Friday, May 8, 2009

Pakistani Americans Stage Anti-Taliban Protest

WASHINGTON D.C.- The Pakistani American community braved the rain to come out in force and protest against the Taliban and perceived Pakistani government inaction and concessions to the Taliban.

The protest was staged in front of the Willard Intercontinental Hotel where Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is staying during the trilateral talks being held in Washington D.C. between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the U.S.

Protesters held signs with slogans reading, "One Pakistan, One Constitution, One Judiciary," and "Education Not Talibanization."

The protest was organized at the grassroots community level and was not affiliated with any foreign or domestic organization or political party, including PAL-C.

Swat residents ready to pay any price for peace

PESHAWAR: The ‘bitter experience’ of Taliban rule has hardened the local population, who are now willing to accept a higher degree of collateral damage as a price for the security forces wiping out extremist elements from Swat district.

“We will rebuild our homes, but would not want to see the presence of even a single Talib after this operation,” displaced residents of Mingora said upon their arrival in Peshawar on Friday.

Public hope for a decisive military offensive against the Taliban received a big boost with Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s announcement on Thursday calling for the army to crush the Swat Taliban.

“With almost 100 percent public support for the military operation it doesn’t stand to reason to see that at the end of the day the target – flushing out the Taliban – is not achieved. We would see fault with no other institution than the military if the targets remains unachieved,” the terrified residents spoke to Daily Times on condition of anonymity.

Afzal Khan Lala, who is seen as symbol of resistance against the Taliban, has no doubt about the army’s ability to do the job against the Swat Taliban. “There is no such force in the country which our army cannot dismantle, provided it shows the commitment to do so,” he told Daily Times from his hospital bed in Islamabad.

He said it “makes no difference who brings peace to Swat, and there is no other way out than employing deterrence, as all other options have already been exhausted. The people of Swat want peace and are least bothered about the price.”

Military experts say the price can be high as urban warfare causes considerable collateral damage.

Planes Bomb Taliban: helicopter gunships, fighters and troops are all involved in operations in Swat

ISLAMABAD:Pakistan Army and other law enforcement agencies on Friday reaffirmed the pledge to continue the military operation against militants till enforcement of writ of the government. Security forces backed by warplanes and artillery pounded suspected militant strongholds in Swat and other districts of Malakand Division, killing 143 militants, including a key commander.

There are about 4,000 militants in Swat, who are challenging writ of the government and using civilians in the area as human shield, said Major General Athar Abbas, Director General of the Inter-Services Public Relations here. He said the military operation is going on in Swat, Lower Dir, Buner and other parts of the Malakand Division, in which over 143 militants have been killed.

"Army was called to help civil administration in Swat and now the operation is in full swing," Abbas said while briefing media about the details of the operation. He informed the media that in Friday's action, army pushed militants out of Khwazakhela and Chamkani and now the militants have been wiped out of two towns. Five miscreants and one soldier were killed in the operation, he added.

Thirteen militants were killed in an encounter with security forces Thursday at Matta Police Station, he said, adding that in Kalpanai area of Buner, 6 militants were killed and two others arrested. Search operation in Lower Dir is under way where 10 militants, including Kifayatullah, son of Tehreek Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM) chief Maulana Sufi Muhammad, were killed on Thursday, Abbas said.

ISPR chief declared that Army would remain in the operation-affected areas until the civil administration fully assumes its functions and writ of the government and peace is restored. He said that military gunship helicopters also destroyed militants' hideouts and training camps in various areas.

It is learnt that military aircraft bombed militants' hideouts situated in different parts of Kabal tehsil in restive Swat valley in which a top militant commander, Akbar Ali, and his 13 fighters were killed. Meanwhile, jet planes continued to hover over Mingora City and Matta tehsil since early Friday morning. An indefinite curfew is still enforced in the district.

As tension prevailed in restive areas, tens of thousands of local residents fled the fighting zone to some safer places. Power supply to the area remained suspended following the destruction of a local grid station by militants four days ago. Besides, several other areas are without gas and water supply.

On the other hand, security forces targeted militants' positions in Timargara, headquarter of tehsil Maidan, killing 10 militants. While extremists blew up one more school and a police station in tehsil Adeenzai. Meanwhile, according to a break-up regarding the atrocities of the militants, the ISPR stated that militants have ruined the peace agreement with their criminal attitude.

