Pakistan deploys 2,500 soldiers in Swat in NWFP


Islamabad : The Pakistan government has sent 2,500 soldiers to control Islamic militants trying to impose Taliban-style rule in a mountainous district of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, military officials said Wednesday.

Support TwoCircles

Several gunship helicopters were backing up the troops from the paramilitary Frontier Corps as they started to take up positions Tuesday night around the Islamic seminary of the cleric Maulana Fazalullah in the Swat district.

The cleric, with a following of thousands of heavily armed fighters, has declared holy war against Pakistan’s security forces since Army commandoes stormed Islamabad’s radical Red Mosque on July 10. More than 100 people died in the assault.

Fazallulah’s men are believed to be behind scores of attacks that have killed dozens of police officers and soldiers in the past three months in the area.

“The action has been taken to stop the activities of Fazallulah and his band of criminals,” military spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad said. “The militants have been terrorizing the people in this area for quite some time.”

Fazallulah has also established a force of hundreds of his armed supporters named the Shaheen Commandoes, which earlier this week took up the task of maintaining law and order after law enforcement officers withdrew from the area following a spade of bombings and suicide attacks.

An Islamic sharia court has been set up in the district, and last week, it ordered the public flogging of five men accused of being involved in the abduction of two women.

Pro-Taliban militants in the area have also ordered the women there to wear hijab, a traditional covering for their hair and necks, and have asked the owners of music shops to abandon their businesses, saying they promoted “obscenity” and “Western culture.”

“We will continue our struggle for the enforcement of sharia come what may,” Fazallulah told the Dawn newspaper last week.

The militants responded to the troop deployment with a roadside bombing of a troop convoy of 50 vehicles Tuesday night. Four soldiers were injured.

Seven people involved in the attack have been arrested, Arshad said.

Fearing a bloody fight between the militants and government forces, the local population has started to leave the area.

Almost all educational institutions were closed Wednesday, and security forces sealed the main roads in the region.

“For the moment, we are only deploying the troops, and no decision for a security operation has yet been taken,” Arshad said.

North-west Pakistan has undergone a radicalization in recent months, mainly under the influence of pro-Taliban militants in country’s volatile tribal areas, which are also believed to be hotbeds of al-Qaeda fighters.