PESHAWAR, Sept 14: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government announced on Saturday that withdrawal of troops from Malakand division would begin next month and the civil administration would take over control of the area.
Shiraz Paracha, spokesman for Chief Minister Pervez Khattak, said the withdrawal could begin in mid-October.
In the first phase, troops would be pulled out from Buner and Shangla districts. The spokesman said the chief minister had approved the plan and ‘everybody’ had been consulted.
The announcement comes at a time when the federal government is preparing to launch peace talks with the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in the light of decisions of an all-party conference.
The army was called out by the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal government in 2007 to assist the administration in parts of Malakand division to quell militancy in the mountainous region. The division comprises Swat, Buner, Shangla, Upper Dir, Lower Dir, Chitral and Malakand districts.
When several militant groups, led by Mullah Fazlullah, established a parallel administration in Swat, Buner and other adjoining districts and started brutalities, the army launched an operation in May 2009. The air force assisted the army.
Over two million civilians were displaced from the area due to the conflict.
After successful completion of the operation and restoration of the state’s writ, it was decided that the troops would stay on in Malakand and the government chalked out plans to build cantonments in different areas. Mullah Fazlullah and his supporters escaped from Swat and, according to officials, he has taken shelter in a border area of Afghanistan.
The chief minister’s spokesman said details of the plan for troop pullout would be made public in a few days.
Asked whether the troops would leave Malakand or only restrict their movements, the spokesman cautiously said: “No, they will reduce visibility and the civil administration will take over.”
He said results of the withdrawal of troops from the two districts would be assessed and then a decision would be taken about a phased pullout from other areas.