A secretive Pakistani cleric is using an illegal radio station there to urge his followers to wage jihad in the restive Northwest Frontier Province where the Taliban is rapidly increasing its influence.
The followers of Maulana Fazlullah, who refer to him as "the FM Maulana," have bombed girls' schools (aftermath of one bombing pictured above), attacked shops selling music and defaced a 7th Century Buddha sculpture that archaeologists describe as the second most important relic for the region's Gandhara period after the Buddhas of Bamiyan, Afghanistan.
Last week Fazlullah warned of more violence, telling thousands of supporters at a rally in the village of Imam Dheri that "if a single bullet is fired on my people, we'll wage jihad," according to locals who heard his speech.THE BLOTTER RECOMMENDS
Fazlullah was angrily responding to the government of Pakistan's announcement that 2,500 paramilitary troops are being deployed to Swat Valley, the scenic region where he operates. At least 47 people have died so far in attacks in the valley, an area once so famous for its snow-capped mountains and restful atmosphere that it was known as "Pakistan's Switzerland."
Once stationed in Swat Valley, the troops are expected to assist overwhelmed local authorities and to keep watch on Fazlullah and his gang of followers, according to Maj. Gen. Wahid Arshad, the military spokesman. The troops will remove the militants by force if they do not leave peacefully, he said.
"The troops have been sent to restore law and order and to provide security to the locals," Gen. Arshad told ABC News. Gen. Arshad said troops from the Frontier Corps were establishing checkpoints on the major roads in and out of Swat and establishing positions on the mountains that ring the valley.
Taliban influence has spread rapidly across northwest Pakistan over the past two years. The international community has been pressing Pakistan to act against the widening reach of homegrown Islamic radicals, and Western officials say they are concerned President Pervez Musharraf has been too preoccupied with a widening political crisis to focus on the deteriorating security situation.
The unrest in Swat has decimated the area's tourism industry. Swat Valley used to attract about a quarter million visitors every year, most of them Pakistanis, but now business is down 95 percent, says Zahid Khan, president of the Swat Hotel Association.
"The hotel industry is completely destroyed. We don't even have money to pay our bills," he said. "The people of Swat are fed up. They want an end to this situation."