Militants released on Tuesday a high-ranking police officer and six others, including three policemen, after holding them hostage for almost 12 hours.
The crime was first reported Monday when deputy superintendent of police of Swat’s Matta sub-district, Pir Syed, led a police party to an area to Balasur Top after receiving reports of the presence of militants.
Initial reports suggested that the DSP, who had been shot in the gun-battle with militants, had been moved to a hospital while the police had cleared the area.
Later, it was revealed that the police officer along with six others, including three policemen, were still in the custody of militants. Sources said that the militants had taken the personnel in custody for ‘violating’ the truce that the Tehreek-e-Pakistan Pakistan (TTP) had reached with the government. The TTP recently agreed to a ceasefire with the government following several rounds of talks in Kabul overseen by the Taliban. This suggested that the militants holding the security personnel are part of the banned militant group.
After negotiations, the militants agreed to the intervention of local tribal elders as well the district administration, sources told Aaj Digital.
The delegation persuaded the militants to release the hostages in the early hours of Tuesday, following which they were returned.
The abduction takes place days after an attack on a PTI parliamentarian’s vehicle in Lower Dir, in which four people - including the MPA’s brother - were killed. Earlier today, the ISPR confirmed a suicide attack in North Waziristan that left four soldiers dead. A day earlier, it was reported that a top commander of the TTP, Omar Khalid Khorasani, had been killed in Afghanistan’s Paktika province.
The evolving situation in Pakistan’s northern province has alarmed many. The fear is that history will repeat itself with the TTP resurfacing. A former spokesperson of the chief minister expressed concern as did journalists who covered the bloody conflict that led to several military operations in the region for years.
One person expressed fear that the emerging situation in Afghanistan, the tribal districts and Swat reminded him of the situation in the area between 2006-10.
Pakistan’s border areas with Afghanistan as well as the tribal districts were seen as a safe haven for militants back in the day, with frequent explosions and suicide attacks terrorising residents. The situation reached a point where bodies were hung at a popular roundabout in Swat, while one group demanded the imposition of Sharia across the country. During that time, militants also targetted police and security personnel.
One local expert, while speaking on the condition of anonymity for reasons of safety, said that the current sitaution bore some resemblance to the situation in 2007 and 2008, including an increase in attacks targetting security forces.
“Militants have also become visible in areas - like Khyber Agency, Tirah, Dir, Landi Kotal - where they enjoyed some support,” they told Aaj Digital.
“But the instances of armed men moving around in parts of Swat, that too at a short distance from the hometown of the KP chief minister, is an alarming development,” he said referring to the militants who took the police officer and his party hotage.
A resident of Swat, while speaking to Aaj Digital, said that there was some truth to the claims that militants had been spotted in certain areas, including Piuchar – which was a militant stronghold back in 2005-07.
“But there is no truth to reports of militants attacking one or multiple police stations,” Sajid Khan said referring to rumours swirling on social media about police stations - including those of Matta, Chupriyal and Charbagh - after the abduction. “I spoke to my cousin in Chupriyal when I saw the news on social media. He confirmed that it was fake news.”
A businessman, while speaking on condition of anonymity out of fear, said, however, that the situation in Swat had deteriorated, particularly for business owners. “We are being asked to pay protection money. Those who won’t pay have to face the consequences,” he said, claiming that the attack on the PTI lawmaker was a warning to local business owners to pay extortion. Aaj Digital was unable to immediately independently confirm whether any business owners in Swat or surrounding areas had paid extortion or protection money to militants associated with or claiming to be part of the TTP.
The Pakistan government acknowledged earlier this year that it has been engaged in talks with the proscribed group under the auspices of the Afghan Taliban. Several delegations, including one of religious scholars led by Mufti Taqi Usmani, visited Kabul to soften the TTP over its demands but didn’t achieve any success.
The TTP has demanded the reversal of the 2018 merger of the tribal districts, previously known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. The TTP is yet to convey any willingness to accede to the government’s demand of the dissolution of the TTP.
Those following the ‘peace talks’ between the government and the TTP, which have been going on for at least six months, say that it resulted in the softening of the stance of the government against militants ‘to bring them in the national sphere’.
The Peshawar Bureau and Karachi Digital Desk contributed to the report.
Anwar Anjum is a reporter for Aaj News based in Swat. He tweets at @anwaranjum2