The National Action Plan, as originally conceived, called not just for military operations against militant groups but for the writ of the state to be restored in affected areas. It is heartening to see that this is now being achieved in areas that have been strongholds of militants for years. This week, after 10 years of bravely battling militant groups, the army handed over control of security in Upper and Lower Dir districts to the civilian setup. To get a scale of this achievement, it is necessary to remember just how dire the situation in Dir really was. It essentially became the epicentre of militancy in Pakistan when the TTP used it as the staging ground for their attacks around the country. When Mullah Fazlullah fled to Afghanistan after being driven out of Swat, he would stage cross-border attacks in Dir to demonstrate his continued ability to lead the TTP. That the military is now confident enough to hand over security responsibilities to the civilian setup shows just how much progress has been made in the war against militancy. For the people of Dir, this is an opportunity to attempt to rebuild their lives.
As welcome as this development is, it is important that it should not lead to complacency. Back in 2009, the government had declared that Dir was cleared of all militants. It took nearly a full decade after that to break the back of militancy. But Mullah Fazlullah and the TTP still have their safe havens in Afghanistan. They know how important Dir is since control of the area gives land access to most of Fata. Our forces will still have to be alert to any signs of a militant comeback. Still, the handover in Dir should serve as a model for the best-case outcome in the tribal areas. The end goal in Fata should not just be defeating militancy and going back to the way things were but to bring the region into the mainstream of the country, as suggested by the corps commanders conference on Wednesday. This means pursuing reforms in Fata and ensuring that the people of the tribal areas are stakeholders in their own fate. Even if we can now see the end of the tunnel, the work still left to be done is considerable and will require the best efforts of all state institutions.