Source: Reuters – AlertNet
Date: 17 May 2009
By Zeeshan Haider
DAGGAR, Pakistan, May 17 (Reuters) – Fighting between the Pakistani army and Taliban militants drove farmer Rahim Zada and his family from their home in the mountains a week ago but on Sunday he was trudging back.
“I’ve come back to harvest my crop,” Zada said as he took a break on the road with his aged father, four women in all-enveloping burqas and a baby.
“We can’t live in Mardan, it’s too hot,” he said, referring to the main town on the lowland to the south.
More than a million people have sought refuge on the lowland from fighting that began last month when the army moved to push the Taliban out of Buner district, 100 km (60 miles) northwest of Islamabad.
The army then launched an offensive in the Swat valley, to the north of Buner. [ID:nISL460026]
“There was fierce fighting but now we hope there will be peace. That’s why we’ve come back,” Zada said as he and his relatives, laden with boxes and bundles, resumed their walk into the mountains.
More than 1,000 militants had been killed in the offensive, the Interior Ministry said on Sunday. There was no independent confirmation of the toll.
In fertile fields by the road from the lowland up to Buner, wheat was ready for harvest while stands of tobacco were growing well. Burnt-out cars and trucks lay on the road.
BROKEN GLASS, SHATTERED TREES
The fighting in Buner district began in the small town of Ambala and it would appear the Taliban put up stiff resistance.
Many shops along Ambala’s main street, including the town’s petrol station, have been destroyed and many homes damaged.
Broken glass, electric cable and shattered trees littered the ground.
The town was mostly deserted but two small shops were open.
“Ambala was the front line,” said Shah Wali, preparing chewing tobacco in one of the shops. “I came back yesterday just to see if my house was standing.”
In Daggar, the main town in Buner, the district’s top government official said about 350 Taliban were holding out in the village of Sultanwas, about 6 km (four miles) away.
“Much of Buner has been cleared of militants and now the fighting is concentrated on their main stronghold in Sultanwas,” said administrator Yahya Akhundzada.
“When it is fully cleared then the whole of Buner will be cleared and we will ask the people to return,” he said.
“We hope it will be a matter of days.”
An occasional boom of artillery rang out over the hills as he spoke.
Very few civilians remained in Buner, all shops were closed and its hospital was deserted.
But authorities have relaxed a curfew in Buner during the day to allow those farmers who are there to harvest their wheat.