by Sadaqat Jan
With helicopters roaring overhead, hundreds of army troops and police have fanned out in a remote corner of the mountainous Buner District, of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, searching hamlets and homes for suspected militants. The area has been under curfew since Wednesday, May 14, 2014.
A search operation is going on in the Gadezai area of Buner District, the military confirmed to Voice of America Deewa Radio in neighboring Swat, but declined any further details.
Some area residents and local police officials reported exchanges of gun fire between troops and suspected militants, saying there may have been casualties. But the Pakistani government or the military has yet to confirm this information.
For many Buner residents, and observers outside, the latest situation in Gadezai, an area of rugged mountainous terrain, could be an authentication of what had long been suspected, that militants still have strong holds in Buner. Furthermore, it confirms the suspicion that they have the ability to strike anywhere at anytime in the region. Since 2009, there have been several deadly high profile attacks on peace activists and prominent anti-Taliban politicians, mainly from the Pashtun Awami National Party. The same year the Pakistani military and government declared Buner District clear of militants.
Militants spilled over into Buner from neighboring Swat and soon took the region out of government control, forcing thousands of Buneris to leave their homes and villages and to migrate to other comparatively safer areas. In 2009, the Pakistan government announced that they had regained control over Buner and Swat.
However, many Swatis and Buneris were doubtful of official claims that the areas had been cleared of militants. There has been a strong sense all along of Taliban presence in both the regions. Another clear indication of militant presence in the region happened just days before the search operation in Gadezai, when Pakistani troops engaged in deadly clashes with militants in the Malam Jabba mountains of Swat.
Gadezai lies in an area of Buner where it borders with Swat and Shangla districts. On March 30, 2014 in an article for VOA Deewa Radio’s website, Behroz Khan wrote, “militants had a strong base in Kabalgram area of Shangla from where they could make easy forays into Swat and Buner”.
The unannounced security force search operation in Gadezai, which began on May 11, comes as another worrisome reminder for Buneris that the Taliban threat may be far from over.
There has yet to be any official government remarks made from Islamabad or Peshawar about the military operation in Gadezai. However, two Buner lawmakers, spoke with Deewa Radio and shared stories of the grievances people of Gadezai endured due to the unabated curfew.
Sher Akbar Khan, a member of lower house of Pakistan’s Parliament or National Assembly from Jamaat-e-Islami party told Deewa Radio that in one village, dozens of people have been hemmed into a poultry farm for refuge. In another village, local residents had been forced to camp in a school. And in another village, locals were restricted to stay in a graveyard while troops searched their homes for militants.
A pregnant woman died because she could not be taken to a medical facility due to the curfew, Khan said, and in one village, he added, residents had to beg military officials to be allowed to hold a funeral for one of their dead.
Lawmaker, Maulana Fazl-e-Ghafoor, a member of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assembly, from Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F) party, who represents Gadezai, said he was dismayed for not being able to get any relief for his constituents reeling under this curfew because the provincial government authorities were not cooperating. He said people in Gadezai were running out of food and other supplies.
“I am totally disappointed with the provincial government,” he said.
It remains to be seen whether the provincial government, led by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the party of cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan, who backs talks with Taliban, makes any comment on what Ghafoor says or what happened in Gadezai.
In the meantime, Buneris wait for the day the Taliban will be gone for good from their once peaceful region.
with reporting contributed by Fayaz Zafar and Riaz Hussain (Pakistan)