The tortured bodies of suspected militants have been found in Pakistan's Swat valley after a campaign by the Pakistani army against the Taliban, raising concerns that a hard-won victory may be sullied by accusations of extra-judicial killings.
There are also at least two mass graves where Taliban are buried, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
Separately, an Internet video emerged recently that appears to show Pakistani soldiers, likely in Swat, beating prisoners, including elderly men. The army was forced to announce an investigation into the video.
Pakistan's fearsome Taliban movement, based in the tribal area that borders Afghanistan, reached further into Pakistan two years ago and took over Swat, beheading and bombing their way across the valley.
A Pakistani army operation this year routed the militants by mid-July. But then bodies of suspected Taliban, many previously seen being detained by the military, started to turn up on cross-roads, bridges and outside homes.
According to Pakistani press reports, sourced to unnamed officials, 251 such corpses were found before the beginning of September. The bodies continue to be found, and locals estimate that the tally of bodies dumped in Swat could now be 300 to 400. Most appeared to approve of the killings and expressed anger at human rights activists who raised the issue.
"Where were these champions of human rights when the Taliban slit the throats of people in front of their women and children?" asked Mohammad Ali, a hotel owner in Swat's main town of Mingora.
The army denies executing its prisoners, suggesting that they were either killed in combat or at the hands of revenge-seeking citizens, including the lashkars , or tribal militias, which formed in recent weeks to defend against a return of the Taliban.
The military doesn't deny the existence of the mass graves, but says they were created by retreating Taliban killing their injured co-fighters rather than leave them behind to give away information to the authorities.
Some of the bodies found had their hands tied behind their backs. A number of high profile Taliban commanders, which the military had announced were in custody, also died, including the brutal Sher Muhammad Qasa. He was paraded through the streets of Charbagh, a former Taliban stronghold in Swat, when he was captured on Sept. 16, residents said. Four days after arresting Mr. Qasab, the army announced that he had succumbed to injuries sustained when he was detained.
Popular acceptance of the deaths is fuelled by rage at peace deals that the government previously made with the Taliban in Swat. Each time, militants in custody were freed, and people in Swat believe the courts will not punish extremists as witnesses are likely to be too terrified to testify.
Ayub Khan was taken away by the army one afternoon in early August from his home in Mingora, according to several people in the neighbourhood. Nine days later, his body was dumped on a nearby bridge. He had been badly beaten. A single shot to the head had finished off the 42-year-old. Ayub Khan was a minor informer for the Taliban, some locals claimed, spying on government offices as he delivered papers.
But it was the case of Akhtar Ali, a 28-year-old without any apparent Taliban connections, who ran a popular electrical repair store, which turned some in Swat against the killings. He was picked up from the street at around 4 p.m. on Sept. 1, at an army checkpoint in Mingora. His family were assured later that day that he would be released.
But at 6 a.m. on Sept. 5, his corpse was dumped on the doorstep of the family home. Every inch of his body showed signs of abuse, including burns made with an iron and the marks of merciless beatings. He was not shot, just tortured to death. It seems that it may have been a case of mistaken identity.
"Dead bodies are being found every day. … Even if these are reprisals by the lashkars , these lashkars have been formed by the government themselves, and they're being patronized by the government," said Asma Jahangir, chair of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
The military spokesman in Swat, Colonel Akhtar Abbas, insisted that there have been no killings in custody by the army. "This is a disciplined organization," he said.
However, in the case of Akhtar Ali, he revealed that an internal probe is under way, headed by a brigadier, the results of which may or may not be made public.
The army's other problem - the harrowing video, posted on a number internet sites, including Facebook and YouTube - seems to show soldiers interrogating prisoners by kicking, punching and whipping them. The abuse takes place inside an unidentified compound, where the thrashings are interspersed with questioning. Many soldiers and officers look on, as did some prisoners visible behind their cell bars.
It is believed that the 10-minute video was shot in Swat in the past six weeks, after major combat operations there were over, perhaps showing the treatment of Taliban or the fathers of Taliban suspects.
The army said that an "investigation has been ordered" into the video, and anyone guilty would be punished. The army's chief spokesman, Major-General Athar Abbas promised that the finding of the inquiry would be announced.
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