PESHAWAR: 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.

An official communiqué issued from the CM House stated that KP Chief Minister Pervez Khattak announced the withdrawal of army from Malakand division in Nowshera.

Khattak said that withdrawal of army from these two districts would be followed by a phase-wise withdrawal from Upper Dir, Lower Dir and Swat where ‘the writ of the government has been consolidated’.

Khattak said that the army was deployed in the Malakand division due to increasing activities of the Taliban in 2007.

The security forces had offered innumerable sacrifices to clear the area and restore peace and now ‘hundreds of displaced people are back’.

The chief minister said that the KP government wanted to resolve all issues through talks and it has been successful in maintaining the writ of the government.

The residents of Malakand have expressed their reservations time and again about the militants’ threat from across the border where the Fazlullah-led Taliban have safe heavens in Nuristan and Kunar provinces and launch attacks in Upper Dir, Lower Dir and in Bajaur Agency as well.

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