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Pakistani militant attacks persist, test new leaders

Key Taliban figures in the tribal belt remain at large despite 20,000 troops' efforts.

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By September, his forces had seized control of almost 60 towns throughout the valley in an attempt to create an Islamic state. When the Army finally intervened in November, Fazlullah's insurgency was supposed to come to a swift end. But even after 20,000 troops swept through Swat, residents warned that the threat was far from over – that the government had waited too long to act and Fazlullah had become too powerful.

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Chief among them was Asfandiar Amir Zeb, a prince whose family ruled Swat, a royal kingdom before it was incorporated into Pakistan in 1969, for 100 years.

"[T]he government was very inefficient in dealing with this situation – they should have dealt with the situation in time where no blood would have been spilled," Mr. Amir Zeb, a prominent moderate politician, said in December, suggesting that Fazlullah could strike again despite the army's presence.

Two weeks later, as he was campaigning for a seat in the National Assembly, Amir Zeb was killed when a roadside bomb struck his car. To date, no one has claimed responsibility for the assassination, but it is widely believed that Fazlullah is to blame.

The death of Amir Zeb – one of the area's most respected politicians – crystallized the sense that, in the war between moderates and the Taliban, the Taliban are winning here in the Swat Valley.

"[T]he poor people say that, if this can happen to Asfandiar, it can happen to anyone. So in that way it has demoralized the people," says Aftab Ahmed Sherpao, Pakistan's former interior minister.

Amir Zeb's death has also underscored that military might alone cannot stop the Taliban, that a broader set of tools – social, political, and economic – are needed to stem their growing influence.

There is now hope that the ballot box can deliver these, succeeding where bullets alone have failed. At the polls last week, the people of Swat, as elsewhere in Pakistan's conservative NFWP, resoundingly rejected Musharraf's party and the Islamist parties that have ruled the province since 2002. The moderate Awami National Party won six out of seven constituencies in Swat; the seventh remains undecided since the contest was postponed after Amir Zeb's death.

Wajid Ali Khan, who won one of the six seats, insists his new government will succeed using negotiations, not military strikes. "Almost 95 percent of people in Swat are moderate and liberal by nature," he says, adding, "Pashtuns have a jirga system. We want to solve each problem through negotiation, through the jirga system."

This article is a joint project with PBS FRONTLINE/World, as is "State of Emergency," which airs Tuesday, Feb. 26, at 9:00 p.m. EST on PBS (check local listings). Mahboob Ali contributed reporting from Mingora, Pakistan.