A precursor to the war in Swat, the battle for neighbouring Dir is a conflict that despite its ferocity has been much less reported and it’s victims forgotten. Situated on the Afghan border in Pakistan’s north, the province has long been a staging post for cross border attacks and a hub for extremism.
Home to militant commander Sufi Mumhammad, Dir fell under the control of insurgents at the beginning of 2009. Threatening and torturing the population to gain support, dissenters were killed; their homes and businesses torched.
Implementing Sharia law, a ceasefire with the Taliban was agreed after the Pakistan government relinquished power in the region. It did not hold. In the upper valleys a tribal lashkar of some 1,500 men fought in hand-to-hand combat while in Lower Dir the military launched a full-scale assault. It would take months to clear out the pockets of resistance and with the frontier close by, sporadic fighting continued amid unabated tensions.
Hemmed-in by mountains and by the conflicts in Swat and Bajaur, displaced civilians had few places to run to and suffered enormously without assistance. Returning to demolished homes and fallow fields, life for many in Dir’s battleground has been a slow recovery, made only worse by the floods that were to follow. Two years after the fighting began, families stripped of their livelihoods struggle to survive amid the ruins.
©Alixandra Fazzina | NOOR