Thursday, May 7, 2009

Potential swing states in India elections

Millions of Indians began voting in the penultimate round of a general election on Thursday, including the possible swing state of West Bengal where the ruling Congress-led alliance hopes to win crucial seats.

Here are details of five most important swing states which account 243 of 543 parliamentary seats in the April-May election. The main vote battle is between Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

* UTTAR PRADESH (80 seats)

India's most populous state could be a key election with an outside chance the controversial chief minister Mayawati could become the country's next prime minister.

Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which champions the cause of Dalits or former "untouchables", will probably be challenged by Congress and the Samajwadi Party (SP), who could defeat Mayawati if they pool their vote share.

But there is a chance the current Congress-SP alliance, seen by analysts as a marriage of convenience, may crumble.

If Mayawati builds on her success at the state level she could be "kingmaker" in case of a hung parliament. She could even be prime minister as head of the "third front" -- a coalition of smaller parties -- if the two main parties falter.

Congress has in the past deployed two of its star campaigners, party chief Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul, in the state but failed to make significant inroads.

* ANDHRA PRADESH (42 seats)

Congress won the southern state in 2004 with the help of the regional Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) party, but the TRS has since walked out of Congress' coalition.

In a likely three-horse race, Congress will compete against a "grand alliance" of smaller parties including the TRS, and against the actor-turned-politician Chiranjeevi, whose recently created party has good prospects in some pockets of the state.

The BJP is unlikely to have major impact.

* TAMIL NADU (39 seats)

The southern state of Tamil Nadu is said to have tipped the balance of power in favour of Congress in 2004 after it won the support of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK).

The DMK won a resounding election victory but there are signs its support could be faltering. Its main rival, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), has already reached out to Congress for a potential post-election alliance.

But Congress is almost certainly going to stick with its current ally. The BJP still has no major ally in the state.

* BIHAR (40 seats)

The Congress-led coalition won a majority in the populous, eastern state of Bihar in 2004. But since then the Janata Dal (United) (JD(U) party, a member of the coalition, has trounced its opponents in state elections and dislodged chief minister Rabri Devi, the wife of India's railway minister, Lalu Prasad.

The JD(U) is a BJP ally but there has been speculation it could switch to Congress after the polls.

* WEST BENGAL (42 seats)

The eastern state of West Bengal has been run by the left for decades. The left was a key Congress ally after elections in 2004 but walked out of the coalition last year in protest against a civilian nuclear deal with the United States.

The left might choose to return to its former ally this year, especially if Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who staked his political future on the deal, steps down.

But for the campaign, Congress has tied up with the state's main opposition, Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress party.

Operation to continue till mission accomplished: Zardari

WASHINGTON: President Asif Ali Zardari said on Thursday that the operation against the militants would continue till normalcy was restored.

At a joint news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and US Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar, President Zardari stressed Pakistan’s commitment to defeating the terrorists.

‘The operation will go on till the situation returns to normal,’ the president said when asked how long would the operation Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced earlier in the day continue.

The president said that Afghanistan and Pakistan realised they needed to improve their cooperation in the fight against the extremists and were willing to enhance their efforts to defeat them.

‘There’s a realisation in the world that it’s a regional problem, a worldwide problem. It is not an Afghan or a Tora Bora problem. It is not a problem secluded in the mountains of Pakhtoonkhwa,’ said Mr Zardari. ‘This realisation brings strength to the fight.’

Responding to another question, Mr Zardari said Pakistan looked forward to building a better relationship with India after elections in that country. ‘If American friends can help us in doing so, they are welcome to.’

Supporting President Zardari’s position on the issue of better cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Mr Karzai said that during the tripartite talks in Washington, the two countries had taken important steps to improve their coordination.

‘We have taken a significant step forward for reducing the trust deficit between the two countries,’ he said. ‘One of the fundamental steps we took was to address this issue. Now we will go home and work on it and show the results.’

