Pashtun residents say militants have imposed extremist views on the population, displacing centuries-old traditions.
The probable death of Baitullah Mehsud, a militant leader with thousands of followers, could reduce terrorist attacks in Pakistan. The impact on the war in Afghanistan is less certain.
The US envoy said it was unclear if the military had defeated the Taliban in the region or simply driven them underground.
US envoy Richard Holbrooke Thursday defended the military, which has been launching 'softening up' operations in South Waziristan for more than a month.
Villagers in northwestern Dir have 250 militants under siege, but say they need help from security forces to prevail. The military has a poor record of aiding these volunteer militias.
Some heeding the government's call to go back to their villages are encountering militants. In other areas, daily life begins to resume.
Some displaced people are eager to return to Swat – as the government is urging – but ongoing militant attacks have given others pause.
They will protect residents returning to Swat and Buner. Some have fled again after seeing Taliban in the area, despite a major Army offensive.