For the first time in the history of Pakistan, the government has established its writ in the remote Tirah Valley in Khyber Agency.
The scenic valley has long been plagued by a turf war between extremist groups. However, the situation deteriorated on March 16 this year, when the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP) militants from Swat district, and Mohmand, Bajaur, Khyber, Orakzai and South Waziristan agencies infiltrated the strategic valley and drove away the local population.
After days of bloody clashes, the valley fell to the Taliban on March 21. Thousands of local tribesmen had fled fighting in the valley – especially in the Bagh area of Maidan – to seek shelter elsewhere in the agency and in neighbouring agencies and Peshawar.
The military claimed on Wednesday that they have wrested back control of the valley. “The area has been cleared of militants,” Major General Hamayun Saeed, General Officer Commanding (GOC), told a media briefing at a former TTP compound in Maidan.
Giving details of the operation, he said that the security forces, backed by helicopter gunships, launched an operation on May 28. The local tribesman, who had been fighting the TTP at some places in the valley, assisted the security forces, he added.
On the first day, the security forces attacked Maidan from three sides, Haider Kandao, Dre Stanai and Mamozai area of Orakzai, and after fierce fighting, took control of the area, forcing militants to flee towards the mountains.
“Unlike other operations, we changed our tactics in Tirah and attacked the militants from where they expected the least,” he said, adding that by June 20, the security forces had flushed out militants from around 90% of the area.
Maj Gen Saeed said that since the security forces had pinpointed important strategic locations, the operation became much more easier to conduct. “In 22-day-long operation, eight security officials, including a colonel, lost their lives while 104 TTP terrorists, including some foreign fighters, were killed and 64 injured,” he added.
“The fleeing militants had rigged the houses of local tribesmen with hundreds of booby traps,” he said, adding that around 60% of houses in the valley were burnt down by the militants.
While briefing the media, Brigadier Amir said that 90 villages were cleared of militants during the operation, and the rehabilitation of the displaced tribesmen has started. “Most of those who have returned to the area are men, as they have to rebuild their houses before shifting their families,” he said. “The full support of the nation made this operation a success.”
Brig Amir said that the government would establish schools which never existed in the area and would give Rs25,000 to every displaced family. He added that the World Health Organisation (WHO) would provide ration for six months to the displaced families. Around 40,000 people had been displaced during the operation.
Ahmad Shah, who lives near the security forces camp in the Bagh area, told The Express Tribune that he had returned to rebuild his house, while his family members are still Orakzai Agency.
“We never came out from their area, but when we did, we realised the importance of education and infrastructure,” he said demanding the government build schools, hospitals and roads in the area. “We appeal to the government to assist us in rebuilding our houses,” said Shah, who is happy that peace has been restored to the area.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 5th, 2013.