SWAT -- The Pakistani army has handed over administrative control of Swat District to civilian authorities after 11 years, marking what many hope to be a new era of peace in the once restive region.
Under Article 245 of the constitution, the army is authorised to "act in aid of civil power when called upon to do so," which allowed it to carry out operations against the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in 2007 in the Swat Valley.
After it secured the valley, a single brigade remained to maintain peace and counter militant threats.
On Monday (October 22), Brig. Naseem Anwar, the commander of the brigade, formally handed over administrative and law and order duties to Commissioner Malakand Zaheerul Islam and Deputy Inspector General of Police Said Wazir at a ceremony at Saidu Sharif Airport.
The event was attended by top government and army officials as well as by local residents.
A new era of peace
The handover of powers to the civilian administration is historic and will usher in a new era of peace and development in the region, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Chief Minister Mahmood Khan said at the ceremony.
The terrorists held residents hostage, destroying the region's socio-economic infrastructure, schools and state institutions, according to Khan.
The reconstruction of infrastructure and restoration of civilian control, however, spoke to the army's ability to defeat terrorists, he said.
"Swat is as secure as ever, and there is no longer any space for extremism and terrorism," Khan argued.
Terrorism drove 3.5 million inhabitants out of Swat, but all have returned, according to Corps Commander Peshawar Lt. Gen. Nazir Ahmed Butt, who also spoke at the ceremony.
"The civilian authorities from now will be responsible for the administration, while the army will guard the country's borders," he added.
Civilian policing grows
On September 15, 2013, the KP government approved the return of administrative power to the civilian government. The process is now complete with the army having already gradually withdrawn from the Shangla, Buner, Upper Dir and Lower Dir districts and other areas.
Civilian policing has returned to Swat and other areas, KP Inspector General of Police Salahuddin Khan Mehsud told Pakistan Forward.
"The police force in Malakand [Division] has been increased from 5,800 to 20,000 personnel," he said.
Swat police have the capacity to fight terrorism today, he said, adding that the police has performed efficiently wherever the army has handed over the authority to maintain law and order.
"The peace in the region today is proof that the police force is standing side by side with the army to safeguard the citizens and not let down the nation."
A 'good omen' for peace
"It's a good omen that we are going back to civilian rule," Rahim Dil Khan, a shopkeeper at Swat China Bazaar, told Pakistan Forward.
"The horror of Green Chowk still haunts us, but we are confident the terrorists are no more," he said, referring to the TTP's public executions in the square.
"The army defeated them, and we hope the police is capable enough to guard us against any threat," Khan added.
With the removal of most of the army checkpoints in Swat, it is the "right time" for control to return to the civilian administration, Zubair Khan, a fabric merchant in Mingora Bazaar, told Pakistan Forward.
"The army has done its job, and whenever it's needed it can come back, but there is no need of it now," he said.