Two months after the Pakistani army wrested control of the Swat Valley from Taliban militants, a new campaign of fear has taken hold, with scores, perhaps hundreds, of bodies dumped on the streets in what human rights advocates and local residents say is the work of the military.
In some cases, people may simply have been seeking revenge against the ruthless Taliban, in a society that tends to accept tit-for-tat reprisals, local politicians said.
The Pakistani army, which is supported by the United States and in the absence of effective political leadership is running much of Swat with an iron hand, has strenuously denied any involvement with the killings. The army has acknowledged the bodies have turned up, but its spokesmen assert that the killings are the result of civilians settling scores.
“There are no extrajudicial killings in our system,” said Col. Akhtar Abbas, the army spokesman in Swat. “If something happens, we have a foolproof accountability system.”
But neighbors of the victims and Swat residents say there is something more going on than revenge killing by civilians.
A senior politician from the region and a former interior minister, Aftab Ahmed Sherpao, said he was worried about the army’s involvement in the killings. “There have been reports of extrajudicial killings by the military that are of concern,” he said. “This will not help bring peace.”
Pakistan’s military operation against the Taliban in Swat, begun in May under public pressure from the United States, has been hailed by Washington as a showcase effort of the army’s newfound resolve to defeat the militants. The U.S. ambassador, Anne W. Patterson, visited Mingora, the biggest town in Swat, last week, becoming the first senior U.S. official to go to Swat since the army took over.