President Karzai said all three sides attending the Washington talks had come up with proposals for winning the war against the extremists.

Senator John Kerry, who has cosponsored a $7.5 billion aid package along with his Republican counterpart Richard Lugar, said before the news conference the two leaders had held an important meeting with the Senate committees for foreign relations, armed forces and intelligence.

The second part of the tripartite discussions focussed on ‘the real and tough problems’ faced by all three countries.

The way the two presidents summarised the problem was ‘really unprecedented’ and led to a frank exchange between all senators and the two presidents, Mr Kerry said.

‘Some questions were very pointed and very direct. The senators were impressed by the candour of the presidents and the purpose behind these answers.’

Senator Kerry said the meeting was not called to talk about what the US wanted Pakistan or Afghanistan to do. ‘We were here to listen to the presidents and learn what they believe they need.’

Senator Lugar said that questions were also asked about President Karzai’s campaign to get re-elected and about the ISI’s alleged involvement with the militants.

‘The ISI chief Gen Pasha explained why the Taliban exists and what the relationship is,’ he said. ‘We asked them what do you want us to do? Do you want the US in your countries; do your people want it?’

US special envoy Richard Holbrooke said another trilateral meeting would be held after the Afghan elections. He said the CIA and FBI chiefs also participated in the meeting with the senators.

The aim was to promote ‘real cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan because without that cooperation success is not achievable,’ he said.

Senator Kerry said he hoped the US Senate and the House would be able to overcome the differences between their bills for providing assistance to Pakistan.

‘We have a lot of confidence on how to pull that together, we have a sense of urgency, but we can’t give you a precise date,’ he said.

Gates: GIs won't be sent to Pakistan

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan - There are no plans to deploy U.S. ground troops to Pakistan, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday, despite concerns over increasing violence between Pakistani troops and Taliban militants.

Speaking to about 300 Marines at Camp Leatherneck in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, Gates assured them that they wouldn't be fighting in the neighboring sovereign nation.

During a 12-minute question-and-answer session in sweltering heat, Gates told a sergeant he didn't have to "worry about going to Pakistan."

Pakistan's military continued fighting Taliban guerrillas in the Swat Valley on Thursday. On Wednesday, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari appealed to President Barack Obama for more help reversing the extension of Taliban-held territory to within 60 miles of the capital, Islamabad.

Taliban militants blocked roads with rocks and trees Thursday, preventing terrified civilians from fleeing the valley as the country's army stepped up a ground and air assault on the guerrillas, witnesses said.

The United States is particularly concerned by the unrest because its troops are fighting an increasingly virulent insurgency in Afghanistan fed from militant havens in Pakistan's lawless border area.

Officials are bracing for a mass exodus from the Swat Valley, a former tourist destination where fighting has resumed after the breakdown of a controversial peace deal earlier this week. The military claimed to have killed more than 80 militants in the region on Wednesday. There has been no official word on civilian casualties.

Humanitarian crisis
More than 500,000 Pakistanis driven out by fighting in other regions of the northwest are already living in makeshift camps or with relatives, adding a growing humanitarian crisis to the country's daunting security, economic and political problems.

With Taliban militants roaming the streets of Mingora, Swat's main town, on Thursday and troops launching artillery and airstrikes on militant targets from helicopter, many residents hunkered down in their homes.

The army announced it was relaxing its blanket curfew in the area, but some of those who tried to make a swift exit said militants blocked their way.

Ayaz Khan, a 39-year-old from the Kanju area of Swat, said he loaded his family into his car early Thursday but that rocks, boulders and tree trunks has been laid across the roads, forcing him to turn back.

"I am helpless, frustrated and worried for my family," he told an Associated Press reporter by telephone from his home. He appealed to authorities to clear the barriers and let people move to safety.

A health worker living in Mingora said militants had warned her to stay in her home.

