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Friday, May 15, 2009

Offensive as per plan: Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: On the eighth day of the anti-Taliban military operations in Pakistan’s Swat valley, the ruling Awami National Party in the North-West Frontier Province said the security forces could not afford to lose this battle as the consequences would be dire.

“We tried to resolve the problem without having to fire a single shot. But our efforts were not reciprocated by the other side. The only way now is for the security forces to defeat the Taliban. There are now only two possibilities: either the military, government and the people of Pakistan win, or extremism and militancy win. There is no third option,” said Mian IfthikarHussain, provincial Information Minister.

ANP veteran Afzal Khan Lala, who was the only politician to stubbornly stay on in Swat and face the Taliban all these months until his evacuation last week by the government, also stressed the importance of defeating the Taliban in Swat.

The 82-year-old politician, who has won nation-wide admiration as a symbol of anti-Taliban resistance in Swat when all elected representatives had fled in the face of threats from the militants, told The Hindu he was hopeful of a military success, and said the people of the valley fully backed the operation.

“This military action is vital. There is no other way out. The government has already tried dialogue.” A one-time provincial Minister and parliamentarian, Mr. Khan Lala escaped a Taliban ambush in 2007 in which his driver and security guard were killed, and a nephew was badly wounded. His decision not to leave Swat, said his followers who had gathered to meet him in the capital, saved the ANP from total capitulation to the Taliban.

The provincial government air-lifted him from Swat as a military operation grew imminent . Military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas said at a media briefing that the operation was going “according to plan”.

Militants killed

The military would consider its mission accomplished in Swat, he said, when the leadership of the Taliban was eliminated, when the area had been cleared of all militants and secured so that the government and the civil administration could take control of it.

He said 54 militants were killed in the operation in the last 24 hours; nine security forces personnel were also killed, and more than 70 wounded in battle.

Major-General Abbas asked Pakistanis to keep in mind that the soldiers were laying down their lives for the “freedom of the people of Pakistan, so that they can lead their lives with freedom”.

Though he could not give any numbers for civilian casualties, he acknowledged there had been some, but blamed them on “indiscriminate shelling” by the Taliban.

The security forces, he said, were making “extraordinary efforts” to avoid collateral damage on the instructions of Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

General Kayani visited troops in Swat on Thursday, and according to a military statement, he reiterated the military’s resolve to flush out militants and deal with “militancy as a whole”.

Meanwhile, the refugee crisis is ballooning. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told the National Assembly that this was Pakistan’s biggest humanitarian crisis since Partition. The number of people displaced by the fighting has now crossed 6,00,000. More than 80 per cent of this number is reported to be living with host families, while the government struggles to cope with the arrangements in refugee camps.

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