There were over 55 kidnapping incidents in which over 100 individuals were abducted, more than 30 security force personnel were killed and over 44 injured. Militants carried out four suicide attacks, installed eight improvised explosive devices, ambushed seven military convoys and conducted 30 fire raids in different areas, the break-up read. The ISPR statement also said that two schools were damaged by militants after peace agreement and three police stations were destroyed.

Militants have also destroyed a grid station and looted six banks. On the directive of Government of Pakistan, the Army is now engaged in a full-scale operation to eliminate all anti-state elements from Swat. They are on the run and trying to block the exodus of innocent civilians by preventing their departure through roadblocks with trees and even taking them hostages.

The prime minister’s plain words

Finally we have a direct, unequivocal announcement of a decision to launch a decisive operation against the Taliban, in Swat and elsewhere. In his address to the nation, Prime Minister Gilani accused the militants of unleashing terror, preventing education for girls and terrorizing women. Though one wonders why this reality had not dawned earlier on the government. It seems to have been living in Cloud Cuckoo Land since the 'peace accord’ with the TNSM was reached mid-February. But as the saying goes, late is after all better than never. The PM has made it clear that his government plans to go after the Taliban till they are defeated. He has accused them of using Islam to further their own purposes. What is especially significant is the fact that we now have a chorus of voices speaking together. All major parties, including the ANP, have backed the operation which has begun in Swat. The army chief too has vowed to continue the mission till the logical end and has clearly signalled there is no longer any dichotomy in views. This is important given the doubts that had been raised earlier about the sincerity and commitment of various players in the battle to defeat the militants.

Now that the pledge has been made to take on the militants, there is a need to also ensure that good planning and the devising of a longer-term strategy goes along with the immediate flurry of action on the ground. The nation needs to be prepared for the fact that the bid to overcome the Taliban may take time; they have after all entrenched themselves in the northern areas over a period of years. What we need is some clear thinking on how their influence can be gradually eradicated, through education, through action against top leaders and through the offering of opportunities to people who because of a lack of choice have, in many cases, opted to align themselves with the Taliban. And as the military action will bring with it inevitable death and destruction, we need to build the popular opinion that is vital to victory in any war – especially one in which troops are forced to kill their own people. Such situations, coupled with criticism of the operation which will come, may lead swiftly to demoralization and de-motivation. To counter it, a nationwide effort is needed, incorporating the media, popular musicians, clerics, writers, sportsmen and indeed all others who have influence in our society.

The situation we have on our hands is a complex one. The prime minister in his address called for international assistance to aid tens of thousands of displaced persons. But his government too needs to adopt a more proactive role in this. The misery of people forced time and again to abandon homes cannot be ignored. This is all the more essential given the need to ensure that people gain confidence in the ability of the state to protect them. Their lack of faith so far has been a factor that has helped the Taliban rise and gain ground. To address the immense humanitarian crisis we face, the government needs to set up a special body to look at all its different aspects. The displacements may not end quickly and more will follow. International help will be required, but it is the responsibility of the federal government to also do all it can on its own, to establish better organized camps and also other housing solutions given that many of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are reluctant for cultural reasons to live without privacy and dignity. As much as possible must be done to prevent civilian casualties in areas of conflict. While these cannot entirely be avoided, the maximum effort to do so must be made – so that people eventually emerge from the war as victors, able to reclaim lives that have been snatched away from them by the Taliban.

NWFP govt struggling to cope with IDPs influx

JALALA, Mardan: A human catastrophe is in the offing in NWFP as the military operation intensified in Swat, Buner and Dir districts of NWFP on Friday.

The provincial government, on the other hand, is going to vacate some school and college buildings to house the internally displaced persons (IDPs) as the existing facility at the tented villages is rapidly shrinking with the fresh arrivals from the three districts.

Families arriving in Mardan and Swabi districts from Swat, Dir and Buner on Friday were critical of the government for not informing them in advance about the launching of the operation. “We are stuck up. The Taliban do not allow us to live in peace in our homes. The government can’t provide us help when we have been uprooted. What to be done, we don’t know,” were the most common lines heard from the displaced people.