"During the whole of last night, I heard firing, and again this morning," said the woman, who would only give her first name, Maryam, for fear she could be targeted for speaking with a reporter.

"I don't know when some weapon will hit our home and kill us," she said.

Washington has said it wants to see a sustained operation in Swat and surrounding districts, mindful of earlier, inconclusive offensives elsewhere in the Afghan border region. Eight years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the area remains a haven for al-Qaida and Taliban fighters blamed for spiraling violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

But uprooting the insurgents from the valley will mean civilian casualties, property damage and massive disruption which could sap the resolve of the government, which is struggling to convince the nuclear-armed Muslim nation that fighting the militants is in its interests as well as those of the United States.

Obama and Zardari met Wednesday in Washington to explore ways to boost the country's antiterror fight, seen by many as the most pressing foreign policy issue facing the U.S. administration.

"Pakistan's democracy will deliver," Zardari said in Washington.

'Quite impressed'
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the military offensive against the Taliban was a positive sign.

"I'm actually quite impressed by the actions the Pakistani government is now taking," she said. "I think that action was called for, and action has been forthcoming."

The Swat accord began unraveling last month when Taliban fighters moved from the valley into the nearby district of Buner, even closer to Islamabad, prompting an operation that the military says has killed more than 150 militants but has yet to drive them out.

The Swat Taliban are estimated to have up to 7,000 fighters — many with training and battle experience — equipped with rocket-propelled grenades, explosives and automatic weapons. They are up against some 15,000 troops who until recent days had been confined to their barracks under the peace deal.

Army called in to eliminate militants: Gilani

وزیر اعظم نے شر پسندوں کیخلاف طبل جنگ بجا دیا

وزیر اعظم یوسف رضا گیلانی نے کہا ہے کہ حکومت نے دہشت گردوں کے مکمل خاتمے کے لیے فوج کو طلب کرلیا ہے ، اس مقصد کے لیے پوری قوم حکومت کا ساتھ دے ۔

قوم سے خطاب کرتے ہوئے وزیر اعظم یوسف رضا گیلانی کا کہنا تھا کہ سوات معاہدے کے تحت طے پایا تھا کہ شدت پسند اپنی مسلح سرگرمیاں ختم کردیں گے تاہم ایسا نہیں کیا گیا اور انہوں نے اپنی سرگرمیاں جاری رکھیں ۔ سرکاری عمارتوں پر قبضہ کیا اور اسکولوں کو نذر آتش کیا گیا، لڑکیوں کو اسکول جانے سے روکا گیا اور اقلیتوں کو ہراساں کیا گیا ۔

وزیر اعظم نے کہا کہ ملا کنڈ ڈویژن میں شدت پسندوں کی سرگرمیوں کی وجہ سے لاکھوں لوگوں کو نقل مکانی کرنا پڑی ،شدت پسندوں نے اسلام کے نام پر ایسے اقدامات کیے گئے جس کی وجہ سے دنیا بھر میں اسلام کا امیج خراب ہوا ۔ یوسف رضا گیلانی نے کہا کہ علما اس موقع پر آگے آئیں اور اسلام کا صیح تشخص اجاگر کرنے کےلیے اپنا کردار ادا کریں ۔

وزیر اعظم کا کہنا تھا کہ شدت پسندوں کو ان کا نام نہاد ایجنڈا مسلط کرنے کی اجازت نہیں دی جائے گی اب فیصلہ کیا گیا ہے کہ ان عناصر کا مکمل خاتمہ کردیا جائے اور اس مقصد کے لیے فوج طلب کرلی گئی ۔ یوسف رضا گیلانی نے کہا کہ بے گھر ہونے والوں کے لیے ایک ارب روپے کی رقم جاری کردی گئی ہے اور شدت پسندوں کے ہاتھوں شہید ہونے والوں کے قریبی عزیز کو سرکاری ملازمت دی جائے گی ۔

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Gilani announced peace will be restored at all cost, as the government is set to officially announce the launch of a military offensive in Swat, DawnNews reported.

