MINGORA, Pakistan, Feb. 20 (UPI Next) --
Despite restoration of peace in northwestern Pakistan's Swat Valley following a 2009 military operation against the Taliban, anti-Taliban militias established to prevent the insurgents's return are being targeted by the militants, police records show. There is disagreement, however, on whether the ongoing attacks are a sign of terrorism.
Swat district police data show 21 members of the so-called peace committees, village elders armed with weapons and protected by local police, have been shot dead since 2010, including nine last year alone. In the same wave of targeted attacks, Taliban assailants attempted to kill Malala Yousafzai, the well-known teenage education activist, in 2012.
From 2007 to 2009, militants in Swat challenged the government's authority, forbidding girls' education, destroying 401 schools and banning polio vaccinations.
Peace was restored by the 2009 military offensive and the anti-Taliban village defense committees, or militias, were formed to keep the peace across the valley.
"There are total of 65 union councils [the smallest form of local government] in Swat and each one has one village defense committee comprised of 30 to 60 members," Sultan e Rom, chairman of the village defense committee in Union Council Charbagh, told UPI Next.
The militia members keep an eye on insurgents and help security and law enforcement forces in their areas.
"The village defense committees were formed soon after the restoration of peace in Swat to prevent terrorists entering their village. They are allowed to use guns and fight with the militants if they try to enter their area. They also hold discussions with the law enforcement agencies about peace in the area," Iqbal Hussain, a village defense committee member, told UPI Next.
The village militia members also inform the law enforcement agencies of any suspicious person or elements in their area.
"They immediately inform the law enforcement agencies if they sense any suspicious activity in their area or see any suspicious person. In this way they are helping security forces to keep peace intact," Hussain said.
However, since the restoration of peace, the local militia members have been targeted by the Taliban. District police office records show nine of them were killed last year in attacks.
No arrests had been made in the cases, and police had only lodged reports against unidentified individuals and vowed to nab the culprits soon.
Militia volunteers say the government has completely failed to provide them security, while officials say some of the acts are not terrorism.
"We are helping security forces as true citizens fighting for peace and prosperity of our country. However, law enforcement agencies and the government have failed to provide us security. Many of our friends have been killed as a result," said Zahid Khan, president of the All Swat Hotel Association, who is also a peace committee member.
In August 2012, Khan was shot in the face in a targeted attack in Swat. He still bears the half-inch scar of a gunshot wound on the right side of his face.
Idrees Khan, a peace committee and militia leader who is president of Nepkikhel, a Swat union council, roundly condemned the continuing targeted killings.
"All the village defense committee members in Swat are highly grieved by the murders. Law enforcement agencies and the district government must take note that our members are being killed continuously and nobody has been arrested till now," he told UPI Next.
A government official in Swat valley says that in many cases, personal animosity is behind the killings and they should not be considered terrorist acts, a contention peace committee members dispute.
"Providing security to the village defense committee members is our duty and all of them have been provided with proper security. However, sometimes they are being targeted by their personal enemies, which is often wrongly taken by others," Farukh Ateeq, Swat's assistant police commissioner, told UPI Next.
Peace committee members reject the notion that personal feuds are behind the targeted slayings.
"The militants try, once again, to weaken the hard-earned peace, so they target our colleagues. We have no personal animosity or grudges with anyone in Swat," Iqbal Zada, a peace committee member, told UPI Next.
Mohibullah Khan, an elected representative of the ruling Tehreek-e-Insaf party of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's provincial assembly, said the government is serious about providing security to its citizens, and that no laxity is tolerated from law enforcement agencies in this regard.
"No doubt, peace committee members are doing a great job in assisting law enforcement agencies fight the terrorists. The governments will definitely provide their security," he told UPI Next.