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To keep Taliban away, Pakistan recruits 25,000 retired soldiers

They will protect residents returning to Swat and Buner. Some have fled again after seeing Taliban in the area, despite a major Army offensive.

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The government is recruiting 25,000 retired Pakistani soldiers for police duty in war-torn Swat and Buner districts to protect millions of displaced residents as they return home.

The idea is to triple the number of police stations and bolster the force above levels present before the Taliban drove them out. The extra manpower would serve as an additional shield against militants returning to launch raids or influence the population.

Early reports point to just such a resurgence in Taliban activity there. Returned residents and local journalists say that Swat Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah has been heard on FM radio. In Buner – the first region that the military moved in to clear – the Taliban are setting up fresh checkpoints, pressuring refugees for money, and have burned the home of an outspoken journalist.

To quickly put more police on the ground, officials are turning to retired soldiers, who require less time to train and are less skittish about dangerous assignments. The strategy carries some risk given the differences between soldiering and police work.

"The best option is to train fresh people, because the nature of the job is different," says security analyst Gen. Talat Masood (ret.). "But the circumstances are such that [officials] have to fill in the gaps" in available recruits.

Hundreds of militants still in Buner

Time is of the essence, given that returning residents are already encountering problems with militants.

Several families who returned home to Buner three days ago fled again after finding the Taliban in the area. They estimated some 250 to 350 Taliban remain, and sometimes appear in groups as large as 60 at one time. The militants were threatening people and demanding payments of 25,000 rupees ($305), which happens to be the amount the government is giving displaced people on ATM cards as they head home.

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