In a late evening address to the nation on Thursday, the Prime Minister said that the government had ‘Implemented the Swat peace accord because of the people… [and] implemented the Nizam-e-Adl despite both domestic and international pressure.’

However, ‘TNSM did not abide by the peace agreement and continued with violence. The militants have waged war against all segments of society.’

Gilani called on the nation to ‘understand the severity of the situation,’ saying that though the leadership’s first priority remains peace, the government has ‘decided not to bow … [their] … heads in front of terrorists… The army has been called in to eliminate the militants.’

The announcement comes as Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari gears up to meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai and US President Barack Obama in a series of tripartite talks in Washington.

In Diplomacy, a Pakistan Disconnect

WASHINGTON — There was a lot of talk at the White House on Wednesday about all of the ways that the United States is trying to help Afghanistan and Pakistan work together to improve the lot of ordinary people.

President Obama spoke of how members of his cabinet, including Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, would hold meetings with their Afghan and Pakistani counterparts to help them build democratic institutions for governance. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton talked about a trade pact between the two countries to increase commerce over the borders. The national security adviser, James L. Jones, talked about judicial reform and the need to stamp out corruption in Afghanistan.

But as Taliban and other insurgents have battled government troops closer and closer to Islamabad, the one thing that no one seemed to be talking about publicly is the one thing that, privately, Obama officials acknowledge is the most important: how to get the Pakistani government and army to move the country’s troops from the east, where they are preoccupied with a war with India that most American officials do not think they will have to fight, to the west, where the Islamist insurgents are taking over one town after another.

Mr. Obama gave only passing reference to the problem, which American officials have been privately pressing their Pakistani counterparts to address all week. Standing next to the visiting heads of state of Afghanistan and Pakistan — Hamid Karzai and Asif Ali Zardari — Mr. Obama said simply that “we meet today as three sovereign nations joined by a common goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda and its extremist allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their ability to operate in either country in the future.”

Then he went on to talk about the drug trade in Afghanistan and the $5.5 billion raised for the region at a donors’ conference in Tokyo.

Part of the reason for the gap between the public and private diplomacy is that administration officials do not want to go on the record explicitly with what they are seeking from the two governments, lest they be held to account when neither government comes through with promises made behind closed doors.

The other reason why no one wants to talk too much publicly about what the United States wants Pakistan to do is that there is a real difference in the way that the two countries view the insurgency in the western part of Pakistan. While Americans see this as an existential threat to the Pakistani government, Pakistanis look at things differently.

“This situation has been going on for decades,” one Pakistani official explained on Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity. “These people have always tried to impose Shariah law in the tribal areas.”

Pakistan is more concerned, he said, with getting the American government to stop the unmanned Predator strikes in the western part of the country, which he characterized as far more damaging to the survivability of the Pakistani government than Islamist insurgents in the Swat valley.

His comments came just after a senior Obama administration official said that the administration believes the Pakistani government is finally starting to come around to the American way of thinking about the nature of the Islamist threat to the Pakistani government, further underscoring the disconnect between the two governments.

When such a disconnect exists, those involved in diplomacy just stick to public pronouncements on judicial reform and economic development.

'Great rage, and great fear' in Pakistan

Refugees fleeing Swat Valley tell of Taliban crimes, abuses
By Pamela Constable and Haq Nawaz Khan
The Washington Post
updated 12:21 a.m. PT, Thurs., May 7, 2009
GOLRA, Pakistan - Hajji Karim and his extended family of 70 were camped in a dirt-floor stable 10 miles outside Islamabad, the Pakistani capital. It was as far as they could get from the Swat Valley, where thousands of people are fleeing from the ravages of the Taliban and the imminent prospect of war with government forces.

