South Asia

Mingora: Tragic Pakistan beauty spot

Flooding in Mingora
Image caption Mingora was hit by fighting last year and now has to contend with floods this year

It is hard to believe looking at the area around flood-hit Mingora, in north-western Pakistan, that it was once a major tourist attraction.

That was before the city in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province became a haven for militants at the centre of a bloody tug-of-war between the military and home-grown Taliban.

The floods which hit Mingora from four sides on 26 July, covering a third of its streets and homes in mud, are just the latest in an ongoing tide of misery.

Its population has been estimated in recent years at around the 500,000, although that has been swollen over the last fortnight by an influx of flood refugees.

Calamity after calamity

Local officials estimate that there are now between 700,000 to 900,000 people in the city, which is located not far from Pakistan's capital Islamabad.

Image caption Swat used to be a thriving tourist town

This is the second, and perhaps greater calamity to befall Mingora, the Swat district's largest city, in as many years.

A major part of its population had to flee to the Peshawar valley region to avoid being caught up in last year's clashes between the Taliban and the Pakistani army.

When the militants controlled the city its civil administration went into decline. When they were ejected late in 2009, the void was filled by the military and people started returning to their homes.

But the threat of Taliban counter-attacks constantly kept the army on its toes, erecting check posts on major routes and carrying out thorough searches of commuters and vehicles.

This created hardships for local people whose free movement was significantly curtailed.

The floods have now destroyed the entire infrastructure around the city, not only cutting it off but also creating a huge humanitarian crisis which is apparently beyond the capacity of the administration to handle.

Royal visit

Mingora was not always like this.

Image caption The re-opening of Mingora's cinema in September was hailed as a sign of better times

On the left bank of the Swat river at an altitude of more than 3,000ft (914m), it nestles at the centre of some of the country's most scenic mountain valleys and forestry.

It is the headquarters of Swat district, once one of the country's most popular tourist destinations.

It is also the administrative centre of the Malakand Division, which includes the districts of Buner, Upper Dir, Dir Lower, Shangla and Chitral.

As such, Mingora has been a major administrative centre - housing a large number of government offices, an army garrison, an airport and some of the best educational institutions in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Before the advent of the Taliban, Mingora had a vibrant hotel industry and a vast network of tourism-related businesses including shopping malls, riverside restaurants, a thriving handicrafts industry and a privately-owned system of transport.

Queen Elizabeth II remarked on the area's scenic charms when she toured it in the 1960s.

And it was because of tourism that Mingora - and the rest of Swat region - had a comparatively high per capita income and a buoyant literacy rate, compared to most major cities, including the provincial capital, Peshawar.

After the expulsion of Taliban late last year, the people were hopeful that their tourism industry would not take long to get back on track.

But last month's floods have dashed those hopes.

The tourism industry - like the town's infrastructure - will need to be rebuilt from scratch.

This will require major resources - and a long wait in yet another queue as the government grapples with challenges of perhaps greater urgency elsewhere in the country.

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