Alarmed by increasing frequency of cross-border attacks from Afghanistan-based Taliban insurgents, Pakistan’s military is believed to have decided to send reinforcements to Swat after radical cleric Maulvi Fazlullah and his loyalists threatened to recapture the valley they ruled for two years before they were routed by the military in 2009.
“Threats from across the border are not something we can ignore … we will have to reinforce our troops to keep them away from Swat,” a senior security official told The Express Tribune on Friday. He did not want to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Troops may be moved to Swat from Punjab’s Kharian and Jehlum cantonments, the official said. According to him, the reinforcements would be deployed to secure hills and roads leading to Swat from Afghanistan’s bordering Kunar and Nuristan provinces.
Military spokesperson Maj Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa did not offer comment on the matter of reinforcements, saying that Swat was beyond militants’ reach and that they could never pose any threat to hard-won peace in the valley.
The development came days after a spokesperson for Maulvi Fazlullah said the militants who fled the 2009 military operation to Afghanistan’s eastern provinces were preparing to launch a new offensive.
Sirajuddin Ahmad, Fazlullah’s spokesman and cousin, said the group’s aim was to recapture Swat and eventually take control of Pakistan.
“The establishment of Islamic Sharia is our goal, and we will not rest until we achieve it. We will fight whoever stands in our way,” he told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location in Afghanistan.
The threat from the militia followed the release of a video by its associates of what they claimed were the heads of 17 Pakistani soldiers along with their identification cards.
Maulvi Fazlullah has slowly regrouped his militia by securing support from Afghan militants in an area where groups form loose alliances against the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“He is extremely dangerous,” said a Pakistani security official. “Fazlullah has 150 men, rocket-propelled grenades and light machine guns. You only need a small number of men to carry out effective operations. This is a big number,” he told Reuters.
Experts, however, believe it will be impossible for the group to regain Swat from Pakistani military, which currently controls the most vital part of the valley.
“It looks extremely difficult… the militia does not have the resources and manpower. They cannot defeat the military, but can bleed them,” said Brigadier (retd) Muhammad Saad, a Peshawar-based security analyst who has been monitoring the Fazlullah’s rise.
“The most important thing such groups need to control a region is public support. Fazlullah had it when he started in 2007,” said Muhammad, concluding “but nobody will be willing to support him (now).” (With additional input from Reuters)
Published in The Express Tribune, June 30th, 2012.
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