When Taliban fighters first entered Karim's village last month, he recounted, they said they had come to bring peace and Islamic law, or sharia, to Swat. But the next day, two of the fighters dragged a policeman out of his truck and tried to slit his throat. Horrified, a crowd rushed over, shouting and trying to shield the officer. The fighters let him go, but the incident confirmed the villagers' worst suspicions.

"We all said to each other, what sort of people have come here? And what kind of sharia is this? Cutting off people's heads has nothing to do with Islam," recounted Karim, 55, a bus driver. "The people were filled with great rage, and great fear."

Authorities in North-West Frontier Province said that with the conflict intensifying, they expect half a million people to flee the once-bucolic Swat region near the Afghan border, much of which is now occupied by heavily armed militants. Officials announced Tuesday that they plan to open six refugee camps in the safer nearby districts of Swabi and Mardan, but until then, many who leave home to escape the violence are facing the arduous task of finding their own shelter.

Refugees confused and trapped
As the refugees begin streaming out of Swat and the neighboring Buner district in northwest Pakistan, they carry with them memories of the indignities and horrors inflicted by occupying Taliban forces -- locking women inside their homes, setting donkeys on fire -- as they tried to force residents to accept a radical version of Islam.

The government has not helped, refugees said, with its erratic, seesawing efforts to appease and fight the militants. Some said they felt confused and trapped, unsure whether to trust the peace deal forged by the government and Taliban leaders last month, or to flee in anticipation of the fighting that has begun as the peace accord collapses.

Sher Mohammed, a property dealer from Mingora, the main town in Swat, was one of the first people to reach a new refugee camp in the Mardan district with his wife and children Tuesday night. On Wednesday, he kicked the dirt outside their tent despondently, saying that after enduring two years of fighting and Taliban abuses, he had had enough.

"I feel like I have lost my mind," he said. "I work hard to make a respectable life and educate my children. Now we are living in a camp, and my sons are talking of guns."

Mohammed said he did not understand why the country's powerful army had not been able to defeat the militants before they took over the valley. Even now, after a week of sporadic fighting, military officials have not announced an offensive against the militants who occupy much of Swat and Buner. The Taliban has repeatedly rejected government overtures to salvage the peace deal, in which the militants agreed to disarm if sharia courts were made the exclusive form of justice in Swat.

Army officials said 35 militants and three soldiers were killed Wednesday in Swat in sporadic fighting, including a shootout near several emerald mines that Taliban forces are using as hideouts. They said militants looted three banks and occupied police and civil administration buildings in Mingora. The military reported that an additional 50 militants had been killed in Buner.

Not enough help
The United Nations humanitarian office in Islamabad said it has already registered more than 2,200 families in new camps, "many of them arriving with little more than the clothes they are wearing." In a statement, the office said it would also increase assistance to help about 6,000 additional families in existing camps for Afghan refugees.

One private relief agency based in Swat said that it has been relocating hundreds of families at scattered sites in the cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi but that no local government or international agency had offered to help. Its officials said they were concerned that Taliban fighters would try to recruit displaced people relocated in large camps.

"People in Swat are angry and confused, because the government is reaching out to the Taliban and fighting them at the same time," said Mohammed Riatullah, a relief agency official. "There are huge numbers of people with nowhere to go. We are trying to provide them with decent shelter and support, but we need more help so they won't fall into Taliban hands."

Fears of camp infiltration
Pakistan has hosted millions of refugees from conflicts in Afghanistan during the past two decades, with networks of camps in the northwest and in the southwestern province of Baluchistan. There have been frequent accusations that militant groups infiltrate the camps to use them as sanctuaries and recruiting pools. Military analysts say they suspect that the Taliban leadership of Afghanistan uses refugee camps in Baluchistan for these purposes.

Since militants began staging attacks and occupying territory inside Pakistan several years ago, thousands of inhabitants of the northwest tribal region have been displaced by fighting and have relocated to camps around Peshawar.

