Islamabad: In what is seen as a build up to the peace talks with Taliban, Pakistan`s Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa provincial government has given an "in principle approval" for the gradual withdrawal of the army from the picturesque Malakand division, once controlled by the banned militants.
In the initial stage, security forces will be withdrawn from Buner and Shangla districts in the province starting mid-October.
An official communique issued from the CM House stated that provincial Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak announced the withdrawal of army from Malakand division in Nowshera.
Khattak said that withdrawal of army from these two districts would be followed by a phase-wise withdrawal from Upper Dir, Lower Dir and Swat where "the writ of the government has been consolidated".
The announcement comes in the backdrop of federal government preparing to start peace talks with the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in the light of decisions of an all-party conference.
The army was called out by the then government in 2007 to assist the administration in parts of Malakand division to quell militancy in the mountainous region.
The division comprises Swat, Buner, Shangla, Upper Dir, Lower Dir, Chitral and Malakand districts.
When several militant groups, led by Mullah Fazlullah, established a parallel administration in Swat, Buner and other adjoining districts and started brutalities, the army launched an operation in May 2009. The Air Force assisted the army.
While the security establishment did succeed in establishing its writ, the area continues to be a target of attack. Last year in October, militants shot teenage activist Malala Yousufzai and her two friends in Swat.
Khattak said the security forces had offered innumerable sacrifices to clear the area and restore peace and now "hundreds of displaced people are back", the report said.
Meanwhile, asked whether the troops would leave Malakand or only restrict their movements, the Chief Minister`s spokesman Shiraz Paracha was quoted by The Dawn daily as saying, "No, they will reduce visibility and the civil administration will take over".
He said results of the withdrawal of troops from the two districts would be assessed and then a decision would be taken about a phased pullout from other areas.