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KP government eyes troop withdrawal from Swat

Published Jun 29, 2013 05:49pm
Pakistani army soldiers patrolling a deserted street in Mingora, the capital of Swat valley, in 2010. -AFP/File Photo.
Pakistani army soldiers patrolling a deserted street in Mingora, the capital of Swat valley, in 2010. -AFP/File Photo.

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI)-led government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is seriously working towards a plan for the army’s withdrawal from Swat – but unfortunately, security imperatives make completely withdrawal an impossibility.

The coalition government has so far discussed the proposal with military leaders, and have also informed the public in Swat of their plan, according to senior minister in the coalition government and central leader of Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), Sirajul Haq.

“First this issue (of withdrawal) was discussed in a meeting of political leaders of the coalition parties of PTI, JI and Qaumi Watan Party as well as other parties,” Haq said, adding: “The idea is to withdraw the security pickets which are causing hurdles in the revival of normal life in Swat.”

According to the minister, Chief Minister Pervez Khattak held a meeting with the Peshawar Corps Commander to discuss the issue: “The corps commander said that if the police and local administration can take over the responsibility of maintaining law and order, they are ready to withdraw from there,” he explained.

Mohammad Roshan, who heads the NGO Swat Participatory Council, told Dawn.com via telephone from Mingora, “It is generally known in Swat that the government is working on this kind of plan ... and a debate of sorts has started in Swat society on whether the army should stay or withdraw from the valley.”

On the other hand, security experts say that the complete withdrawal of the army from Swat is not an option. “The army has plans to construct a cantonment in Swat …100 percent withdrawal is not a possibility,” said analyst Hassan Askari.

The PTI-led government’s determination seems to be based on a prevalent unease in the rural and urban areas of the scenic valley against the heavy presence of the army which has stalled the revival of the economy and daily routines in general.

“We want to create a comfortable situation for the people…..they are facing a lot of hardships because of security check posts in the area,” Haq clarified.

Roshan Khan told Dawn.com that the people of Swat’s frustration arises from the trouble caused by security check posts and search operations and because economic activity has not been revived following the operation. Hazir Gul is an chief executive of an NGO working on agriculture projects in Swat in collaboration with the government of Pakistan and USAID, which goes by the name of Karawan. Gul explained that agricultural activity has failed to pick up in the valley, primarily on account of strident security checks and the terrible conditions of the transportation system, that was destroyed in the military operation.

He added, “Maize is a major crop in Swat which remained banned in the initial four years following the military operation … Last year the security forces lifted the ban on Maize, but the farmers have so far failed to revive maize cultivation to the full.”

This has given rise to the feeling that the withdrawal of troops from Swat is a must if the government wants to restore normalcy to Swat Valley.

Ajmad Ali, a senior Editor of local Swat newspaper Daily Chand, said that the government is right in working on the plan to withdraw troops from Swat: “I think it will be good if the government let’s the local administration and police handle the security and administrative situation in Swat … because we understand them and they understand us, they are familiar with our culture, they are our own people,” he said.

The provincial government, however, is not proceeding without caution. “We are not in a hurry. We will be discussing this with the army and the federal government – we know that law and order has to be maintained at every cost,” Haq emphasised.

And what about the reaction of the army itself to this proposal? Askari is of the opinion that the army will ask the provincial government to put forward an alternate security plan. “There are reports of militant presence in the vicinity of Swat valley, and there is a strong possibility that they will regroup if the army withdraws from Swat,” he said. Secondly, Askari added, a civil administration’s capacity to maintain law and order in the valley is doubtful: “The civil administration has failed to demonstrate its ability to maintain law and order in the valley,” the security analyst stressed.