By Delawar Jan
PESHAWAR: Two brigades of the Pakistan Army were moved to the Swat Valley to deal a decisive blow to the militants advancing towards other districts of Malakand Division in violation of the February 15 peace accord, official sources told The News here on Saturday. However, the military denied any such move.
A Bajaur-style operation had been planned to eliminate the militants’ top leadership and destroy their hideouts. “The population will be asked to leave their areas and shift to down districts where camps will be established for them. This is being done to allow security forces to use effective force against the militants and avoid civilian casualties as Taliban fighters use the population as shield to protect themselves,” official sources claimed.
In the Bajaur operation, all roadside houses were flattened and several hundred thousand people were forced to leave their native areas. The operation was declared a success in which more than 1,500 militants were claimed to have been killed. Internally displaced persons from Bajaur are still living in Katcha Garhi and other camps.
Military spokesman, Maj General Athar Abbas, denied sending troops and any plan to launch an operation in Swat or Buner districts. “There is no Army troops’ movement into Swat Valley. We have no such plan at the moment,” he said when reached by The News. However, he admitted that Frontier Constabulary officials had been sent to Buner.
Official sources told The News that two brigades — 7,000-8,000 soldiers — were on their way to the valley to take part in the operation. These sources said that recent statements by Maulana Sufi Muhammad, who was assigned the role of a peacemaker, about the superior courts and democracy shattered all hopes for peace in the region, particularly Swat. “His controversial remarks were unwarranted and provocative, which brought the opposition and the ruling parties on the same boat,” one of the sources explained.
Sufi Muhammad, while addressing a big public rally in Mingora on April 19, declared superior courts and democracy un-Islamic, which generated a new debate in the country. The federal and provincial governments were expecting of him to ask militants to stop their activities and lay down arms. However, his old mantra at a time when peace restoration was the demand of the day shocked the government as it contributed to escalation of tension. He also disappointed the government by remaining silent over the Taliban advances to Buner and Shangla districts.
“The militants have been making advances to new areas such as strategically located Buner and Shangla. If they are not stopped at this stage, they could advance to Hazara, which will bring Islamabad and several key sites under threat,” a source said.
It was also learnt that the security forces had got orders from the high command to immediately launch action against the militants who had blocked a logistic convoy of the security forces at Qambar on Saturday. “Today the forces had to take action but the NWFP government requested for postponing the operation,” a source said. After the Qambar incident, military helicopters flew over parts of the valley, causing panic among the conflict-weary people.
Official sources said continued violations of the peace accord by the militants and their expansionist designs forced the military and the government to change their mind and send reinforcements to Swat. They said an operation could also be launched in Buner to secure its control from the militants, who were reported to have withdrawn.
“The militants have crossed all limits by continuing operating private courts, kidnapping people, armed patrolling and road blockades,” another source said about the change of mind of military and political leadership.
These sources said the decision to launch a decisive operation had been taken but the provincial government had sought some time to use peaceful means for the restoration of the government writ. “The decision will only be changed when Taliban fully abide by the peace agreement and abandon their activities,” one of the sources said.