Tuesday, May 12, 2009

ANP determined to crush Taliban: Bilour

PESHAWAR: The NWFP government has decided to crush all Taliban whose agenda deviates from the true teachings of Islam and the Nizam-e-Adl, Awami National Party (ANP) Senior Minister Bashir Ahmed Bilour said on Tuesday.

“Our party has decided to do or die in the war against the terrorists who are following a different agenda and have nothing to do with Islam or sharia,” Bilour said while addressing a ceremony in honour of Pashtuns killed in the May 12, 2007 violence in Karachi.

He paid tributes to the Pashtuns killed in the tragedy and demanded the Supreme Court take suo motu action against those involved in the murders.

Bilour said the ANP government had taken parties into confidence before it went to war against the Taliban. “We will exterminate them and restore the writ of the government at all costs,” he said.

The senior minister said the implementation of the Nizam-e-Adl was a popular demand and the ANP government had enforced it for the masses, not for a single person. “The peace agreement is intact and will remain so,” he said, while calling on the Taliban to lay down weapons. “The war will continue until they (Taliban) surrender,” Bilour said.

IDPs: He said the government had so far registered around 1.1 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Swat, Buner, Lower Dir and Shangla, but a large number still remained unregistered.

“The government is expecting about 2 million IDPs,” he said.

Bilour asked the people not to give donations for IDPs to unauthorised individuals and organisations in order to prevent misuse of funds.

He said the ANP-led government had set up 22 relief camps in the province and 80 entry points had been established to register the IDPs.

Pakistan soldiers swoop on Taliban stronghold

KOTA, Pakista - Helicopter-borne Pakistani soldiers swooped into a Taliban stronghold in a remote corner of Swat on Tuesday, after the United Nations called for help for hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the fighting.

The military's offensive in Swat, 130 km (80 miles) northwest of Islamabad, is seen as a test of the government's commitment to face up to a growing Taliban insurgency and comes after the United States accused it of "abdicating" to the militants.

The fighting has caused a civilian exodus from the valley, once a tourist destination, raising fears of a humanitarian crisis.

A senior military official overseeing help for the displaced said an estimated 800,000 civilians had fled from the latest fighting. They were joining about 500,000 displaced by earlier fighting in the northwest, said Brigadier Aamir Raza Qureshi.

On Tuesday, helicopters flew soldiers into the Peochar valley, a side valley running northwest off the main Swat valley, where the Taliban have a headquarters, the military said.

"Their mission is to conduct search and destroy operations," military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas told a briefing.

"The militants are on the run," he said.

Residents said troops had also been seen moving on the ground toward Peochar.

The offensive was launched last week when President Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, was in Washington assuring a nervous United States his government was not about to collapse and was committed to fighting militancy.

A February pact aimed at ending violence in Swat, which effectively handed the militants control, had raised fears of a gradual Taliban takeover of more areas in the nuclear-armed country, which is vital to U.S. efforts to defeat al Qaeda and stabilize Afghanistan.

Military spokesman Abbas said 751 militants had been killed in the offensive while 29 soldiers had been killed and 77 wounded. Most reporters have left Swat and there was no independent confirmation of that estimate of militant casualties.

Taliban spokesmen were not available for comment.

There were also clashes in Imam Dehri, the home town of Fazullah, the Taliban chief in Swat. Four militants were killed there, Abbas said.

In all, about 15,000 members of the security forces are facing about 5,000 militants in the region, the military says.

The United Nations has warned of a protracted humanitarian crisis for a country already being propped up by a $7.6 billion International Monetary Fund loan.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres called on international support for the humanitarian effort.

"This is a huge and rapidly unfolding emergency, which is going to require considerable resources beyond those that currently exist in the region," Guterres said in a statement.

The refugee agency has opened stockpiles of supplies to help the displaced and is airlifting in tonnes more supplies.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani told the National Assembly on Monday that the government would soon organize a conference of aid donors to marshal funds.

Most political parties and many members of the public support the offensive, but that could change if civilians displaced in what the government say is the country's largest-ever internal migration are seen to be suffering or if many are killed.

Stock market investors have been unnerved by the fighting and political tension in the commercial hub of Karachi but the main index rose 2.44 percent on some aggressive buying by government institutions, dealers said.

Separately, suspected U.S. drone aircraft fired missiles in a Pakistani region on the Afghan border, killing at least eight people, military and intelligence officials said.

The attack took place in a mountainous region of South Waziristan, a known al Qaeda and Taliban hotbed, the officials said.

Pakistani Helicopters Drop Troops Into Taliban Stronghold

Pakistani officials say army helicopters dropped troops behind enemy lines in the Swat Valley Tuesday as part of an ongoing offensive against Taliban militants.

Military officials said the troops landed in the remote Piochar area in the upper reaches of the valley that had been under Taliban control.

Pakistan's Interior Ministry has said that some 700 militants have been killed in the offensive since it began last week. The death toll cannot be independently verified.

Several temporary camps in the region are full, and rental property in nearby cities is scarce, leaving many residents with nowhere to go as they flee the violence. The United Nations estimates that more than 360,000 people have been displaced since last week. They join some 500,000 other people who have been displaced by violence in other northwestern areas in the past year.

On Monday, the U.N. refugee agency said it would airlift 120 tons of emergency aid to the internally displaced in the area. The United States also pledged $4.9 million in emergency aid to displaced families.

Meanwhile, Pakistani officials say a suspected U.S. drone (unmanned) aircraft fired missiles Tuesday, killing at least eight people near the Afghan border.

Officials said the attack took place in South Waziristan, an area considered to be an al-Qaida and Pakistani Taliban stronghold. The victims' identities were not immediately known.

The U.S. military has not immediately commented on the Pakistani allegations.

Suspected U.S. drones have carried out at least 30 missile strikes on militant targets in northwest Pakistan over the past year.

The United States rarely discusses the strikes, which Pakistan has criticized as counterproductive and a violation of its sovereignty.