Fresh Bloodbath in Pak||Pakistan Vs Taliban

Pak launches air, ground offensive in Buner; Dir fighting kills 85

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“Enough is enough,” – Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik
Posted: Tuesday , Apr 28, 2009 at 1946 hrs IST || Islamabad|| Indian Express/28-04-2009

Succumbing to international pressure to contain the advancing Taliban, Pakistan mounted a major offensive against them in Buner, using fighter jets to pound their hideouts, even as 75 militants and 10 soldiers were killed in fighting in a nearby district.
“Enough is enough,” Interior Minister Rehman Malik said as he warned that “a handful of militants cannot challenge the writ of the government” and asserted that “strict action” will be taken against the Taliban who had come as close as 100 kms away from the federal capital.
Most of Dir district in North West Frontier Province had been cleared of Taliban fighters after an offensive that left 70 to 75 militants and 10 security personnel dead, chief military spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas said.
The operation in Dir was launched on Sunday and a “few pockets of resistance” that remained would be cleared soon, he told a news conference in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.
Abbas said the operation was extended to Buner district, located 100 km from Islamabad, this afternoon. Helicopter gunships and fighter jets are backing paramilitary Frontier Corps and army troops in the area, he said.
Over 200 militants are present in Dir while the number of Taliban fighters in Buner is 450 to 500 and they have weapons like Kalashnikovs, rocket launchers, grenades, mines and explosives. The objective of the offensive in Buner is to “eliminate or expel” the militants, he said.
The government and the army had shown significant restraint in the face of an increase in Taliban activities in Buner and Dir and the operation was launched only after the authorities had no option left, Abbas said.
Earlier in the day, Malik told reporters that the Taliban would have to leave Buner and other areas occupied by them. “A handful of militants cannot challenge the writ of the government. Let me tell them that the government will take action in a forceful manner,” Malik said.
The presence of militants so close to the federal capital had raised concerns in the US which told Islamabad to take strong action to flush out Taliban and other militants.
The fresh fighting triggered a mass exodus from various villages and towns of Dir with 30,000 people leaving their homes for provincial capital Peshawar and other towns.
“Up to 30,000 people have left Maidan in Lower Dir district over the past few days,” NWFP Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said. Upto a million people have so far been displaced in restive NWFP, local officials were quoted by officials as telling international relief agencies in Geneva.
Abbas said some 600 families displaced by the operation in Dir are currently sheltering in a relief camp. Asked if the operation would also be extended to the restive Swat valley, where the President recently approved the implementation of Shariah, Abbas said a decision in this regard would have to be made by government.
However, Abbas noted that militants were conducting armed patrols and kidnapping of civilians and security personnel in Swat. They had also killed police and army personnel and fired at or stopped convoys of the security forces, he said.
Despite this, the army and the government were showing restraint to take the peace process in Swat to its logical conclusion, he added. “After the implementation of the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation (for enforcing Shariah), there is no reason for armed activities by the militants. They should surrender their arms and take forward the peace process.”
Efforts were also underway to capture Maulana Fazlullah, the Taliban commander in Swat, he said. Abbas also played an intercepted conversation in Pashtu between Fazlullah and another militant commander about the Taliban campaign in Buner.
The army is “fully on board in the government’s reconciliatory process” and the launching of military operations was the prerogative of the civilian administration, he said.
On April 2-3, some 300 militants from Swat entered Buner and began indulging in unlawful activities like kidnapping and killing policemen, forcibly recruiting youths and carrying out armed patrolling. They also took positions on hilltops and punished people for matters like having cassette players in their cars, Abbas said.
The government, Abbas said, showed restraint and gave the Taliban many opportunities to vacate Buner. It also warned the militants that it would have no option other than launching an operation if they did not leave the area, he added.
Abbas described as “misplaced” the perception that the hundreds of militants who had advanced to Buner could pose a threat to Islamabad.
“Distance is not the only component for measuring threats, there are other determinants. There is a counter-capability… and a huge military and paramilitary and civilian police forces. There is a huge capability to eliminate them,” he said in response to a question.
There were no reports of foreign militants being present in Dir or Swat. However, some militants from Punjab province had entered Swat a few months ago, Abbas said.
The unchecked advances of Taliban has stunned the Obama Administration and raised fears in the international community about the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.
Reacting to the Taliban’s march towards other Pakistani cities from their stronghold in Swat, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US cannot even contemplate that and cannot let this go on any further.
Malik dismissed fears about the safety of the country’s nuclear weapons, saying Pakistan is “a responsible nation that knows how to protect these assets.”

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