In Buner, army forces have been battling Taliban fighters for the past week, and the army said Wednesday that the operations were going smoothly. But several people who have fled from Buner to the provincial capital of Peshawar, or who were reached in Buner by cellphone, said that the situation was dire and that Taliban forces were still occupying many homes.

They said Buneris were especially vulnerable to Taliban attacks for several reasons. The district is famous for its Sufi shrines, where people practice a mystical form of Islam that is anathema to the fundamentalist Sunni Taliban. In addition, residents formed militias to resist the Taliban last year, and one village paid dearly for its defiance when voting stations were bombed in December, killing 42 people.

"When the militants entered our area, the people held a jirga to discuss what to do. They said they would never accept them and vowed to fight to the death," said Sirmir Khan, director of an educational charity in Buner who fled to Peshawar last week after Taliban forces occupied his offices. "They are not Muslims, they are criminals who are defaming our religion, and the people of Buner are not their friends."

Afsar Khan, the mayor of a town in Buner who had also fled to Peshawar recently, said that the militants had burned many houses and fields in his area and that last year he had joined an armed posse that attempted to drive them out. "We only had about 100 men, and the militants were coming down from the mountains," Khan recounted. "They fired on us from 5 p.m. to midnight and we were running out of ammunition. We called for help, and the officials kept telling us helicopter gunships were coming, but they never did. Finally we told all the farmworkers to run away, because we could not protect them, and we had to give up."

'Everyone was very afraid'
In a relief agency office in Islamabad on Wednesday, two teenage sisters from Buner huddled on a flour sack next to a few cooking pots, covering their faces with veils. They said they had fled their village four days ago after their father, a farm laborer, was warned by his landlord that the Taliban was coming.

"I don't know what the Taliban are, but everyone was very afraid," said one of the girls, who gave her name as Abzanan. "I am very worried because my father went back to get my brothers, and we don't know what happened to him."

Pakistan to scrap peace deal, launch offensive, source says

The Pakistani government plans to scrap a tenuous peace deal with Taliban militants and launch an even more aggressive operation against them in northwestern Pakistan, a Pakistani military official said Thursday.

The military plans to begin a major offensive Thursday evening in Swat, the site of a faltering peace deal between the Pakistani military and the Taliban.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani will announce the end of the peace deal and the military offensive Thursday night, the official said.

Between 12,000 and 15,000 Pakistani troops already are in Swat, according to the official. The official tells CNN more troops will be deployed in the Swat, Dir and Buner districts to fight the militants.

Pakistani fighter jets and helicopters pounded Taliban positions in the country's Swat Valley Thursday as the military continued its offensive against Taliban militants, the government said.

The bombing runs hit Taliban training and communications centers in Gath Peochar. Other operations hit an area of Swat called Qambar, where a "notorious militant commander named Shah Duran operates," said Maj. Naser Khan with the Pakistani military's Inter-Services Public Relations agency in Swat.

In other fighting, a son of a pro-Taliban cleric who negotiated the controversial peace deal in Swat Valley was killed Thursday morning, Pakistani and Taliban officials confirmed.

Kafayatullah, the son of Islamist fundamentalist leader Sufi Muhammed, died when mortar shells from Pakistani security forces hit a home in the Lower Dir district of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, said Mehmood Khan, a Taliban commander, and a Pakistani intelligence official who asked not to be identified.

The attack took place in the Maiden area.

Kafayatullah was not a militant and not part of the Taliban movement, both sources said.

Muhammed, his father, signed the peace agreement with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in April that allowed the Taliban to implement Islamic law, or sharia, in the region in exchange for an end to fighting.

Under the Taliban's strict interpretation of sharia law, women should not even be seen in public without their husbands or fathers.

The government began a military offensive in late April after Taliban militants moved into the Buner district and refused to disarm, in violation of the agreement.

The military accused the Taliban of putting civilians in harm's way.