The bitter feelings among the IDPs arriving at Jalala, area outside Takht Bhai tehsil of Mardan district, were giving the impression that the government would soon lose the support it had won from the people of Swat over the previous two months against the Taliban.

Majority of Swat people in particular, and rest parts of the province in general, were in favour of a serious operation against those challenging writ of the government in Swat, Buner and Dir after the February 15 peace agreement and the violations by the militants.

“After uprooting us from our homes and villages, the government should have provided us shelter and food after arrival here,” said Saleem Khan from Mingora city, who was in search of a tent to house his 13-member family.

He said all his family members traveled around 45 miles on foot before managing to safely get themselves out of Swat, which is becoming a hell for the people since the emergence of the fresh trouble.

Salim Khan said his female family members stayed in the house of a friend for the night, while the male members, including children, passed the night in a mosque. The fresh IDPs said they were running out food and water and there was no electricity. They were no option but to get out of the city, where fear of a fierce showdown between the security forces and the Taliban militants is eminent, they added.

The IDPs said a large number of people had also started coming out of Dir Lower besides the mass exodus from Swat. A gargantuan line of tractor-trolleys, rickshaws, trucks, pick-ups, busses and motorcars was seen overloaded with people coming out from Chakdarra and Swat sides into Mardan.

The villagers in Dargai, Jalala, Takht Bhai were seen distributing cold drinks, biscuits, cooked food, mostly rice, and other food items to the people passing through their respective areas. At the Jalala camp, besides the welfare organisations and the district government, people were seen bringing food and distributing it to the displaced people on their own. However, the distributing items were far less than the requirements of the IDPs.

In mosques during the Friday congregational prayers, prayer leaders and elders asked the Namazis for generous help, both financial and material, for their displaced brothers and sisters. In almost all mosques in Mardan and Swabi districts, Chanda (contributions) were collected by the faithfuls to buy food items, clothes, medicines, etc for the families living in camps.

Most of the prayer leaders, during the Juma sermons, were heard relating the help extended by Ansars in Madina to their Muhajir brothers from Makkah. A school is already vacated to house the IDPs in Sher Garh village of Takht Bhai as the existing settlement at Jalala was already full by the end of the day (Friday).

Official sources said more college and school buildings would be vacated to house the IDPs. Some of the schools are likely to closed for two to three weeks in advance of the summer vacations, due on June 1, to house the refugees.

The Swat action

frontier post editorial
It was inevitable. Only this inevitability was artificially kept deferred, no lesser by the federal government too. Not even the ink had dried on it that the ANP's expedient accord with charlatan Sufi was evidently in tatters. The accord's real intent was demobilisation of Swati thug Fazlullah's murderous militia and restoration of the state's writ to the beleaguered valley. But none was anywhere in sight. Fazlullah's brigands had publicly vowed neither to disarm nor to demobilise. Visibly, they consolidated their position in Swat and began fanning out to Buner, Lower Swat and Shangla to entrench, and link up with local Taliban and enlist new recruits to hold on to these regions too. And it was their writ not the state's that ran all over the valley. Indeed, it was weeks ago that the prime minister should have called the army to quash Fazlullah's terrorist network, well before it had got embedded lethally as has it now in Swat and its adjoining territories. The army thus has an uphill task ahead of it, which will take all in it to carry out successfully; more so, as it too is coming with a heavy baggage on its back. When it had come first to Swat to subdue Fazlullah and his thugs, it had enthusiastic local public backing, though also great public expectations. But much of that public sentiment evaporated as the army's operation progressed, with an impression gaining ground among the residents that more innocent civilians were being killed or maimed in collateral damage than were Fazlullah's thugs. The army is thus moving in amid a different environment, charged more with public expectations than with public enthusiasm. But the army can change all that if it puts the lessons learnt in its first campaign to full use and launch into a powerful, focussed, precise and swift action right from the outset. The army indeed will turn the people power solidly on its side if in the very first few days it takes out with precise and accurate air strikes the thuggish brigand's command and control structure, disrupts their logistics systems, snaps their arms supplies and funding pipelines, and nabs or snuffs out their main commanders. That, of course, would demoralise the thugs hurtfully. But, more importantly, this will infuse a new spirit in the people, restoring their trust in the army very advantageously. They will be emboldened to stand up and be counted, now loath to do it for the terrorist gun's fear. Many will be forthcoming voluntarily to point out the thugs' hideouts. And even the greens the thugs have recruited with intimidation or temptation would turn away from them and possibly may even turn back on them. But the key words are punch, precision and swiftness of action, which sadly were lacking in the army's previous operation, drawing it widespread public doubts, misperceptions and even suspicions of being half-hearted in the campaign for harbouring a soft corner for the Swati gunmen. That necessarily calls for streamlining flawlessly its operational details to the extent that on a few minutes' notice it could hit an identified target. Indeed, if the people see the army so succeeding, they will not mind personal inconveniences for its campaign to go ahead with all the speed and full vigour. The army here has really a chance to demonstrate to our own people that it knows of no friend or obstacle when it comes to the accomplishment of a task assigned to it; and to its compulsive international detractors that it has all the capability to take on the thugs on their own turf. And for once at least, the ANP must become real and get out of its world of excuses and ruses. After the prime minister's allocation of Rs.1 billion for internally displaced persons, it can have no pretext not to take care of the Swatis seeking refuge outside. It must set up well-maintained and tightly-secured camps in safer places near their homes and post officials to guide them to those encampments. More, it must not falter as it did despicably last time in building upon the gains achieved in the operation by reviving shattered civil administration machinery quickly. If for whatever reason this opportunity to restore the state's writ in Swat is frittered away, the nation will rue it for long woefully.
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Dated: Saturday, May 09, 2009, Jamadi-ul-Awwal 13, 1430 A.H.

