Hidden under an all-encompassing burqa and a niqab, FRANCE 24’s Anne-Isabelle Tollet entered the Pakistani city of Mingora to file this report on displaced families returning home after the military’s massive anti-Taliban offensive.
More than 2 million people fled their homes in the Swat region in north-western Pakistan when the military launched its massive anti-Taliban operation in April. UN officials say around 400,000 have now returned home.
But it’s hard to report on the situation on the ground since Pakistani authorities do not allow foreign journalists into places like Mingora - the largest city in the Swat district - which saw heavy fighting during the recent military offensive.
Pakistani authorities have now announced the end of the operation and have declared it a success. But they’re not at all keen about international journalists covering the story of hundreds of thousands of displaced families returning home for the global media.
Furthermore, during US special envoy Richard Holbrooke’s visit this week, Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani renewed his calls for the US to provide his country with advanced military technology and weapons for the counterinsurgency. These are delicate times for Islamabad.
What lies ahead?
On the road to Mingora, a number of residents returning home after three months in dusty camps say they are still worried about the security situation.
“I'm happy to be coming back,” said a resident standing besides a resplendently painted truck making its way to Mingora. “But I don't know if the atmosphere will be the same. I don't believe the Taliban have been defeated. I know them, they will not give up.”
No homes, no gas, no electricity
After a grueling eight-hour drive from the camps, a family arrives in Mingora to find their house has been destroyed in the offensive. Helpless, they park on the pavement and try to set up a makeshift home.
“I was a caterer, but now everything has been destroyed,” says a resident in the heart of the town. “The government hasn't given me money to start up again. I don’t know if things will change, it might take two years or ten, only God knows.”
Pakistani military officials say troops have been engaged in fierce fighting here against 5,000 Taliban. The media wasn’t here to cover the clashes, but the ruined buildings tell the story.
Pointing to the ruins of what was once a building, a resident explains that an army helicopter bombed a café in the building. “The owner's son worked for the Taliban,” he explained. “Those who worked with them were punished.”
Conditions in the city are harsh. There is no gas or electricity, and some clashes are still taking place at night on the outskirts of Mingora.
A curfew is still in place in this once picturesque city. It will take a long time before life returns to normal in Mingora.
Date created : 2009-07-23