Sporadic clashes continue in Pakistan’s militant stronghold


Islamabad : Pro-Taliban militants continued to exchange sporadic gunfire Saturday with the security forces in north-west Pakistan after heavy fighting overnight reportedly killed at least 15 people, including 10 law enforcers.

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“The situation is relatively calm today but intermittent gunfights continue,” police officer Nisar Ahmed told DPA from volatile Swat valley, some 160 km from the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) capital Peshawar.

The clashes started Friday morning after government forces launched an operation against a radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah and his armed supporters following the killing of two dozen people in a suicide attack Thursday.

The firebrand cleric has persistently challenged the writ of the government since he announced a holy war against authorities in July to avenge a commando raid on Islamabad’s radical Red Mosque.

Since then, dozens of police officers and soldiers have been assassinated in a series of retaliatory attacks on security personnel in Swat.

Fazlullah, 32, also tried to impose Taliban-style rule in Swat through a recently established force of hundreds of fighters named the Shaheen Commandos.

He was to establish a parallel government in the area when the government sent 2,500 additional troops to quell the rebellion.

At least 15 people, including 10 security personnel and three militants, were killed in Friday’s gun battles, DawnNews television channel reported. More than a dozen people were also reported to be wounded. However, the authorities did not have any word on the casualties.

“We have been ordered to remain silent on casualty figures,” said Ahmed, who confirmed that the militants attacked a police station in the area.

“The insurgents retreated after the reinforcement of paramilitary troops,” he added.

There were unconfirmed reports that the armed supporters of the hardline cleric had abducted around a dozen security personnel.

Amid growing violence, hundreds of locals were moving to safer places.

The pro-Taliban cleric enjoys a lot of support among the masses in Swat, where he has ordered local women to wear the hijab, a traditional covering for their hair and necks.

His banned outfit Tehrik Nifaz-e-Sharia Mohammedi, or Movement for the Enforcement of Mohammed’s Sharia, gets strength from FM radio stations that Fazlullah uses for fiery speeches against non-governmental organisations, which he claims were spoiling the youth by spreading western culture.

The events unfolding in Swat emanate from the ongoing spread of Islamic radicalism in the tribal areas, which are believed to be safe havens for Al Qaeda and Taliban militants.