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Pakistan moves troops from Indian border, defeats Taliban in Dir

By Razaul H Laskar in Islamabad
April 30, 2009 21:24 IST
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Pakistan was reported to be moving troops from its border with India to boost its military campaign against Taliban in the restive North West Frontier Province, which has been meeting with fierce resistance as after two days of fighting militants continued to retain their hold on most of the Buner district.

The New York Times reported that Pakistan was moving 6,000 troops (more than a brigade) to fight militants on its western border with Afghanistan, quoting a Pakistani official who did not want to be identified. The Pakistan military, advancing on three fronts backed by fighter aircraft and attack helicopters in Buner, snatched the vital 8-km-long Ambela heights which overlook most of Buner.

In fierce encounters so far, at least 120 militants have been killed. The military campaign, launched under intense US pressure, came as President Asif Ali Zardari appealed to the nation to stand behind the current offensive against Islamic extremists. Pakistani troops claimed making advances in Buner, just 100 km from the federal capital, after inflicting "huge" casualties on the Taliban, who retaliated using suicide bombers to strike back on the security forces, the chief military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said.

Abbas declared that Taliban had been defeated in the Dir, while armed forces were engaging the militants in Buner with all available resources. Though the Taliban had been defeated in Dir, he said the militants were sending suicide car bombers to attack troops in the area. The militants sent four suicide car bombers to target troops in Dir district on Wednesday and two of them were blown up by the security personnel, he said.

He said the security forces had been able to secure the entire Ambela heights and had wiped out all Taliban positions atop the mountains right up to the pass. He said the administration headquarters and other establishments had been completely secured and an area of 8 to 10 km cleared of all Taliban fighters.

Abbas said the return of the security forces and elimination of Taliban had led to jubilation in the town. He accused the Taliban in Swat of violating the peace deal in the area by killing and abducting security personnel and civilians. The security forces have been showing restraint despite provocation from the militants as they want the peace deal to be taken to its conclusion, he said. "The government and the military want the reconciliation process in Swat to reach its final conclusion. They want the return of peace and normalcy through peaceful means and without further bloodshed and destruction," Abbas said.

Abbas said the militants were not honouring the peace deal as they had abducted and killed security personnel and civilians, taken over private property, continued armed patrolling and stopped and fired at vehicles of the security forces, he said. The Taliban had also taken over the police stations at three places in Swat and killed a policeman. The army in separate operations on Wednesday had managed to free 18 of the 70 police and frontier constabulary personnel being held hostage by the Taliban in the region and cleared the militants from a number of police stations and public buildings which they had wrested. "The terrorising of people is continuing unabated and this is a gross violation of the peace deal," Abbas said. In Dir, life was returning to normalcy and curfew was relaxed from 8 am to 1 pm today, he said.

In Buner, which was occupied by the Taliban earlier this month, the operation against the militants was "progressing well" despite tough resistance from the rebels. Troops had secured the strategic Ambela Pass and were moving towards Daggar, the main town in the area which has already been taken over by the security forces. The security forces were deliberately progressing at a slow pace to avoid collateral damage, Abbas said. Abbas said it was difficult to set a time-frame for the operations in Buner though the security forces were trying to complete it within a week.

Meanwhile, saying that Pakistan was facing a "critical hour" in its fight against militants, President Asif Ali Zardari said "time has come for the nation to give a pause to their political differences and give full support to the security forces," a late night statement from the President's Office said. Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani also said the operation in Dir and Buner was meant to re-establish the writ of the constitution.

Earlier today, US President Barack Obama, in an extraordinary censure of the civilian government of Pakistan, described it as "very fragile" and not seeming to have the capacity to deliver even basic services to its people. As a consequence, it is very difficult for the government to gain the support and the loyalty of the people, Obama said in unusual remarks. "I'm more concerned that the civilian government there right now is very fragile and don't seem to have the capacity to deliver basic services --schools, health care, rule of law, a judicial system that works for the majority of the people," Obama said in a prime-time news conference marking the 100-day of his presidency.

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Razaul H Laskar in Islamabad
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