Kabul sponsors Swat rebels: ISPR 143 insurgents, including commanders, killed Muhamm

RAWALPINDI: The security forces have killed 143 militants in the insurgency-hit Swat valley during 24 hours as the forces have intensified operation to eliminate and expel the miscreants, the army said on Friday. Curfew has been imposed across Swat for indefinite period. Army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said that 16 other militants were also killed in Buner and Lower Dir districts in the same period. He said some prominent militant Commanders were among those killed. He told a news conference that security forces have suffered seven deaths and twelve others were injured. “After the complete break down of law and order and non-adherence to peace deal by the militants, Army was called in aid of civil power to eliminate militants,” the army spokesman said. “On the directive of Govt of Pakistan Army is now engaged in a full scale operation to eliminate all anti-state elements from Swat. They are on the run and trying to block the exodus of innocent civilians by preventing their departure through coercion, IEDs, road blocks with trees and even hostages”. “Even after the peace deal, the militants had challenged the writ of the Government and continued with militant activities,” he said. The spokesman said that there are around 4000 militants present in Swat valley, adding that the leadership of the militants and foot soldiers and cadre are from Swat. “But there had been militants from across the border and also few Uzbeks and Tajiks”. He said the militants in Swat have recruited over 100 youth who have taken training. He said the militants knock at the doors of the people and take children, without parents’ permission. “They have increased numbers. Most of the recruits have been given arms”. Athar Abbas said that the air force fighter planes destroyed training centers of the militants between mountains and in different areas, adding that data of the number of the camps and casualties is being collected. He said objectives of the major offensive are to clear Swat valley from the militants, restore peace and establish writ of the government in the area. The spokesman said that border forces have also been on alert to stop cross border movement of the militants from entering Pakistan. The number of forces has been increased in Swat to break the coordination of Swat militants with those coming from across the border. Athar Abbas said the militants are getting drug money from Afghanistan and it was estimated 10 per cent of the 4 billion dollars estimated drug money in the international market. The militants are also getting money from kidnappings for ransom, charity as well as from hostile intelligence agencies in the region. Giving an overview of what he called atrocities and acts of terrorism took place after the agreement, he said 30 security forces personnel and 44 others were injured. There were 14 suicide attacks and 8 IED attacks, 7 military convoys were ambushed. A total of 30 fire raids were also reported while two schools one in Kanju Chowk near Mian Kalay Masjid, 3 police stations, one grid station were destroyed and 6 banks looted. He said that Khawazakhela/Chamtalai area has been secured by Security Forces and during operation one soldier embraced Shahadat while 5 militants were killed. Fire exchange took place at Matta Police station and as a result 13 militants were killed, he said adding that militants at Takhtaband, Qambar Top and Iqbal advocate house were attacked resulting into killing of 10 militants and injuring twelve. He said that on Thursday and Friday militants training camps on the mountain strong holds, ammunition dumps and command and communication centers were targeted through precision strikes, the spokesman said. He said special care has been taken to strike identified targets and those targets, which are away from populated areas. Today 10 militants were killed in Kabal by attack helicopters and five killed in Kanju including Commander Akbar Ali, the spokesman said. Militants killed brother of UC Nazim at Khawazakhela and two policemen from Sor Bridge at Khawazakhela were kidnapped by the militants. He said militants fired six rockets at Circuit House, Mingora. Resultantly, one soldier embraced shahadat and two got injured. Militants resistance in Buner has considerably reduced. However, they are maintaining their positions at Sultanwas and Pir Baba. “Today a preliminary operation was launched in Kalapani area, where six militants have been killed and two have been arrested”. He said the operation to clear Sultanwas is in progress and soon militants positions in Sultanwas will be eliminated. “Since this area is densely populated, operations are being conducted with lot of caution”. He said curfew is relaxed daily for six hours and transport to Swabi and Mardan is smoothly operating. He said search and cordon operations are continuing in Lower Dir. The militants hideouts were attacked during the last two days. He said on Friday militants' fired from a ridge on top of Qambar Bazar at Lal Qila. “A swift operation was launched in the morning and group of militants were attacked by FC troops”. During the encounter 10 militants were killed, the spokesman said. He said militants hiding in a compound in Maidan Area were attacked on Friday and 15 militants were killed including two important commanders. He said that militants attacked Levy Fort, Chakdara and damaged it. During heavy exchange of fire, three soldiers embraced Shahadat and eleven were injured.
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Dated: Saturday, May 09, 2009, Jamadi-ul-Awwal 13, 1430 A.H.

