In Pakistan, Swat Valley police give up in face of Taliban attacks
Taliban struck a police station Wednesday. Many police are resigning because of death threats.
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During his training, Swat, which is located in the North West Frontier Province, about a five-hour-drive from Islamabad, was an idyllic place. Known as the "Switzerland of Pakistan," it was renowned for lush valleys, ragged mountainsides, and snowcapped peaks.
But in the past two years, Swat has been caught up in the throes of a violent insurgency that has repelled tourists and is forcing locals to manage their lives around curfews and bans – and prompting many to leave the area.
The latest violence struck Wednesday, when militants attacked and destroyed a police station, capturing – and later releasing – some 30 paramilitary soldiers and policemen. A Taliban spokesman said the Taliban had gotten promises from the men that they would quit their jobs.
Mr. Rehman resigned about four months ago when, he says, the situation became unlivable for him and other police officers. "My colleagues were being targeted and beheaded," he says. "I thought enough was enough, and decided to switch careers."
The local Taliban, who have organized themselves into a party titled the Tehrik-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi, are targeting all pro-state elements – police, government officials, the Army. Led by radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah, the Taliban have issued repeated warnings to police officers. Last October, the Taliban distributed several pamphlets urging policemen to resign or face the consequences.
"We don't want to fight you [local policemen] as you are our own people," read one.
The Taliban advised policemen to advertise their names in a local paper if they quit.
Retired Army Gen. Talat Masood says that police officers will stay on the job only if they see government efforts to assist them.
"The militants have become very powerful, and the police, given their lack of anti-insurgency training and weapons, are helpless in front of them," he says. "The solution is for the government to establish some control in the valley and to provide the police force with the equipment and leadership needed for them to do their job."
But in the absence of required facilities, many police officers are following the path chosen by Rehman. Those who are not complying are paying a heavy price. In the last 10 months, more than 100 policemen have been killed in Swat, a district of 1.7 million people, by militant attacks. Many were kidnapped and then killed, their bodies publicly displayed.