PESHAWAR: The Pakistan Army is working on gradual transfer of authority to civil administration in districts controlled and ravaged by Taliban militants in Malakand division but retaken in a major military offensive in 2009.
Pakistan’s efforts to stabilise Taliban’s previous bastions after their defeat and enable civil administration to take over charge are succeeding. Analysts believe clear, hold, build and transfer of authority to civil administration completes a successful counterinsurgency strategy. In most of the districts in Malakand division, according to officials, the government is working on the last phase: transfer of authority to local administration.
The military plans to hand over Malakand Agency, a district that was relatively less affected by militancy but held significance for being gateway to the highland Malakand division. “We may transfer authority to the civil administration in Malakand Agency by the end of this year,” said Col Arif Mehmood, spokesman for the military in the Malakand region.
It will become the third district where authority is transferred to the civil administration. Shangla and Buner districts, according to the official, had already been handed over to civil administration in April and May 2011.
Pakistan conducted massive military offensives in mid-2009 to quell Taliban insurgency in Swat, Buner, Shangla, Lower Dir, Malakand Agency. For two to three years, the army’s strategy focused on consolidating hold in the regained areas and preventing Taliban from staging a comeback, along with undertaking reconstruction of infrastructure and rehabilitation of affected people.
Nevertheless, many believe, the army’s victory would be determined by successful transfer of authority in Swat, the valley where militant commander Maulana Fazlullah was based and the area from where he directed Taliban franchises in surrounding districts. Three years after it conducted a massive offensive, the military still maintains a huge presence in the valley.
However, army is gradually reducing its footprints in Swat. On March 1 this year, it handed over responsibility of running affairs, including security, to the local administration in Bahrain and Kalam, two main towns and tourist destinations in the north of the valley.
Officials said the civil administration’s performance after reassuming charge in Bahrain-Kalam area was encouraging. “Civil machinery in Bahrain and Kalam is fully operating, looking after security and civic issues,” said Kamran Rehman, the district coordination officer of Swat.Gul Afzal, the district police chief in Swat, said affairs of the transferred areas were “totally” run by the civilians. He said the checkpoints on the road were administered by police.
Some think otherwise. Quwwat Khan in Kalam and Ihsanullah in Bahrain said army soldiers still manned checkpoints along with police officials, though other affairs were managed by the civil administration. This correspondent observed that at least 10 checkpoints operated from Mingora to Kalam just before Ramazan and the army was supervising all of them, including the one in the remote Matiltan area in Kalam.
However, military and civilian officials said the troops were there on request to assist local administration for the Kalam festival. “The security forces still conduct, with our permission, raids against terrorists. However, they don’t interfere in crimes related issues,” the DCO said of the army’s existing role.
Col Arif said the army soldiers in the area would act only on the call of the police as part of an effort to back up civil administration. The improvement in the situation has given the administration officials confidence and it showed willingness to take over charge of the entire Swat valley. “In consultation with the barmy, we are ready and capable of reassuming charge in Swat, including security, on a mutually-agreed future date,” said DCO Kamran Rehman. The district police chief also agrees but favours a gradual transfer of authority to the local setup.
According to the DCO, Swat has 3,200-plus police force, 17 police stations and a new Levies Force of 500 personnel which gives them confidence that they could better control the district. Swat largely remained peaceful since early 2010 but Maulana Fazlullah and his armed supporters are now increasingly menacing peace in the valley. Based in Afghanistan’s Kunar and Kohistan provinces, action against him men has become a catch-22 situation for Pakistan Army, making the threat this time more complicated.
On Friday, his group attacked hotelier Zahid Khan and severely injured him in the head. He is member of the anti-Taliban Swat Quami Jirga (SQJ) who fearlessly spoke against Maulana Fazlullah when he held sway in Swat. The incident troubled people, particularly other anti-militant voices.
“There is a gap between people and the army that could not be bridged during the last several years. Ideally we would want the authority transferred to the civil administration but the ground reality doesn’t suggest so,” said Ziauddin Yousafzai, who is spokesman for the SQJ.