Pakistan's military said Sunday that 95 percent of the tribal people in North Waziristan displaced by military operations against militants had returned to their homes in the region bordering Afghanistan, which once served as Taliban headquarters.
Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor made the claim in the town of Miran Shah, where the military took journalists on a tour, giving them access to residents who demanded better health and education facilities.
Ghafoor was hugged by youths and tribal elders in a sign of respect as he visited the town's main bazaar with reporters.
North Waziristan was a "no-go area" for ordinary Pakistanis and even military personnel because of the strong presence of militants before 2013, when the military launched operations there, clearing out militants but also displacing about 1 million people.
Ghafoor said the Pakistani Taliban now operate in neighboring Afghanistan after the military evicted or killed them in North Waziristan. He said thousands of security forces and civilians were killed in the fighting.
As Ghafoor spoke, some youths nearby shouted, "Long live Pakistan, and Long Live the Pakistan army."
"Normalcy is back, smiles are back on the faces people but it was not without a cost," Ghafoor said.
Residents say they are happy about the return of peace.
"Taliban are gone and we pray that they don't come back," said Tahseen Ullah, a local resident who sells cooked rice in the Miran Shah bazaar.
Another shop owner, Khadim Hussain, complained that residents still face lengthy power outages during the day and at night.
"We demand that mobile phone service be provided to North Waziristan," resident Bakhat Zaman told Ghafoor.
To Zaman's surprise, Ghafoor said cell phone service will be available in March. ``We will do whatever is possible to make your life easier,'' he said.
Ghafoor said the Pakistani Taliban used religion to spread violence and that now a young Pashtun leader, Manzoor Pashteen, was "misguiding and inciting youths against the army."
Ghafoor said the military is fencing the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan to ensure peace on both sides and that he hoped that Kabul will not allow Afghan soil to be used as a staging ground for attacks against Pakistan.
Afghanistan does not recognize the boundary, known as the Durand Line, which was drawn by British rulers in 1896. Ghafoor took the journalists to the main Ghulam Khan border where fencing has been completed. He said the military in 2017 planned to fence 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) of the border and about 800 kilometers (500 miles) has already been completed.