Clashes, curfews and displacement across Malakand

Dawn.COM Report
MALAKAND: As preparations are underway for a full scale operation to restore government’s writ in Malakand region, hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing the violence- wrecked areas to find shelter with relatives in relatively safer places or end up in relief camps set up for the IDPs in various areas.

Heavy reinforcements were seen being moved to Swat, Lower Dir and Malakand districts on Friday. Curfew has been declared in entire Lower Dir district from 8pm Friday to 7am Saturday while Malakand district was under curfew from 9pm Thursday to 3pm Friday. Long columns of troops backed by tanks and artillery were heading towards Swat and Lower Dir.

Helicopters, jet fighters and artillery pounded suspected positions in the troubled region and fierce clashes between ground forces and militants have been reported from Maidan area of the Lower Dir. Telecommunication including cellular phones have been jammed in different parts of Malakand while most areas were without electricity.

There is no confirmation of the army’s claim that over 140 militants had been killed in the offensive during last 24 hours.

Witnesses said that entire Swat district, parts of Lower Dir and Buner districts were still under the militants’ control. Sources said that 15 militants were killed and scores wounded in choppers shelling in Kabal and Kanju areas of Swat district. Three people were killed in militants’ attack on Circuit House in Mingora city. Reinforcements reached Chakdara town but could not proceed towards Swat.

Officials claimed that ten militants were killed in Maidan area of Lower Dir where house of Rizwanullah, son of Sufi Muhammad was also targeted. But a local militant leader claimed that one Taliban fighter was killed in exchange of firing with militants.

In another incident a convoy was attacked in Kala Doog area in which one soldier Khalid Khan was killed and another wounded. Heavy fighting continued between forces and militants in Maidan.

Security forces earlier claimed to have taken complete control of Maidan, the hometown of Sufi Muhammad. But, residents said that militants were roaming in Talash, Adeenzai and other towns of Lower Dir. Militants visited mosques in Talash and Adeenzai areas asking people to join them in fighting against security forces.

In Buner district, one minor was killed and another suffered injuries when a mortar shell hit a residence in Bhai Kalay on Thursday night. Tension prevailed in the district and authorities did not relax curfew in affected areas.

