PESHAWAR: The Pakistan Army has begun drawing back thousands of its soldiers from the once seemingly-invincible Taliban stronghold of Swat to turn over security to the civil law-enforcement agencies by April, according to military and police officials.The partial drawdown is in line with the military's counter-insurgency strategy to clear, hold and transfer, the officials said. It included joint military and police activities aimed at capacity building in the districts of Shangla and Buner, leading up to the handing over of full control to the civil law enforcement agencies (LEAs).
Districts of Shangla and Buner would serve as pilot projects of an anticipated transfer of responsibility to civil LEAs and if successful, the same template would be applied to other parts of Swat and Malakand in due course. Complete transfer of responsibility may take one to two years, the official said.
The officials, familiar with the plan approved at the Apex Committee Meeting — a troika of the political and military leadership in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said that the first phase of the strategy had already been completed.
The second phase, which envisages the military in a monitoring role only in the two districts that were also plagued by militancy, is expected to be completed by March 15, a senior security official said.
Military units left behind in the third phase that is expected to last beyond March 15, would serve only as a deterrent force to ward off any possible threat and rely on intelligence work to track and hunt down militants, the official told Dawn.
A senior police official said the army-police joint patrols were continuing in some parts, although overall, the police were able to conduct independent patrols throughout the Malakand region.
The official said that the police would effectively take over security in Buner district by the middle of March, while the army would hand over Shangla district to civil law enforcement agencies by April.
“The time-frame agreed upon has not changed,” the police official said. “We are well on course to assume full security responsibility in the region”, the official said.
Thousands on duty
Ten thousand policemen, trained in light and heavy weaponry, are performing their duties in the region that had seen massive desertion in ranks at the peak of militants' control, while another 2,500 are presently being trained to meet the deadline, the official said.
“It is difficult to say how things would shape up, but at the moment we are confident enough to take full security responsibility,” the official said.
Construction of six police stations and a police line was under way and was expected to be completed in six months, the official added.
A security official said the army was readjusting by relocating and repositioning some troops to back up the civil law enforcement agencies to stave off any threat.
Cleansing operations in the Mohmand and Bajaur agencies are also being viewed as a prelude to commencing drawdown from Swat, without which sustenance of peace in already cleared areas could be in danger, the official said.
The larger plan includes setting up new posts and strengthening existing ones, besides construction of three military cantonments in the area.
Two divisions of Pakistan Army are deployed in Malakand Division, including Swat, Shangla and Buner.
“The civil law enforcement agencies will take the lead role. This is a big achievement and a role model for other places,” the security official said.
Anti Terrorism Act Amendments:
The official said that while initiatives taken to reintegrate and de-radicalise boys engaged in militancy in the past were paying dividends, the one worrying aspects of the entire strategy, besides the fugitive TTP leadership from Swat, was the pending issue of hardened militants in custody, declared “black” by the security and intelligence apparatus as ATA stays suspended from June 2010 onwards and so does the judicial process.
The proposed amendments are still pending before a standing committee in the Senate.
As the courts continue to try, and in most cases, bail the accused under the old ATA, a frustrated minister in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa said efforts to forge a broad political support for the amendments had failed to yield any results.
“The whole country has suffered (due to militancy), but we are on the frontline and when it comes to us, the rest of the political parties are least pushed,” the minister said.
“We have done our part and are waiting for the federal government to act, but it doesn't seem to have the required numbers to push the bill,” he observed.
Federal Minister for Interior Rehman Malik told Dawn on phone that the federal government had introduced new amendments in the proposed amendment bill and it would soon be tabled in both houses.
“We have realised that even some of the proposed amendments are not good enough to address issues. So we have introduced some new amendments to make it tougher and give more powers to the law enforcement agencies,” he said.