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Army ordered to eliminate terrorists: Gilani


Islamabad : Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Thursday the armed forces have been ordered to “eliminate terrorists” in the restive Swat region even as army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani called on the country’s politicians across the spectrum to unite to combat the menace of terrorism and extremism.

Meanwhile, Pakistani land and air forces Thursday continued their offensive against the Taliban in three districts of the troubled North West Frontier Province on a day on which the son of radical cleric Sufi Mohammad was killed in the operation.

In a televised address to the nation, Gilani said that although the government had opted for talks to resolve the Swat issue””terrorist elements continued to challenge the writ of the governmen””, Geo TV reported.

He added that decisions on the issue were taken after holding consultations with the political parties and other stakeholders.

Earlier, while inaugurating the 118th Corps Commanders’ Conference at the General Headquarters in the adjacent garrison town of Rawalpindi said Pakistan was a sovereign state and under a democratic dispensation supported by the army, was capable of handling the crisis in NWFP in its own national interests, a statement issued by Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said.

The Pakistani Army was fully aware of the gravity of internal threat and would employ the requisite resources to ensure a decisive ascendancy over the Taliban, it said.

“The participants were given a comprehensive briefing on prevailing security situation in the region. The matters of operational preparedness and professional interest were discussed in the meeting,” the ISPR statement said.

In NWFP, Pakistani jets strafed militant positions in the troubled Swat district Thursday as civilians struggled to flee the escalating conflict, DPA reported, quoting officials and locals.

Sufi Mohammad’s son was killed in a clash in the Maidan area of Lower Dir. The cleric had brokered the February peace accord that led to the introduction of Sharia laws in Swat, Lower Dir and five other NWFP districts that are collectively known as the Malakand division.

The fresh fighting came as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned that the humanitarian crisis was intensifying in the region.

Jet aircraft targeted Taliban fighters in the Khwazakhela area, about 25 km north of Swat district’s main town of Mingora, a security official said on the condition of anonymity.

The bombing raids were followed by rocket strikes by military helicopter gunships, which hit the rebels in the Korai, Jablus Siraj and Malam Jabba areas, the official said.

“Ground troops are also advancing toward these militant strongholds but facing resistance from insurgents holding positions on the hills,” the official added.

No casualty figures were given, but according to the official, “the toll ran high”.

Crowds of people left their homes to try to exit the town for safer areas but confronted a shortage of transport as heavily armed Taliban militants blocked roads and patrolled the streets.

The Red Cross said Thursday that the humanitarian crisis was intensifying in the region, where an estimated half-million people were displaced.

“We can no longer reach the areas most affected by the fighting on account of the volatile situation,” said Benno Kocher, the head of the Red Cross operations in NFWP.

Fighting has flared up in the Malakand division, which includes Swat, in recent days after the virtual collapse of a three-month-old peace deal between the Taliban fighters and the regional government.

Under the agreement, Taliban militants said they would disarm after the imposition of sharia law, but they did not honour their promises and expanded their territory to nearby districts.

The Pakistani military claimed troops have killed more than 300 militants since April 26 when the anti-Taliban offensives began from Lower Dir.

The fresh clashes came as US President Barack Obama discussed the surge in the Taliban insurgency with his Afghan and Pakistani counterparts in Washington and stressed a coordinated effort was needed.