Pakistan Army begins to relocate from Swat

Pak Army soldiers have begun to shift out from Swat Valley, which was once a Taliban stronghold.

Islamabad: Thousands of Pakistani Army soldiers have begun to shift out from Swat Valley and turn over security to the law-enforcement agencies in the area that was once a Taliban stronghold, officials said.

The officials told the daily Dawn that the partial withdrawal is in line with the military`s counter-insurgency strategy to clear, hold and transfer.

As part of the strategy, joint military and police activities have been conducted for capacity building in the districts of Shangla and Buner, leading up to the handing over of full control to the civil law enforcement agencies.

Complete transfer of responsibility may take one to two years, the official said.

The officials said that the first phase of the strategy has been completed and the second phase envisages the military in a monitoring role only in the two districts that were also plagued by militancy. It is likely to be completed by March 15.

The third phase would see military units that are left behind to serve only as a deterrent force to ward off any possible threat and rely on intelligence work to track and hunt down militants.

Joint patrolling by the Army and the police was continuing in some parts, although overall, the police were able to conduct independent patrols throughout the Malakand region, a senior police official was quoted as saying.

The official explained that the police would take over security in Buner district by the middle of next month, while the Army would hand over Shangla district to civil law enforcement agencies by April.

"The time-frame agreed upon has not changed," the official said.

"We are well on course to assume full security responsibility in the region," he added.

As many as 10,000 policemen are on duty in the region and 2,500 more are at present being trained, the official said, the Dawn report said.

The official said: "It is difficult to say how things would shape up, but at the moment we are confident enough to take full security responsibility."

The larger plan includes setting up new posts and strengthening existing ones, besides construction of three military cantonments in the area.

Two divisions of the Army are deployed in Malakand Division, including Swat, Shangla and Buner.

"The civil law enforcement agencies will take the lead role. This is a big achievement and a role model for other places," the security official said.