The dastardly attack on Malala Yousufzai is a disturbing sign that Taliban militants may be regrouping in Swat valley, warns Tahir Ali
The attack on 14-year-old activist Malala Yousufzai is not only an attempt to silence her courageous voice but also a wake-up call for the Pakistan government that the Taliban threat still persists inside Swat Valley.
Pakistani security forces have carried out a number of military operations in different parts of the country but the one in Swat -- in 2009 -- was the only assault that ended successfully.
Since the last three years, the Taliban have been doing their level best to enter the valley as their defeat in Swat had discouraged militants across the tribal areas of the country. Finally, the Taliban started their activities in the region and Malala, who had criticised their policies, became the first target.
Taliban emerged in the Swat Valley in late 2007, under the leadership of Mullah Fazlullah, also known as 'Mullah Radio' as he influenced the local people with his speeches delivered on an illegal FM radio channel.
Gradually, he became such a powerful figure that his men openly punished locals found guilty of 'un-Islamic activities'. Between March and May of 2009, they took over the control of the entire Swat Valley.
During this time, Malala, through her blogs on BBC Urdu's website, severely criticised the activities of the Taliban. She also gave hope to the girls of Swat Valley that a day will come when militants will no longer call the shots there and the schools destroyed by the Taliban would be reopened.
Finally, Pakistani security forces started a military assault known as Operation Rah-e-Rast (straight path) in May 2009. The operation also resulted in the mass exodus of the locals and nearly 22 lakh people were displaced.
The operation was successful and soon, the security forces regained control of the valley; the militants were killed, captured or flushed out of the area. In early September 2009, security forces captured five leading commanders, including Taliban spokesperson Muslim Khan.
The security forces claimed that Mullah Fazlullah had been severely injured and he was stranded in the valley without any medical assistance. The remaining Taliban fighters either rushed to Khyber Agency or crossed over the border into Kunar and Nuristan provinces of Afghanistan. The government announced its victory and the displaced people of Swat started returning to their homes.
The government has always termed the operation in Swat Valley as a 'big achievement'. Many military operations have taken place at North Waziristan, South Waziristan, Mohmand, Bajaur, Kurram, Khyber and Orakzai agencies, but the militants have never been as completely defeated as they were in Swat Valley.
The defeat affected the morale of Taliban fighters in all tribal areas and fearing that their jihad may soon be silenced, the outfit's leaders decided to make their presence felt in Swat Valley.
Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and Al Qaeda first set up a special training centre at Tirah Valley of Khyber Agency to train some fighters and send them back to Swat.
Dreaded Taliban commander Binyamin, who had fled to Khyber Agency from Swat, was assigned the task of leading the commanders after their training was completed.
But in December 2010, Binyamin and some other leading commanders of Swat were killed in a United States drone strike at Khyber Agency
In November 2009, Fazlullah told the BBC's Urdu Service that he had escaped to Afghanistan and warned that he would continue to attack Pakistani forces in Swat Valley. He reassembled his men and started attacked Pakistani security forces in Bajaur, Chitral and the districts of Upper and Lower Dir.
Apart from carrying out minor attacks in August last year, militants from Afghanistan also managed to infiltrate into Chitral. They attacked five police posts and killed nearly 30 security personnel.
Finally, they targeted Malala, who has become a local celebrity for her leading role in supporting female education in Swat.
TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud had also thrown his weight behind the reemergence of Taliban in Swat Valley.
Swat Taliban's spokesperson Sirajuddin, while talking to Reuters news agency, had said, "Malala was targeted near the Sharifabad military post, which sends a strong message that the Taliban can attack anyone anywhere".
Last month, rediff.com received a video CD that was prepared by Omer Media about the 'reemergence' of Taliban in Malakand division. In this video, the militants had claimed that the Taliban left the area due to their 'war strategy', insisting that it was not a 'defeat'.
The video also shows Hakimullah Mehsud talking about the situation in Swat Valley.
"The battle between right and evil forces will continue forever. In this battle, sometimes evil forces will win while sometimes the right forces will remain triumphant. But remember that temporary defeat of the right forces (Swat Taliban) can't be called a permanent defeat," he said.
After Malala was attacked by the Taliban in Mingora, panic has spread across the city, especially among school going children. Several female students have stayed away from Khushal Public School, where Malala was studying. Most parents are, understandably, scared of sending their children to school in Mingora.
The thin attendance is a disturbing sign that the Taliban's threat is being felt in Swat Valley again.