As fighting intensified, thousands of people are moving out from the troubled region. Large number of people could not leave their houses due to curfew and air strikes. Women, children and senior citizens are coming out of the hostile areas and looking for shelters in the plain areas. Long queues of pickup trucks, tractors and trucks loaded with internally displaced persons were heading towards Swabi, Mardan and Peshawar.

Besieged residents of Mingora town have been pleading for lull in military action to enable them to move to safer places. People have started leaving Talash, Adeenzai and parts of Batkhela. Over 100 families left Talash town on Friday.

A Dawn photographer who visited parts of troubled Buner district on Friday said that Ambela, which was said to have secured by the security forces, has become a ghost town. Burnt vehicles and wreckage of damaged houses littered the streets. Despite taking complete control of the town, terrified residents were seen moving out of the troubled spots.

The security forces also distributed pamphlets in various areas accusing the Taliban of playing in the hands of anti-Pakistan elements. ‘They are the same as Jewish forces who are against the existence and security of the country and wanted to create disturbance in the region,’ read a leaflet.

Government has planned to provide appropriate source of earning to the Taliban in Swat. But they (Taliban) violated the deal, started displaying weapons, occupied property of local people, started extorting money from the people and arranged forced mirages in the garb of mirage bureau, it said.

Zardari...Where is OSMA...

U.N.: 1 million displaced in Pakistan

MINGORA, Pakistan - Pakistani jets screamed over a Taliban-controlled town Friday and bombed suspected militant positions as desperate residents appealed for a pause in the fighting so they could escape.Troops have killed 143 militants over the past 24 hours in fighting in the Islamist bastion of Swat northwest of the capital, the military said on million people have been displaced in recent months over the operation in the northwestern Swat Valley and surrounding districts that followed strong U.S. pressure on Pakistan to fight back against militants advancing toward the capital as a now-defunct peace deal crumbled.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan has launched at least a dozen operations in the border region in recent years, but most ended inconclusively and after massive destruction and significant civilian deaths. It remains a haven for al-Qaida and Taliban militants, foreign governments say.To end one of those protracted offensives, the government signed a peace accord in Swat that provided for Islamic law in the region. But that deal began unraveling last month when Swat Taliban fighters moved into Buner, a neighboring district just 60 miles from Islamabad.
'Full-scale operation'
Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani on Thursday ordered the army to strike at "militants and terrorists" he said were trying to hold the country hostage at gunpoint.

"Approximately 143 militants have been reported killed in Swat valley," military spokesman Major-General Atthar Abbas told a news briefing at army headquarters in Rawalpindi.

There was no independent confirmation of the toll.

"On the directive of the government, the army is now engaged in a full-scale operation to eliminate the militants," he said. "They are on the run and trying to block exodus of civilians from the area," Abbas said, while warning that the operation was difficult and declining to give a timeline for clearing the valley.

Earlier, military officials had said helicopter gunships, fighters and troops were all involved in Swat operations on Friday, against roughly 4,000 to 5,000 militants.

Abbas said up to 15,000 security force members were involved.

Refugee exodus
The U.N. refugee agency said Friday that half a million people have fled the fighting in the past few days, bringing the total displaced in recent months to 1 million.

A spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said the fighting has led to massive displacement in the area.

Ron Redmond said up to 200,000 people have arrived in safe areas in the past few days and that another 300,000 are on the move or are about to flee.

Redmond told reporters in Geneva on Friday that the numbers were in addition to 555,000 already counted by the United Nations since August.

Plea for assistance
Pakistan's prime minister appealed for international assistance late Thursday for the growing refugee crisis and vowed to defeat the militants in the latest operation.

"I appeal to the people of Pakistan to support the government and army at this crucial time," Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said in a television address. "We pledge to eliminate the elements who have destroyed the peace and calm of the nation and wanted to take Pakistan hostage at gunpoint."

The military hailed signs of the public's mood shifting against the Taliban after the militants used the peace deal to regroup and advance.

"The public have seen their real face," Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said. "They realize their agenda goes much beyond Shariah (Islamic) courts. They have a design to expand."

