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Pakistan Army starts gradual transfer of powers to civil admin in Malakand division

PESHAWAR/TIMERGARA: The Pakistan Army on Tuesday started gradual transfer of powers to the civil administration in the militancy-affected Malakand division.

The start was taken from Lower Dir and Upper Dir districts where military officials returned administrative powers to the local civil administration.

A ceremony to hand over powers to the civil administration was held at Timergara, the headquarters of Lower Dir district.

General Officer Commanding (GOC), Malakand region, Maj. Gen Ali Amir Awan and Commissioner Malakand Syed Zaheerul Islam, Regional Police Officer (RPO) Akhtar Hayat Gandapur and other military and civil officers attended the ceremony.

Member National Assembly (MNA) Sahibzada Tariqullah and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Finance Minister Muzaffar Sayyid, both belonging to Jamaat-i-Islami and hailing from Upper Dir and Lower Dir, respectively, also attended the event.

At the ceremony, Maj-Gen Ali Amir Awan placed traditional turbans on the heads of Commissioner Zaheerul Islam and RPO Akhtar Hayat Gandapur in a gesture to signify the transfer of powers to the civil administration.

Military officials in Swat and Peshawar confirmed to The News that the decision to transfer powers to civil administration was made in the apex committee meeting held in October 2017.

They said Pakistan Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa had pledged at that meeting to hand over powers to the civil authorities in Malakand region.

Commissioner Malakand Syed Zaheerul Islam told The News that the phase-wise transfer of powers had begun from Upper Dir and Lower Dir districts.

He said in the first phase, 10 security checkpoints were handed over to the police. However, he said the Pakistan Army soldiers would remain present for support of the local administration.

“There is complete peace in the region and the civil administration is now capable of handling the security affairs. However, the army would remain present for back-up support of the civil administration,” said the commissioner.

The military has been engaged in Malakand since 2007 when militancy was at its peak. The security forces retook control of the region from local militants.

The army was first sent to Swat in 2007 when the local cleric Maulana Fazlullah heading the TTP challenged the writ of the state by setting up his Sharia courts.

In the early days, he restricted his campaign to his FM Radio channel which he used for fiery speeches against the state and its institutions.

The emboldened Maulana Fazlullah and his men later launched an organised movement and extended his network to the adjoining districts where the state institutions were slow to take notice of his activities.

A time came when militants loyal to Fazlullah called the shots in most parts of Malakand region.

Subsequently in May 2009 the government launched military operation against Maulana Fazlullah’s group in Malakand division.

More than 2.5 million people were forced to abandon their homes in Swat, Buner and other districts when the security forces launched a major offensive against the militants.

To the surprise of many, Maulana Fazlullah and his key commanders went into hiding and surfaced in Afghanistan’s Kunar province, where they reorganised and began staging attacks mostly in Swat, Dir and Buner.

Military officials and the commissioner said the transfer of powers would be extended to other districts including Malakand, Swat, Buner, Shangla and Chitral.

“The army would be able to focus on the border areas (with Afghanistan) after handing over powers to the civil administration in Malakand region,” said Zaheerul Islam.

Security officials told The News that the civil administration would now be able to make the decisions for which previously it sought permission from the army officers.

“The military handed over all the administrative powers to the civil administration which were given to them years ago for curbing militancy and terrorism in the region. By the grace of Allah Almighty, peace has been restored to the entire Malakand region with the sacrifices of law-enforcement agencies and equal contribution of the civilians. It is the right time to return administrative authority to the civil administration,” a senior security official told The News while pleading anonymity.

He said military checkpoints would be removed gradually from the city areas and the surrounding localities, where the police would now handle all the security related issues.

Speaking on the occasion in Timergara, Maj-Gen Ali Amir Awan said the Pakistan Army handed over security responsibilities to the civil administration after the restoration of peace in the region.

“Without any exaggeration, let me say the passion and patriotism of local population was matchless and a role model for the people of rest of the country,” he remarked.

He said the residents of Dir cooperated with the armed forces in eliminating militancy and terrorism. He said the local population stood side by side with the army.

“I am really inspired by the way the people of Dir celebrated Pakistan’s Independence Day, 6th September, 23rd March and other national days,” Maj-Gen Ali Amir said.

He assured that the army would be available all the time for support of the police and civil administration.

In his comments, Commissioner Malakand Zaheerul Islam said it was a redefining moment as Pakistan Army handed over security responsibilities to the civil administration.

“I pay tributes to the people of Dir who rejected all those philosophies in the name of Islam leading towards darkness. People sacrificed their near and dears onesand left their homes for the great cause of national security,” said the commissioner.

He urged the residents of Dir not to pay heed to new assertions, saying Pakistan Army had rendered matchless sacrifices for restoration of peace.

Meanwhile, people were relieved to learn about the decision as it was their longstanding demand that roadside checkpoints should be removed or local police be deployed at checkposts in case of need.

They pointed out that they had to stop at every checkpoint and wait in queues even if they had an emergency.

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