Pakistan launches offensive against Taliban in Buner


Islamabad : Saying it had run out of options, Pakistan Tuesday sent its ground forces into action against the Taliban in Buner district in the country’s restive northwest, just 100 km from here, even as an operation against the militants in an adjoining district had concluded.

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“We were left with no option. We tolerated them for a long time and gave them enough opportunities (to vacate Buner),” military spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas told reporters here.

“The operation in Buner began at 4 p.m. The operation in Lower Dir has ended. About 70-75 militants have been killed. The security forces have suffered 10 casualties,” Abbas, who heads the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), added.

“The Dir offensive was imperative,” he maintained.

In Buner, Abbas said, some 300 Taliban fighters had created a reign of terror, forcing young boys to join them and removing cassette players from cars.

Earlier Tuesday, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said Pakistan has had enough of the Taliban.

“Enough is enough. If the government’s writ is challenged, or any terrorist activity takes place any where in the country, we will take strict action,” Malik told reporters here.

In Washington, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, was “very alarmed by the growing extremist threat in Pakistan and remains frustrated particularly by the political leadership’s inability to confront that threat,” his spokesman said.

Mullen, on his two visits to Pakistan in less than three weeks, was “deeply alarmed by what he has found,” the spokesman, Capt. John Kirby, told a US television channel.

“It is a very precarious security situation.”

Mullen was particularly “alarmed by what is going on in the Swat Valley,” Kirby said, adding: “Instead of laying down their arms under the terms of a peace deal, the Taliban again picked them up.”

Mullen’s views about the deterioration in Pakistan had accelerated since he visited Islamabad earlier this month with US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, Kirby pointed out.

During the most recent visit Mullen “expressed those concerns” to Pakistan’s military leaders and urged them to be “more aggressive” in “confronting” the Taliban, Kirby added.

The North West Frontier Province (NWFP) government and Taliban-backed radical cleric Sufi Mohammad had Feb 16 signed a controversial peace accord to impose Sharia laws in Swat and six other districts of the province in return for the militants laying down their arms.

President Asif Ali Zardari balked at ratifying the accord in the face of strident international pressure and tossed the deal to parliament, which approved it April 13. Zardari approved it the same night and the accord came into force two days later.

The Taliban, however, did not keep their end of the bargain and moved south from Swat to last week seize control of Buner district.

While some of them moved out after Sufi Mohammad intervened, the bulk of the militants had stayed back, forcing the security forces to act against them.

On Sunday, Pakistani security forces moved into Lower Dir to the south of Swat and which is the cleric’s home district to flush out the Taliban that had taken control of the area.

Swat, Buner and Lower Dir are part of what is termed the Malakand division of the NWFP.

Sufi Mohammad had suspended the Swat peace deal after the Lower Dir operation began and after Tuesday’s developments, is all but dead, analysts here said.