Following the end of the Swat operation in July 2009, the armed forces had remained in the area for the announced purpose of security and reconstruction of infrastructure. The latter part of the army’s task has been completed with the assistance of the civilian administration, however, the security of the once Taliban-controlled area is still a matter of concern. Not many months back, the political leadership had asked for the withdrawal of the Army, and handover of control. But, there was a reluctance demonstrated by the army on having troops evacuate the area. A reluctance which should not have existed, given that the areas being vacated were safe and secure. The local police is still not able to alone offer much resistance to the militant extremists, who continue to conduct terrorist activities in Swat and the rest of the Malakand Division.

Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, visited Swat on Wednesday, where he was given a briefing on the situation of the volatile territory. Later, it was announced that a brigade-level cantonment will be established in Swat, which will also help secure surrounding districts including Buner, Shangla, Dir and Malakand. This drawdown is welcome news. The announcement has paved the way for a reduced future presence of the armed forces in the area, which has been agreed upon as crucial for the security of the region. Since the banned militant outfit, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), has appointed Mullah Fazlullah as its new chief, Swat has become even more critical. The new TTP chief belongs to Swat, and it was his barbaric rule which the Pakistan Army ended through a full-scale operation. Several militants were killed, while many fled including Fazlullah himself, as the security forces regained control.

Fazlullah’s activities have been mainly focused on the Malakand division, and it is very likely that they will increase following his appointment as the TTP chief. After fleeing from Swat, the TTP Swat faction has continued to carry out terrorist activities in the valley. In October 2013, Malala Yousafzai was shot by the TTP in the same vicinity. Most recently, Maj Gen Sanaullah Khan Niazi, the General Operating Commander (GOC) Swat, was martyred in an IED blast in the Upper Dir area, for which Fazlullah proudly claimed responsibility. What all this highlights is the need for the Army’s minimal continued presence to manage security affairs — and nothing else. Complete withdrawal could see the return of militants to the valley, as only the armed forces stand in their way. The cantonment will also prove instrumental if a military operation is launched in FATA, which appears to be the only way to break the stale-mate status quo between the armed forces and the militants. It is hoped that similar decisions which demonstrate an understanding of the reality are taken in the future to take this country out of the mess it is stuck in. And undue military presence is not encouraged anywhere in the country; instead a robust civilian setup must step forward to take the reins.