by Zia Ur Rehman

September 20-26, 2013

The killing of Swat’s top military commander and his two comrades in a bomb attack in Upper Dir on September 15 has raised new questions about the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government’s controversial decision to pull out troops from the area.
The attack, claimed by Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), came only a day after Chief Minister Pervez Khattak approved a troop withdrawal that was to begin from Buner and Shangla.

“Tehrik-e-Insaf salutes the army’s sacrifices,” said provincial minister Shoukat Yousafzai, “but now that peace has been restored, they must be sent back to the barracks.”

Three soldiers, including Major General Sanaullah Niazi, general officer commanding of Swat Division, were killed in a roadside bomb attack in a village at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in Upper Dir district on Sunday. Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid claimed responsibility in a statement.

“It was a high-profile attack and has whipped up fear among the residents of Malakand,” said a member of a peace committee in Matta area of Swat. –

Army troops had been ordered into the Swat valley in May 2009 to initiate a full-fledged military operation against TTP militants led by Mullah Fazlullah. Local residents were asked to leave the area. Between May and July, nearly 2.5 million people arrived in Peshawar, Mardan, Swabi, Karachi and other cities to live in camps, with relatives, or in rented houses. During the months of fighting in 2009, several Taliban commanders and militants were killed. By July 2009, the army said the region was back under control, and all militants had been killed or captured, or had fled. More than 20,000 troops remained in Swat and other districts of Malakand division.

Awami National Party (ANP) leaders say the provincial government led by Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) is scared of the Taliban. “The troop withdrawal is simply a part of the policy to bend over backwards to appease the terrorists,” said Bushra Gohar, a former parliamentarian of the ANP. “It is a confidence building measure to allow the displaced terrorists to return, regroup, and revive their safe havens and training camps in the area in preparation for the 2014 US withdrawal from Afghanistan.”

Members of the anti-Taliban peace committees in the area are not happy with the decision either. “When the militants were pushed out of the valley in 2009, their leader Fazlullah and his key lieutenants fled to the Kunar and Nuristan provinces of Afghanistan. Years later, they are carrying out cross-border attacks in Dir and Chitral areas,” said one member. “The recent killing of key army officials in Upper Dir corroborates our concerns.”

Several members of peace committees have also been killed in Swat recently. On September 16, Dr Rehman Ghani, a member of a local peace committee, was killed in Takhta Band area of Swat. On September 1, Akbar Ali, a member of local peace committee and a leader of Qaumi Watan Party, was killed in Durshkhela area. “Political leaders of ANP and members of anti-Taliban peace committees of Swat are key targets of the Taliban because they played an important role assisting law enforcement agencies in the operation against the militants,” the peace committee member said.

Locals and police officials say the Taliban are not in a position to regain control of Swat, and will restrict their battle to hit-and-run tactics – an ideal guerilla warfare approach in Malakand’s rugged terrain.

Some locals want the civil administration to take charge and let them have their say in the area’s political affairs. Sardar Ahmed Yousafzai, president of Kabal Bar Association in Swat, said the army had succeeded in bringing back peace in the region, and the resources being spent on the military presence should be diverted to a strategy to revive tourism, agriculture and marble mining in Malakan.

Jan Achakzai, a spokesman for Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F), also welcomed the withdrawal announcement. “We need to eventually move the army out of harm’s way, not only from Swat but also from FATA. The tribal areas should be pacified through talks.” He said the very argument that the army should not be pulled out completely suggests that militancy cannot end with a military operation alone. “Talks should be pursued resolutely to neutralize the militancy and isolate FATA from Afghanistan before 2014,” he said. “The writ of the state must be established and the army should be pulled out eventually.”

The process may not be simple, however. Hearing a case on Tuesday, Peshawar High Court Chief Justice Dost Muhammad Khan told the provincial government not to hurry with the decision. The court was told that there were five detention centers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where the army was questioning captured militants. The court told the provincial government to consult the army and the federal government and address the legal aspects of the handover of the detainees –