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Mar 18, 2010 | 20:15 GMT

3 mins read

Pakistan: A Raid in Kohistan and the Status of Swat

STR/AFP/Getty Images
Pakistani police announced March 17 that they killed five militants in the district of Kohistan, in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). The militants (along with a police officer and two civilians) were killed in a gun battle after Pakistani security personnel encircled the house where they were hiding. Two of the individuals are considered high-value targets: Bakht Farzand and Mian Gul, both of whom were connected to militant leader Maulana Fazlullah. Rewards amounting to $177,000 each had been offered for information on the men's whereabouts since May 2009. The militants likely belonged to the Tehrik-i-Taliban Swat, a faction of the Pakistani Taliban that was the target of an intensive Pakistani counterinsurgency operation in May 2009. As with other Pakistani military operations since then, the measure of success was not necessarily whether the military could clear the targeted area but whether it could hold it. The location of Farzand and Gul at the time of their deaths indicates that the military has been able to maintain security in the Swat valley. (click here to enlarge image) Kohistan district is in the far northeast of the NWFP. Although it borders Swat district, Kohistan is fairly isolated from the militant movement in Swat in terms of geography, ethnicity and sectarianism. Kohistan is sparsely populated and high in the mountains bordering the Federally Administered Northern Areas that form the foothills of the Hindu Kush, Karakoram and the Himalayas. There are not many significant targets for militants to attack there, meaning it was most likely a hiding place. Ethnically and linguistically, Kohistanis are different from Pashtuns, meaning that Pashtun militants from Swat would stand out more in the district. In terms of sectarianism, Kohistan is mostly Shiite and Ismaili — who tend not to be very hospitable toward Sunnis, especially hardline Taliban militants — making Kohistan a hostile area for the likes of Farzand and Gul. A bounty of more than $350,000 collectively could motivate an already hostile population to share information on the militants' whereabouts. They likely escaped west into Kohistan when the Pakistani army expanded its presence in the northern parts of Swat in May 2009. Kohistan does have pockets of Pashtun inhabitants along the border with Swat district, where Swat militants would most likely have safe houses. Swat militants have similarly been seen regrouping in the nearby Buner, Shangla, Battagram and Mansehra districts. While these are only a few of thousands of militants who once held the Swat valley, it appears that at least this group did not feel it was safe to return to Swat, which indicates that Pakistan's military is having some success in keeping militant commanders out of the district following the counterinsurgency.

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