SWAT  - Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday announced the setting up of a permanent military base in the troubled Swat Valley, which had slipped out of government control in 2007.

During a visit to Swat, the prime minister said the whole nation acknowledges the matchless sacrifices by the people of Swat for the revival of peace in the area. He also lauded the role of Pakistan Army and security forces in ending the reign of terror of the extremists.

Taliban fighters led by Mullah Fazlullah, now chief of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), took control of the scenic northwestern area and waged a two years brutal campaign of beheadings, violence and multiple attacks on girls’ schools.

By July 2009 the army declared the region back under their control, saying the rebels had all been killed, captured or fled, but more than 20,000 troops remained in Swat and adjacent districts. And, it is the same area where Taliban shot schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai in the head as late as October 2013.

During the visit PM Nawaz was given a briefing, and on this occasion he approved and announced a brigade level cantonment for Swat and Malakand areas. “Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has in principle approved and announced a brigade level cantonment for Swat and (adjacent) Malakand areas,” his office said in a statement.

The PM also visited a de-radicalisation centre, where he said the government desired to promote the atmosphere of peace, brotherhood and co-existence in the country. He said our society was based on Islamic principles. He said the government was trying to curb extremism and provide to the people equal opportunities of progress and development.

The prime minister said that the government was alive to the issues of backwardness, unemployment and economic deprivation in the country and was striving to address these through judicious distribution of resources. He also lauded the performance of armed forces to restore peace and rehabilitation of infrastructure in Swat who completed the reconstruction of schools, hospitals, roads and bridges in collaboration with the civic administration and the people. He said their services would be remembered for long.

PM Nawaz Sharif said the de-radicalisation project has been lauded locally as well as internationally and it has deradicalised around 2,000 youth, helping them to live a normal life. “I wish this programme is extended to other parts of the country as well, where the youth, who adopt such courses and require attention, are made healthy members of the society through constructive engagement. They are not enemies of Pakistan but have lost their direction,” he added.

Political Analyst Hasan Askari said the army’s permanent presence would help prevent the return of Taliban insurgents to the area. “It is because of the internal security situation and the threat of the return of militancy that the army is making a permanent presence in Swat,” he told a foreign news agency. “Had the army not been there, Taliban would have been in power in Swat.”

Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, 16, became an international symbol of the right to education for all after surviving a 2012 Taliban attack in which she was shot in the head. Nominated for the 2013 Nobel Peace prize, she was taken to Britain for treatment following the attack and goes to school in the central city of Birmingham.

The prime minister later also launched the Youth Business Loans scheme for Swat and Malakand Division at a function in Wadudia Hall. He said that PM youth business loan scheme will prove a launching pad for ushering an era of economic prosperity and development in the country saying transparency and merit will be maintained at any cost in the disbursement of loans to the deserving applicants.

APP adds: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that he would contact the political leaders to help carry forward the dialogue process with the Taliban. “I will talk to Imran Khan, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Maulana Samiul Haq and Syed Munawar Hassan. If they make any breakthrough, it would be a great pleasure for me. Hopefully, this will help the process move forward speedily and effectively,” the PM said in an interview with a private television channel.

Nawaz said he already had such a strategy in his mind and would ask these leaders to extend cooperation. He said the participation of the then Army Chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and the ISI chief in the All Parties Conference, proved that the army was not separate from the nation. They had also endorsed the APC decisions, he added.

The Prime Minister said the military had left the issue to be resolved by the political and national leadership of the country, and even today they (military) stick to their stance. Now it was the responsibility of the national leadership to move forward in unison, he added. The PM hoped that the government would now have the opportunity to move forward.