The Taliban are in control of much of the northern district of Dir despite claims by senior Pakistani officials that the region was secured after a day’s fighting.
The Pakistani military operation, which began on April 26, focused on the Madain region in the southern portion of the district of Dir. The Madain region hosts the home town of Sufi Mohammed, the pro-Taliban cleric who is behind the Malakand Accord, the peace agreement that established sharia in Malakand, Dir, Chitral, Swat, Shangla, Buner, and Kohistan and put an end to military operations in Swat.
“The government’s writ seems non-existent for nearly 20km from the southern tip of the district,” the BBC reported. Security checkpoints have been abandoned in many regions outside of Timergara, the main city in Lower Dir. The Taliban often patrol the region and establish checkpoints to monitor traffic.
The Taliban are in control of the Chakdara-Talash region and the main road that connects Dir to the Taliban hotbed of Kabal, a sub-district in Swat. This region is used to allow Taliban forces in the Bajaur tribal agency to link up with their brethren in Swat. Dir also borders Afghanistan, and serves as a conduit for Taliban forces transiting the border.
The reports from Dir conflict with triumphant statements made by Pakistani political and military officials on April 27, just one day after the operation began. Interior Minister Rehman Malik claimed Dir was under complete control of the security forces. Army Spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said the military successfully completed the Dir operation and claimed 75 Taliban fighters and 10 security personnel were killed during the fighting.
But the Taliban have disputed Abbas’ claim that 75 fighters, including a commander named Maulana Shahid, were killed. A Taliban spokesman claimed Shahid was alive, and that only four Taliban fighters were killed. The Pakistani military often inflates Taliban casualties and claims senior Taliban leaders are killed. These leaders more than often appear in the media and mock the Army.
The Pakistani military has relied on artillery and helicopter and air strikes to target the Taliban, and rarely can confirm enemy casualties. The heavy-handed tactics result in villages being leveled and the alienation of the civilian population.
The military and government’s claims of a quick victory in Dir are disputed by Pakistani civilians on the ground.
“When the government announced the end of operations yesterday, we were hopeful that things will get back to normal,” Haji Anwaruddin, the president of the Timerjara traders’ association told the BBC.
“But now we know they [the Pakistani government] are bluffing,” Anwaruddin said. “They want the world to know that fighting has ended when it hasn’t. I think we are in for a long haul.”
The residents of Dir as well as in Buner, where a concurrent military operation against the Taliban is underway, fear that the security situation will deteriorate as it has throughout the Northwest Frontier Province, where the Taliban control much of the province and fighting in neighboring regions such as Swat and Bajaur has raged for years.