launched a pirated FM channel in Mamdheri village, at a distance of barely 5 KM from Mingora. In 2008 his campaign against girls' education, anti-polio treatments and liberal expressions of life left the city and its residents with serious challenges for their survival.

The Green Square of the city, once the hub of social and cultural activities, turned into a ''bloody square'' where the dead bodies of Taliban opponents, police and civil society workers were hung from electricity poles. The Taliban also killed Shabana, a female dancer from the city's Banr Street; they threw her body in the main square so that others could learn a lesson.

After immense international pressure, Pakistan launched a military offensive against the Taliban in 2009. The conflict between the security forces and the Taliban displaced 2.5 million people from Malakand, of which Swat is a district. The city became a battleground and, by the end of the year, a number of buildings were destroyed. The power supply center had been bombed by the Taliban.

The military operation pushed the Taliban to the mountainous area along the Pak-Afghan border close to the upper Dir district and Bajaur tribal agency. The displaced people returned to their homes and complained that in their absence their houses were looted and their properties damaged.

(After two years of conflict and instability, Shaheen Buneri visits this area under a fellowship from the Pulitzer Center to report on the post-Taliban social, political, economic and security situation. These photos, focusing mainly on activities of the residents of Mingora city, were taken during his month-long stay in Swat valley.)

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