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Operations against Taliban till their elimination: Pakistani PM


Islamabad: Pakistan was not fighting a “normal war” but conducting a “guerilla” operation against the Taliban in the country’s troubled northwest and this would continue till the militants were eliminated, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani declared here Saturday.

“It is not a normal war. This is a guerilla war,” APP quoted him as saying at a press conference here after an emergency meeting of the cabinet that endorsed the military operations against the Taliban in Swat and two other districts of the North West Frontier Province.

He, however, refused to lay down a time line for concluding the operations against the “anti-state elements”, saying it would continue till their complete elimination.

“They (the militants) refused to accept democracy, parliament and its institutions, which is rebellion,” Gilani maintained.

The prime minister’s remarks came as Pakistani troops Saturday destroyed the headquarters of the Taliban in the Swat Valley and killed some 55 militants, while a humanitarian crisis intensified with thousands of civilians stranded in the battlefield, DPA reported.

Gilani noted that the cabinet expressed its resolve on minimising collateral damage, adding that the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, had been summoned Monday afternoon to discuss the situation in Swat.

The prime minister said that before ordering the military action, he had taken the political leadership across the spectrum into confidence, and thanked them for their support and patriotism at the time when Pakistan needed this the most.

He also dispelled the impression that the army action was the result of international pressure and said the government had gone ahead with the controversial peace deal despite external pressures.

The Taliban reneging on the peace deal had prompted the military action.

“It is our own war. It is for the survival of the country, and for the future of people,” Gilani maintained.

DPA adds: The UN refugee agency UNHCR estimated up to 200,000 people fled the former tourist haven of Swat in recent days, and forecast a further exodus of nearly 300,000 more.

Security forces targeted the Taliban headquarters in the Loenamal area of the mountainous Matta sub-district, completely destroying it, the army claimed in a statement. The action there and in eight neighbouring areas left 30 to 40 militants dead.

Separately, helicopter gunships pounded militant positions in Swat’s main town of Mingora to soften Taliban resistance as troops pushed forward with the ground operation, killing 15 rebels.

“Militants were harassing the civil population and were intensely involved in various activities of looting and arson in Mingora,” a statement from the Pakistani army said.

The Pakistani military announced “a full-scale operation” Friday, a day after Gilani called for national unity as the troops were ordered “to eliminate the terrorists”.

The US welcomed the military action amid concerns about dwindling stability in the nuclear-armed state, which it considers central to counter-insurgency efforts in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Clashes were also reported in the adjoining district of Buner and Shangla. The army claimed militants suffered “heavy casualties”, without giving any details. Two soldiers were also injured.

More than 140 Taliban fighters were reported killed on the first day of the all-out offensive, with the troops also suffering at least seven casualties. The toll could not be verified independently.

Military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told reporters that troops were battling up to 5,000 Taliban militants in the scenic valley, located 140 km northwest of the capital Islamabad.

The statement from his office said Saturday the “indiscriminate mortar firing” by the militants in the populated areas of Mingora, resulted in civilian casualties.

“Militants are using houses of civilians as bunkers for engaging the security forces,” it said further.

An indefinite curfew remained in place in the insurgency-hit areas of Swat, with the authorities saying that the relaxation timings could not be disclosed in advance because militants were thought to be attacking non-combatants leaving the valley.

Those taking chances also faced the threat of being caught in crossfire or hit by roadside bombs planted by the insurgents.

Commentators say there is a wide consensus, at least for now, that the government needs to go all-out against the Taliban, but warn that the situation could change in case of heavy collateral damage or poor treatment of refugees.

Pakistani authorities have set up nearly a dozen camps with support from international and local relief agencies. However, UN refugee agency spokesman in Geneva, Ron Redmond, said the new influx would place “huge additional pressure on resources”.