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Taliban Death Underscores Human Rights Concerns In Swat

Pakistani Army soldiers stand guard in the Swat Valley.
Reports say a feared Taliban commander in Pakistan has died from injuries sustained during a military operation.

Pakistan's military said Sher Muhammad Qasab died in custody on September 20 from multiple bullet wounds sustained during a firefight with Pakistani security forces on September 16. Three of Qasab's sons were killed in the fighting.

The army said Qasab, who had a $120,000 bounty on his head, died despite receiving medical care.

Qasab, whose name means "butcher" in Urdu, is believed to have decapitated many troops in Swat when the Taliban was in control of the area earlier this year. The Pakistani military retook the region this summer.

Qasab's death comes amid concerns the military has summarily executed suspected militants in Swat. Amnesty International said last week it had received credible reports that 164 people have been killed in Swat, “often shot at close quarters,” since mid-July, when the army regained control of most of the area from insurgents.

'Ongoing Chaos'

Many residents blame the army for the deaths. But the London-based human rights group says Taliban fighters engaging in reprisals and “local and tribal conflicts playing out in an environment of ongoing chaos and insecurity" were behind some of the killings.

Sam Zarifi, director of Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific program, says the Pakistani authorities have failed to impose order in the region.

There is a very high level of violence -- chaos, I think we could say -- because there really is no sufficient policing going on, no sufficient protection for the civilian population.
"There is a very high level of violence -- chaos, I think we could say -- because there really is no sufficient policing going on, no sufficient protection for the civilian population," Zarifi says.

Amnesty and another group, the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, have urged authorities to establish an impartial investigation into the killings.

Many residents who fled fighting between government forces and the Taliban earlier this year returned home to celebrate Eid al-Fidr, a Muslim holiday marking the end of Ramadan. Markets in Swat Valley’s main town of Mingora were busy ahead of the festival.

Shoe shop owner Rasheed Ali said he was happy to be back.

"We are very grateful to Allah that he has finally brought us home," Ali said. "The situation here is improving. Our lives have returned to normal. There can be no greater happiness than this."

Far From Normal

The military says it has cleared Swat and neighboring districts of insurgents following a major military operation launched in April. The authorities say more than 1,900 militants and 167 security personnel were killed in the offensive, but the death toll cannot be independently verified.

The government has encouraged around 2 million displaced civilians to return home and says around 1.65 million people have already done so. But life in the area is still far from normal.

Electricity and water shortages, along with poor transportation and limited trade, are making life difficult. Many returning families have not received money promised by the government.

Mingora resident Mohammad Ali says he's among those still waiting.

"We came out to buy clothes and shoes for the children, but prices are so high that we cannot afford them," he says. "Everything is too expensive."

The Swat Valley is still under a partial military curfew with no let-up to the violence in sight. Police say they stopped a plan to assassinate a regional education minister in Northwest Frontier Province on September 21 by engaging four militants in a gunbattle. It ended when a teenage suicide bomber blew himself up.