Gone are the days when self-styled vigilante squads of radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah were strutting around the streets of Swat, imposing their obscurantist ideas on residents. The army is now pulling out some troops after restoring the writ of the state in the region following a months-long operation cleanup.
The operation, codenamed Rah-e-Rast, was launched in May 2009, after Maulana Fazlullah, locally known as ‘Mullah Radio’, and hundreds of his loyalists unleashed a reign of terror in the picturesque valley. They wanted to impose their own hard-line version of Islam in the region, where there was no room for secular education, or to put it correctly, for anything that the militants considered un-Islamic.
They dynamited hundreds of state-run schools, attacked barber shops and bombed music centres in the marketplaces of the district.
However, the situation is now radically different. Schools have reopened and music centres and barber shops are doing business without fear of reprisal from militants. And the people of Swat owe this to the army. After the restoration of peace and order, the authorities have now decided to withdraw a division of the army from the region.
According to military officials, it has officially been approved to send back the 37th division to its headquarters. The 19th division, operating currently in upper Swat, will take over their duties.
Maj-Gen Ashfaq Nadeem, commander of the 37th division, will be sent back to the headquarters while Maj-Gen Javed Iqbal Ramday will lead the stabilisation operation in Swat. Currently, there are two army divisions deployed in Swat. “The decision to withdraw a division from the region will indicate that peace is returning to Swat. It will also help the civilian government come into its own instead of being a mere puppet,” Adnan, a resident of Mingora, told The Express Tribune.
A representative of the civil society, Arif Rehman, said: “This will reduce the number of check posts and the number of security personnel patrolling the area. Moreover, lots of private buildings, which are still occupied by the army for security purposes, will be vacated.”
Even though the decision may be popular, there are concerns regarding security issues as people do not know what will happen due to the decrease of security forces in the region.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 24th, 2010.