Still, the pro-Western government will face a stiff task to keep a skeptical nation behind its security forces. The exodus from Swat adds to the more than 500,000 already displaced by fighting elsewhere in Pakistan's volatile border region with Afghanistan.

Military operations are taking place in three districts that stretch over some 400 square miles. Much of the fighting has been in the Swat Valley's main city of Mingora, a militant hub that was home to around 360,000 people before the insurgency two years ago.

‘Kill terrorists, but don't harm us’
Many of those have fled the city, but tens of thousand remain. Some have said the Taliban are not allowing them to leave, perhaps because they want to use them as "human shields" and make the army unwilling to use force.

"We want to leave the city, but we cannot go out because of the fighting," said one resident, Hidayat Ullah. "We will be killed, our children will be killed, our women will be killed and these Taliban will escape."

"Kill terrorists, but don't harm us," he pleaded.

The military says that more than 150 militants and several soldiers have been killed since the offensive began last week. It has not given any figures for civilian deaths, but witness and local media say they have occurred. A hospital in Mardan just south of the battle zone on Thursday was treating 45 civilians with serious gunshot or shrapnel wounds.

Among the youngest patients was Chaman Ara, a 12-year-old girl with shrapnel wedged in her left leg. She said she was wounded last week when a mortar shell hit the truck taking her family and others out of Buner.

She said seven people died, including one of her cousins, and pointed to a nearby bed where the boy's wounded mother lay prone. "We mustn't tell her yet. Please don't tell her," she whispered.

US approves additional $1.9 bln in aid to Pakistan

WASHINGTON: The US Congress Committee has approved $1.9 billion in additional assistance to Pakistan, Islamabad ambassador to Washington Hussain Haqqani said on Friday.Speaking to media persons here, Haqqani said: “The United States wants enduring bilateral ties with Pakistan.”Terming the approval of $1.9 billion by the US committee a great success, he said that it was a proof that America wants better relations with Islamabad.“We have told the US that no compromise will be made on the country’s sovereignty,” .

Pakistan PM Promises To Eliminate Militants

Clinton Impressed by Pakistan Military Action

500,000 fleeing Pakistan fighting, UN reports
More than 500,000 people have fled fighting in north-western Pakistan in recent days, bringing the total displaced since August to 1 million, the UN refugee agency said today.

A spokesman for the UN high commissioner for refugees said the fighting had led to huge displacement in the area. Ron Redmond said up to 200,000 people had arrived in safe areas in the last few days and another 300,000 were on the move or about to flee.

This morning, Pakistani jets bombed suspected militant positions in a Taliban-controlled town as residents appealed for a pause in the fighting so they could escape to safety.

Pakistan's government yesterday declared an end to peace initiatives with Taliban insurgents controlling Swat, signalling the start of a major military operation to drive them from the valley.

In a televised address, the prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, said the army was being called in "to restore the honour and dignity of our homeland. We will destroy those elements who have destroyed the peace of our people and our nation," he said.

The announcement, coming after a day of fierce air bombardment against militant positions, was expected to signal the start of a ground offensive similar to the one already under way in neighbouring Dir and Buner districts, where the army claims to have killed more than 200 militants in the last two weeks.

Gilani appealed for international aid to deal with the humanitarian crisis and to "help enhance the capacity of our law-enforcing institutions". He called on Muslim clerics to support the government action "and tell the world that Islam does not sanction suicide bombing".

It promises to be a bloody battle marked by urban warfare, which has rarely occurred in clashes with the Taliban. They have dug into positions across Mingora, the main town in the valley, where helicopter gunships pounded houses under militant control yesterday.

Several militants were killed when a rocket destroyed a lawyer's house, while a mortar destroyed a house in nearby Matta village, killing five people, including two children. The death toll from the violence was thought to run into dozens.

During the afternoon thousands of Mingora residents took advantage of a break in the curfew to flee; some residents estimated that up to 80% of the population had left. On one street Abdul Qayuum, 61, sat on a suitcase by the roadside as he waited for his son to find a vehicle that would transport them out of the area. "We want to leave as quickly as we can," he said.

The Taliban took advantage of the curfew to lay mines around the city. Commanders wearing face masks roamed the streets, issuing orders through walkie-talkies. One commander scorned the Islamabad government as an American stooge. "We are Muslims and we want an Islamic system. Who the hell are they [America] to object?" said Marwan, 30.

