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To keep Taliban away, Pakistan recruits 25,000 retired soldiers

They will protect residents returning to Swat and Buner. Some have fled again after seeing Taliban in the area, despite a major Army offensive.

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Security forces may have a huge task awaiting them. According to Hamidullah Khan, a reporter based in the city for the Pakistani daily newspaper Dawn, the military has held off from searching homes for fear of being blamed for looting. Instead, he says, the plan is to wait for residents to return so they can witness the searches.

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During the fighting, the Taliban have taken over homes. In the case of prominent reporter Behroz Khan, suspected Taliban first looted, then took over his home in Buner. Then, last week, masked intruders burned it to the ground. Given threats the Taliban have made against his family, he suspects the home was targeted because of his reporting.

"As a journalist I am trying not to take sides, but the thing is I cannot, and journalists as a community should not treat the militants and the state on equal footing," says Mr. Khan. "It's glorifying them."

The area of Khan's village, near Pir Baba, remains in control of the Taliban he says. On Wednesday, the Taliban set up a checkpoint in his village – less than a mile from a route the military claims is cleared, he says.

Wooing retirees

The retired soldiers who agree to be police in these areas will be paid significantly more than their old salaries, says Jamal Nasir, who heads civilian security as the special home secretary for the North West Frontier Province, where Swat and Buner are located.

Additional police recruitment is part of a larger effort to muster a 400,000-strong antimilitant force, according to Abdul Wahid Khan (no relation to Behroz), a spokesman in the Ministry of Information.

He says the recruiters will first draw from retired police, then pull the remaining from the ranks of the retired military.

"In the Army, even the police, very young people get retired," says Mr. Khan, though neither he nor Nasir could say if an age limit has been set.

Nasir says the retirees would be under contract for two years and would undergo a training lasting "maybe a week or 10 days."

That's far too short, cautions Masood, who says they would need at least three months' training. However, former soldiers do bring some built-in skills, including physical toughness, basic education, knowledge of how to patrol, and experience with firearms.

"And of course, they won't run away. They will stand up to the militants," says Masood, who counts this as the most important qualification.

Before the military offensive, militants had killed more than 100 policemen and warned others not to serve. As a result, hundreds of police officers had resigned or taken leave.

Daud Khattak contributed from Peshawar.