Pakistani military to focus on Baitullah Mehsud’s Taliban group


Islamabad : The Pakistani military will train its guns on Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud, a suspect in the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, once the operations against the militants in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) are concluded, the provincial governor said late Sunday.

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“The government has repeatedly warned the Mehsud tribe through the tribal elders to give up their miscreant’s activities and advised them not to shelter foreign militants. Otherwise government would not tolerate any act against the security to people’s lives and property at any cost,” Online news agency quoted NWFP Governor Owais Ghani as saying at a press conference here.

Mehsud heads the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the umbrella group of various Taliban groups operating in the country. His writ largely runs in the ungovernable South Waziristan agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) to the southwest of the NWFP along the border with Afghanistan.

Mehsud is also accused of having a hand in the Dec 27, 2007 gun and bomb attack that killed Bhutto as she left a political rally in the adjacent garrison town of Rawalpindi.

“These terrorists keep on their miscreants’ activities and continued to harbor terrorists as a result many people had lost their lives in suicide attacks in Peshawar, Islamabad and today (Sunday) in Dera Ismail Khan,” Ghani said.

He also charged the Taliban with training innocent teenagers and brainwashing them into committing suicide attacks.

“Keeping in view all this, the government has decided to launch an operation against militants in FATA. It has been decided that a comprehensive and decisive operation will be launched to dismantle and eliminate Baitullah Mehsud and his network,” the governor said.

“The army has been ordered to launch a crackdown against militants in FATA,” he said, adding: “The details and the strategy of operation will be decided by the army.”

The military began its NWFP operations April 26 after the Taliban reneged on a controversial peace deal with the provincial government and instead moved south from their Swat headquarters and occupied Buner, which is just 100 km from Islamabad.

The operations had begun in Lower Dir, the home district of Taliban-backed radical cleric Sufi Mohammad, who had brokered the peace deal and who is the father-in-law of Swat Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah. They later spread to Buner and Lower Dir.

The military says it has largely secured Buner and Lower Dir districts and is now engaged in mopping up operations in Swat.

To go by military figures, over 1,400 Taliban have been killed in the fighting. There is, however, no independent confirmation of this as the media has been barred from the battle zone.

Some three million civilians have been displaced from the three districts by the military operations.