"Every possible effort is made to prevent casualties of any innocent civilian but... the Taliban tries to put hurdles in their way and, when military fires... , there may be some civilian casualties... in the crossfire," Khan said.

On Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama said the leaders of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States were "three sovereign nations joined by a common goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat" al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Obama, in remarks delivered with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari at the White House, said the security of the three nations was linked.

Al Qaeda and its allies are responsible for killing innocent civilians and challenging the democratically elected governments in the nations, Obama said. The U.S. has made a "lasting commitment [that it] will not waiver" in efforts to defeat extremists and support the Afghan and Pakistani governments, he added.

Sufi Mohammad’s son killed in Lower Dir shelling


LOWER DIR: Sufi Mohammad’s son Kifyatullah has been killed in shelling during the security forces’ operation in Lower Dir’s Maidan area, said family sources. Meanwhile, intense clashes between militants and security forces continued in Maidan as 15 troops went missing in the district.

‘I have been informed by the family of Maulana Sufi Mohammad that his son, Kifayatullah, has died and his brother-in-law is seriously injured,’ said the TNSM spokesman, Ameer Izzat Khan.

The TNSM chief, Sufi Mohammad, has been calling for an end to the military operation in the area since it started, threatening to abandon the peace deal with the government and making numerous objections to the implementation of the Nizam-i-Adl.

Following this event it is uncertain how the TNSM chief will react, making the future of the peace deal highly sketchy.

On the other hand, a militant commander in Maidan, Mifthahuddin, talking to DawnNews, claimed that they had killed at least 12 security personnel in Gumbar and their bodies were lying in the bazaar.

Security officials and independent sources are yet to confirm the death of the security personnel but have confirmed that a fierce gun battle had erupted between the militants and security forces in Gumbar and casualties were feared.

Federal govt to cooperate NWFP for peace: PM

ISLAMABAD:Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani Thursday said that people of Malakand want military action against the Taliban militants.

Members of National Assembly and the Senate belonging to Swat, Buner and Shangla called on Prime Minister at the PM Secretariat today.

On this occasion, Premier Gilani said that the federal government would provide every possible help to the provincial government for the restoration of peace in Malakand.

Gilani further said that steps would be taken to restore peace in Swat and other areas.

Besides, prevailing security situation in Swat and Buner, and violations of the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation also came under discussion in the meeting.

NWFP humanitarian crisis intensifying: ICRC

ISLAMABAD: The International Committee of the Red Cross warned Thursday that a humanitarian crisis was intensifying in northwest Pakistan, where thousands have fled fighting between militants and troops.

The government in North West Frontier Province has said up to half a million could flee the Taliban flashpoint district of Swat and local officials said Wednesday that more than 40,000 left the main town of Mingora in 24 hours.

‘The humanitarian crisis in NWFP is intensifying,’ the ICRC said in a statement, adding it no longer had access to the areas most affected by the conflict and that precise statistics of the displaced were so far unverifiable.

‘We can no longer reach the areas most affected by the fighting on account of the volatile situation,’ Benno Kochner, who runs ICRC operations in NWFP from the provincial capital Peshawar, said in the statement.

‘The ICRC and the Pakistan Red Crescent Society are currently marshalling their resources to be able to provide 120,000 internally displaced people, affected by the fighting, with food and essential relief items,’ it said.

The ICRC said it hopes to provide basic health care for about 30,000 displaced people and that a 60-bed surgical hospital in Peshawar was ‘scaling up its capacity’ to be able to receive up to 100 wounded patients at a time.

Pascal Cuttat, head of the ICRC delegation in Islamabad, urged parties to the conflict ‘to comply with international humanitarian law — in particular to take all feasible precautions to minimise civilian casualties’.

Before fresh fighting erupted last week, the ICRC was already assisting up to 100,000 displaced people in NWFP and Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal areas, which are on the border with war-torn Afghanistan, the organisation said.