Standing in the busy main market place of Mingora, it is hard to think that just two years ago this city in Swat district was under the tyranny of the Taliban.
Men shorn of their beards, which were mandatory under the Taliban rule, are a sure sign that the writ of the Islamic scholars no longer runs in these parts. Even women, draped in simple chadars (shawls), can be seen bustling about the streets.
Memories are still fresh of the days when Swat was a hotbed for the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the main Islamist group with its trademark bomb blasts and gruesome public displays of the dead bodies of political enemies and those who violated their codes.
In December 2009, a few months before the Pakistani army cracked down hard on the scholars, they murdered a popular female dancer and strung her body up from an electric pole as a warning.
The Taliban ordered women to quit work and torched some 200 girls’ schools so they would stay home. Music, dance and films were banned and shops selling videos and entertainment material became prime targets for arson.
That video shops have reappeared in Swat is one more sign that normalcy is returning to this valley, once called Udhyana (garden), and likened by modern tourists to Switzerland for its alpine beauty.
Authorities hope that the archaeological sites, trout fishing and other charms of Swat, plus its hardy population of 1.8 million, can restore the status of the valley as a world tourist destination.
That may be a long haul. As the army cracked down on the Taliban some 800,000 people fled to safer places and most businesses shut down.
In 2010, just as people were beginning to return another scourge hit them - the devastating floods that affected a fifth of Pakistan as the Indus river overflowed its banks.
With 338 hotels and restaurants in the valley, 43 percent of all business in Swat has to do with the hospitality sector, according to a survey carried ...