Islamabad : Security forces and Islamic militants Monday reached a ceasefire, a day after bloody clashes left at least 37 people dead and scores injured in Pakistan’s volatile north-western Valley of Swat, officials said.
“The sides have agreed on ceasefire and the exchange of fire between them has stopped now,” Inspector General of Police of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) Mohammed Sharif Virk told Geo news channel.
However, he was not sure how long the truce would last.
Earlier, the militants’ spokesman, Maulana Sirajuddin, said Federal Minister for Political Affairs Amir Muqam had contacted them for the ceasefire and they agreed to it.
“The two sides will exchange the bodies and move their injured to the hospitals,” he added.
The truce came hours after paramilitary troops shelled the hideout of the armed supporters of radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah, who has instigated Islamic rebellion through his illegal radio station in Swat, located some 160 km from the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) capital Peshawar.
At least 17 militants were killed and more than 20 injured in the Sunday assault when military helicopter gun ships provided aerial support to the ground troops, Geo news channel reported.
Army spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad confirmed the deaths of 10 militants.
“These people were terrorizing and killing innocent civilians and they have got what they deserved,” he told DPA Sunday.
The rebel forces responded to the action with heavy rocket fire and several ambushes on law enforcers, leaving at least 11 of them dead.
The militants beheaded six people who had been kidnapped from different parts of the valley over suspicion of spying for the authorities, while three civilians were killed when a mortar shell landed in a residential area.
Twenty-two civilians, including two journalists, were also wounded by the exchange of fire that continued for several hours.
The clashes resumed Sunday midday following a temporary ceasefire of around 12 hours when security forces received insurgent fire as they left the village of Fizaghat to relocate to the Charbagh area, situated close to the stronghold of the fanatical cleric.
But intermittent violence had been going on since Friday after security forces laid siege to Fazlullah’s seminary in the village of Imam Dheri following a suicide attack on a paramilitary truck that killed 25 people, including 19 soldiers.
The bombing was in response to the government’s deployment of 2,500 additional troops in the turbulent region to counter Fazlullah’s efforts for the enforcement of Taliban rule in Swat by establishing Islamic courts and a 400-strong Shaheen Commando Force.
The firebrand cleric declared holy war on government troops after army commandos stormed radicals in Islamabad’s Red Mosque in July. Since then dozens of security personnel have been killed in retaliatory attacks in Swat and surrounding areas.
The rising militancy in Swat is evidence of the fast spread of the Taliban ideology into the settled area of NWFP from tribal areas.
Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters have strongholds in the region, where they fled after US-led international forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001.