PESHAWAR (AFP) - Sitting on a cold floor in a mudhouse on the outskirts of Peshawar, Akbar Ali fights back tears about getting his five children and pregnant wife out of 'hell' in Pakistan's Swat valley. When extremists came to his village, his life as a respected local headmaster fell apart. Today he hears that Aligrama has become a ghost village, overrun by rebels and damaged by shelling. Thousands of followers of radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah are waging a violent campaign to impose their interpretation of Sharia law, beheading opponents, threatening detractors and fighting the government. The displaced say civilisation as they knew it has collapsed in the picturesque and historic valley. A lucrative tourist industry for Western and Pakistani holidaymakers after skiing and mountain hikes - decimated. "The lives of ordinary people in Swat get worse and worse. It's like living in hell. There's no trade. Nobody's safe. Militants rule most of the area and anybody who opposes them is killed," he said. "Everything in Swat is destroyed, they are bombing schools, killing notables and targeting government employees. "All women's institutions are closed. There is no entertainment, no CD or music shops, and most hairdressers are closed," he added. Ali's nightmare began about 14 months ago when the Taliban warned him to close the girls' section of his village school, the 41-year-old said. "Masked militants armed with rocket-launchers, small and heavy weapons started patrolling our village. "First they told us to sack the female staff at school and then ordered us to close the female section or face the consequences," he told AFP. "So we were forced to shut the classes where some 135 female students were getting education. This created panic among the boys and the number of students dropped from 435 to 125," he said. Six months ago, he fled Aligrama for nearby Mingora. The militants closed in again, killing teachers and bombing schools, so he left Swat in January and followed five of his brothers to Peshawar. Local residents say 41 families from Swat are living in the village of Mosa Zai, on the outskirts of Peshawar where Ali has found refuge. Ordinary families renting houses or staying with relatives in the city - which has a population of 2.5 million people in addition to 1.7m Afghan refugees, according to local authorities - say they were caught between the security forces and the Taliban. Local officials said last week that 20,000 people had fled Swat recently. Witnesses talk about men, women and children walking down from the mountains in the freezing cold often with just the clothes on their backs. "Ten people were killed in our village and dozens more wounded in fighting in recent months," Ali said. "The Taliban killed an elected women councillor and her husband, and beheaded two others 'spying' for the government. "Every time there was fighting, there was a curfew but the victims were innocent civilians". "Almost the entire village has evacuated. Only those with nowhere to go have stayed," he said. People newly displaced to Peshawar told Ali the village had fallen to the militants and Taliban fighters were in control of five kilometres of road heading to the towns of Kabal to Kanju. He said anyone who opposes the militants is liquidated. "Not even the police can protect us, police can't leave the police station, they're living like prisoners in police stations," he added. Local residents say the government has lost control of most if not the entire valley. Ali said militants were demanding land tax and rents previously collected by local administration officials. "We cannot trust either party as both - the Taliban and the security forces - treat civilians as sub-human," said Ahmad Gul, another resident from Aligrama who fled to Peshawar. As a man, Ali said he would have been happy to face death, but that he had to keep his wife and children from danger. In Peshawar, his wife gave birth to her sixth baby, a healthy girl, and he was just happy that mother and children were safe and well. "We have suffered enough. Every family in Swat has buried loved ones and the death toll is still rising."