PESHAWAR: Thousands of people held demonstrations in two main towns of Swat Valley in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Friday, after reports of Pakistani Taliban militants’ presence in the area.
The Pakistani Taliban — known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) — have carried out some of the bloodiest attacks inside Pakistan since 2007, including a 2014 assault on a school in which 134 students were killed. The group is not directly affiliated with the Afghan Taliban, but pledges allegiance to them.
Pakistan has since 2007 launched a number of military operations against the TTP, but despite reducing the militant group’s footprint — with most fighters fleeing to neighboring Afghanistan — it has not been able to fully stop attacks, which had begun to rise again along its western border in recent months.
In June, the TTP extended a ceasefire with the government, after talks facilitated by the Afghan Taliban.
As peace negotiations continue, local media over the past couple of days have been reporting that the TTP has been present in Swat Valley, which used to be the group’s bastion until a 2009 army offensive drove them out. Thousands of families in the region were displaced during the military operation.
Demonstrators took to the streets of Kabal and Khwazakhela towns in Swat chanting: “We want peace on our land and we denounce terrorism on our soil”.
Fawad Khan, one of the protest leaders in Kabal, said that security situation in the area started deteriorating when the government resumed peace talks with the TTP resumed.
“Through our today’s demonstration, we made it clear not to allow the repetition of a situation that Swat had experienced a decade ago when militants were beheading people and blowing up educational institutions,” he said.
“We’re denouncing militancy and demanding peace. We have observed militants are forcing their way into Swat. But this time around, we’ve pledged to protect our people and land with our blood.”
Ikram Hussain, a civil society member in Khwazakhela, told Arab News there was “a fresh cycle of violence to sabotage our peaceful life again.”
“We’ve demonstrated our resolve not to allow anyone to play with our lives,” he said.
Provincial government spokesperson Muhammad Ali Saif said his administration was monitoring developments in the region.
“We’re aware of protests in Swat. We’ve directed local authorities to tackle demands of the people,” Saif told Arab News. “We will not allow elements to sabotage peace. We’ve decided to deal with those challenging the writ of the government with iron hands.”