90 percent of Malakand cleared of Taliban, Swat to be restored (Lead)

August 10th, 2009 - 9:55 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban Islamabad, Aug 10 (IANS) With the Pakistani Army reporting that 90 percent of the Malakand division in the country’s restive northwest has been cleared of the Taliban, Prime Minister Yousuf said Monday that the picturesque Swat Valley, which forms a part of the region, would be restored to its previous glory.
The army’s claim came during a briefing Monday morning for Gilani and army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who were on a surprise day-long visit to Swat where fierce fighting has been raging against the Taliban since April.

Speaking later at a gathering of elders, Gilani described the Swat Valley as being more beautiful than Switzerland and vowed to revive its once thriving tourism industry.

He urged the locals to come up with suggestions to revive business activities that had grounded to a halt after the Taliban took over the area, and other parts of Malakand, and assured full government support for the effort, APP news agency reported.

The prime minister said the government would soon introduce a special package for Swat for its reconstruction, rehabilitation of the people affected by the fighting and initiating new development projects for the areas’ uplift.

“Money does not matter before your safety and development,” he maintained.

In this context, the prime minister pointed out that the government had already allocated Rs.50 billion for the rehabilitation of the refugees and on development projects.

Noting that the militants were on the run and would soon be totally eliminated, Gilani said: “No one will any longer be allowed to dishonour our women, deny education to them, make their lives miserable and create lawlessness.”

During the Monday morning briefing, Gilani was told that the local administration was playing a major role in the rehabilitation of the uprooted civilians. The briefing was conducted by Maj. Gen. Ashfaq Nadeem, who is in-charge of operation ‘Rah-e-Raast’ in Malakand.

Strict security measures were employed during the prime minister’s visit and the entire area was under the full control of the army.

Gilani was told that due to its successful strategy, the army and the intelligence agencies had managed to capture several militants, and due to the efforts of the locals many others had surrendered.

Tribal peace councils have also been set up in different areas of Swat and are supporting and aiding the government in action against the militants.

Quoting sources, Online news agency reported that the army chief and the Special Support Group told Gilani that the military, along with the civil administration was also working on the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the displaced civilians, who were being provided full security.

North West Frontier Province (NWFP) Governor Owais Ahmad Ghani, Chief Minister Haider Hoti and other ministers were also present during the briefing.

The military had gone into action April 26 after the militants reneged on a controversial peace deal with the NWFP government and instead moved south from their Swat headquarters and occupied Buner, which is just 100 km from Islamabad.

Under the deal, the Taliban were to lay down their arms in return for Sharia laws being imposed in Swat and six other districts that make up the Malakand division.

The operations had begun in Lower Dir, the home district of radical cleric Sufi Muhammad who had brokered the peace deal. The cleric is also the father-in-law of Swat Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah, who is known as Mullah Radio for his vitriolic anti-government broadcasts on an illegally set up local radio network.

The cleric has been arrested but Fazlullah’s whereabouts remain a mystery.

The military operations later spread to Buner and Swat and were all but wound down last month, with the focus shifting to the South Waziristan region of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the border with Afghanistan.

The military says over 1,500 Taliban were killed in the operations.

Over three million civilians were displaced by the operations in what has been described as the largest and quickest migrations in recent times. With peace now prevailing in the area, large numbers have begin returning home.

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