By Zia Ur Rehman

January 9, 2014

On December 31, unidentified militants shot dead three police constables and injured the station house officer of the Jowar police station in Buner. The cops went missing during an overnight search operation in Shoprang area of the district.

According to the local legislator, 17 policemen have disappeared in Buner in recent months. A number of tribal elders and political leaders, especially those belonging to the Awami National Party (ANP), have been killed in gun attacks in the district, and the residents live in fear. Local journalists and political leaders believe Taliban militants hiding in the mountainous border between Buner and Swat are responsible.

A destroyed vehicle at the site of a suicide attack in Buner in 2012. Six people were killed in the attack, including anti-Taliban leader Fateh Khan

After gaining control of Swat, Taliban militants led by Mullah Fazlullah had extended their influence in the neighboring Buner and seized control of a large part of the district after a brief battle with local residents in April 2009.

From their stronghold in Swat, the Taliban made several incursions into Buner, but faced a stiff armed resistance from the people. Residents of Buner dug up roads to block the entry of the Taliban from Swat, and took up positions at vantage points in the hills to fight the militants. In August 2008, a volunteer force of villagers in Shalbandai village killed six Taliban militants, including a key commander, Kamran, who had killed eight policemen in the village. The Taliban took revenge, sending a suicide bomber to the Shalbandai village on the day of a National Assembly by-election. Tens of villagers were killed in the attack. But the Taliban militants could not seize Buner until early April 2009, when the ANP-led provincial government had struck a peace deal with the Swat Taliban. By May 2009, the truce had fallen apart and the areas controlled by the Taliban were freed in the military operation that followed.

A number of local leaders have left the area because of security concerns

Buner’s residents are confident the Taliban will not be able to win control of their district, but the threat of attacks on political and social figures has created an atmosphere of fear.

Hassan Buneri, a provincial leader of National Youth Organisation (NYO), says he feels insecure in his hometown after the ‘targeted killings’ of liberal political leaders. After receiving direct threats from Taliban militants, he moved to Peshawar. “We have lost a number of party leaders in the district in recent months and the ANP is their key target,” Buneri said. A number of local leaders have left the area because of security concerns.

Among the politicians killed by the Taliban in the recent months are Afzal Khan, Adalat Khan, Muhammad Khan, Anwar Ali and Gul Zaman. In 2012, Taliban militants killed Fateh Khan, head of an anti-Taliban militia and a leader of Qaumi Watan Party, in a suicide attack.

An official at the Jowar police station said Taliban militants were active in the mountains of Elum and carried out attacks in Gadezai and Salarzai areas of Buner. “During the military operation in Swat in 2009, there were reports that a number of Taliban militants had found sanctuaries in the mountainous border areas of Swat and Buner,” he said. In May, the military had imposed curfew in the area and carried out a search operation. He said Manikhel, Pacha Kalay and Sultanwas union councils were the most sensitive. Locals say Taliban militants are seen in public both at night and during the day.

“It seems that the army operations have only shattered the network of Taliban militants, but not finished them,” said a political leader in Pirbaba area. Militants continue to target local leaders in hit-and-run attacks, he said.

“Buner is not in the tribal areas and Elum mountains are not Torabora, where the government cannot end Taliban sanctuaries and protect the people from their attacks,” said a principal of a government school in the district.

Mufti Fazal Ghafoor, a JUI-F legislator elected from Buner, took up the issue in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly on January 5. “The provincial government has not taken the matter of terrorists’ activities in the mountains of Elum seriously, and it has become no go area,” he said, adding that 17 policemen had gone missing in the area in recent months.

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