Taliban militants have extended their grip in northwestern Pakistan, pushing out from a valley where the government has agreed to impose Islamic law and patrolling villages as close as 100km from the capital.
Police and officials appear to have fled as armed militants also broadcast radio sermons and spread fear in Buner district, just 100km from Islamabad, officials and witnesses said Wednesday.
Pakistan’s president signed off on the peace pact last week in hopes of calming Swat, where some two years of clashes between the Taliban and security forces have killed hundreds and displaced up to a third of the one-time tourist haven’s 1.5 million residents.
Critics, including in Washington, have warned that the valley could become an officially sanctioned base for allies of al-Qaeda and that it may be just the first domino in nuclear-armed Pakistan to fall to the Taliban.
"The activities in the Swat do concern us. We’re keeping an eye on it, and are working daily with the Pakistan military," Maj Gen Michael S Tucker told Pentagon reporters in a 35-minute videoconference call from Afghanistan.
Supporters of the deal say it will allow the government to gradually reassert control by taking away the militants’ rallying cry for Islamic law.
Many residents are grateful that a semblance of peace has returned. A handful of officials are back in Swat.
The agreement covers Swat and other districts in the Malakand Division, an area of about 10,000 square miles near the Afghan border and the tribal areas where al-Qaeda and the Taliban have strongholds.
The provincial government agreed to impose Islamic law in Malakand, and the Taliban agreed to a cease-fire that has largely held.