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In Pakistan, Refugee Crisis Deepens Amid Continued Taliban Threats

May 28, 2009 at 6:40 PM EDT
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The refugee crisis is deepening in Pakistan as Taliban fighters and Pakistani security forces continue to clash over the Taliban's demands that the army pull out of the Swat Valley. Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News reports from a refugee camp in the city of Mardan.

TRANSCRIPT

LINDSEY HILSUM: Two motorbike bombs in the storytellers bazaar in the old quarter of Peshawar. It’s not clear who did it, but today the Taliban said they had carried out the bombing in Lahore yesterday as revenge for the military offensive in their stronghold of Swat.

A few hours later, a paramilitary checkpoint was attacked. Five soldiers were killed.

Peshawar has seen many bombings in recent months. Now the Taliban has threatened to attack other Pakistani cities unless the army pulls out of Swat.

But they’re not about to do that. They say they’ve seized control of Mingora, the district capital, and will clear out the remaining Taliban in four days. Some 75 soldiers have been killed and hundreds injured. The government won’t say how many civilian casualties there are.

Some old people who couldn’t walk were trapped in the town, but the streets of Mingora are deserted, most residents having fled south away from the conflict.

Ten thousand people are sheltering in this government camp in Mardan; 1.5 million are said to have been displaced by the fighting so far. More arrive here every day, as the military steps up operations against the Taliban.

LIAQUAT ALI, New Arrival (through translator): The planes are coming and bombing their hideouts. I saw troops being dropped from helicopters at the top of the mountain.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Some bear the scars of the Taliban’s rule in Swat.

FARMAN ALI, Baker (through translator): I was at the funeral of a deputy superintendent of police who had himself been killed in a suicide bombing. A suicide bomber entered and exploded himself. I received pieces of shrapnel in my wrists.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Ice provides little respite from the pulverizing heat. The women, who are in purdah, are largely confined to stifling hot tents. Food and essential supplies are being distributed, but conditions are crowded and harsh.

The Pakistani government and military are under a lot of pressure now. If they don’t defeat the Taliban in Swat within the next few weeks, people will have stay in these camps throughout the summer heat and beyond.

At the moment, the people here seem to accept what’s happened, but if it lasts too long, then they could get angry and blame not the Taliban, but the government for their plight.

Private citizens are also helping. Dr. Farooq Khan, a psychiatrist, showed me the camp for 40 families that he’s providing from his own resources. He believes that, despite the human cost, the army must drive the Taliban from Swat, and do it quickly.

FAROOQ KHAN, Doctor: It’s extremely important and it’s the responsibility of the government to clear the area and to finish the operation within the next one to two months or maximum three months.

If they leave 10 percent to 15 percent of the militants in Swat or other areas, that’s another nidus and another nucleus for all the other militants to gather there. And so that will be another start of another great danger and risk for Pakistan.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Several people have stories of Taliban rule. This woman said the militants had forced her six daughters out of school. Others had witnessed the terror visited on the Swat capital, Mingora.

RAFI UDDIN, Bus Driver (through translator): Every day, when I passed through the bazaar on my way to work, I saw two or three bodies. Some had been hanged; others had their head put on their chest. We didn’t know who they were, maybe government employees, maybe soldiers, maybe some were even Taliban.

LINDSEY HILSUM: The poorest and least educated don’t really know what to think.

BAKHT RAMIN, Laborer (through translator): I can’t say anything, because on one side there is a dagger and on the other a Kalashnikov.

LINDSEY HILSUM: As refugees rely on community support and militants wreak revenge across the country, Pakistanis are beginning to understand the cost of their government’s policy of first allowing the Taliban to flourish and now trying to close them down.