MINGORA, Pakistan – Pakistan’s Swat valley will soon be reopened to tourists, an army commander said on Thursday, although sporadic violence continued with 17 militants killed in the latest clashes.
The army has largely cleared the former Taliban bastion in the valley, once a prime tourist destination 120 km (80 miles) northwest of Islamabad, in an offensive launched in late April.
The military says more than 2,000 militants have been killed although there has been no independent verification of that toll. In the latest violence, 17 militants were killed in several clashes, the military said in a statement.
But despite that, the commander of forces in Swat said the valley would soon be ready for visitors.
“The operation has been a complete success and we plan to open the valley to local tourists within a month,” Major-General Ashfaq Nadeem told reporters in the region’s man town of Mingora.
The offensive in Swat came after Taliban advances early this year and a string of attacks in cities raised fears for nuclear-armed Pakistan ‘s stability and alarmed its ally the United States.
The army is now turning its attention to the South Waziristan region on the Afghan border, the headquarters of Pakistani Taliban militants.
The Swat valley with its Alpine scenery, ancient Buddhist ruins and trout fishing was for years a favorite tourist destination for both domestic and overseas visitors.
Young Western backpackers used to flock there for a rest on the overland trail from Europe to India.
The valley was also home to Pakistan’s only ski resort, but militants burned down the hotel at the resort last year.
Nadeem said he wanted to get the message out that the valley was safe.
“We’ve asked the provincial government to arrange seminars on tourism and tell people that militancy has ended and tourists can come,” he said.