The Taliban promised the army a bloody reception in Mingora and boasted of having planted hundreds of mines. "The security forces cannot even budge in this area," he said. Sajjad Khan, 22, said he knew of 14 funerals for civilians in his district of the city. "Now there is fear everywhere and everyone is leaving."

The violence coincided with a visit by the president, Asif Ali Zardari, to Washington, where the army's newly aggressive stance against the Taliban has been loudly welcomed by previously critical Obama administration officials. The US defence secretary, Robert Gates, said the Taliban push into Buner, 60 miles north of Islamabad, had served as an "alarm call" to the Zardari government.

Akhtar Mengal calls for Baloch unity

QUETTA: Balochistan National Party-M chief Sardar Akhtar Mengal said on Thursday that anti-Baloch forces were trying to create differences among nationalist parties and called upon nationalists to foil such conspiracies and launch a united struggle for national rights.

Addressing a public meeting in Panjgur, he said the BNP-M would neither compromise on Baloch rights nor abandon the struggle against ‘oppressive methods’ of the establishment.

He said the BNP-M and other Baloch groups had the same objective and they must overcome their differences and adopt a strategy for unified struggle.

Sardar Mengal said his party had always rendered sacrifices for the Baloch rights and no one could accuse its leadership of having compromised the rights of Baloch. He said that the BNP believed in a progressive and democratic national struggle to protect the coast and resources of the Baloch people.

Political parties react to military action in Swat

ISLAMABAD: PM Gilani’s late night address to the nation calling for ‘decisive action’ to root out militants in Pakistan’s restive Swat valley has received mixed reactions from mainstream and religious parties across the nation.

The violence in Swat has forced thousands of people to flee from their homes and take refuge in makeshift camps under appalling conditions, prompting concerns over a humanitarian crisis.

DawnNews reported that the PML-N remains guarded in its reaction. Ahsan Iqbal, the party’s spokesman drawing attention to both the threat posed by the militants as well as the damage a heavy-handed military campaign could inflict on locals.

PML-Q leader and former Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub welcomed the Prime Minister announcement but maintained that the action should have been taken much earlier.

Professor Khurshid Ahmed, a senator from the right-wing Jamat-e-Islami told DawnNews that he believed that the use of force is not the solution to the problems plaguing the tribal areas.

He insisted that the recommendations of the Parliamentary committee on national security should be implemented to address the problem of militancy in the country.

Despite reservations by some mainstream political parties on the Prime Minister’s announcement, there is general consensus that the growing Talibanization needs to be tackled effectively. Many believe the government should use this opportunity to take the battle against militancy to its logical conclusion.

Army engaged in 'full-scale' operation against Swat Taliban

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan army says it has killed 143 militants during the military offensive in Swat in the last twenty four hours.

Addressing a press conference on Friday evening, Army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas says the security forces will remain in the valley untill the government's writ is established.

‘The army is now engaged in a full-scale operation to eliminate miscreants,’ Major General Athar Abbas said.

‘They are on the run and trying to block the exodus of civilians from the area. During the last 24 hours approximately over 140 militants have been killed in different areas,’ he said.

It was impossible to confirm the death toll independently, given the ongoing operations across three districts — Swat, Buner and Lower Dir — in northwest Pakistan where the military has launched offensives against Taliban militants, according to AFP.

Security forces carried out a massive air operation and sent fresh troops into Swat in the wake of PM Gilani’s announcement that ‘decisive steps would be taken’ to address the growing militancy.

DawnNews quoted army sources as saying that a curfew from 8pm to 6am had been imposed in the troubled region to prevent Taliban fighters from escaping as wave after wave of attack helicopters and artillery shells pounded suspected militant hideouts.

Major General Athar Abbas told DawnNews that the security forces were attempting to take out key Taliban leaders in the valley, and that they were acting on the orders of the government to ‘eliminate’ the terrorists. The spokesman went on to say that Swat’s militants had received terrorist training from Al-Qaeda, who have also been funding militants in Waziristan.

Abbas earlier said that the army had killed at least 12 militants in clashes near their stronghold in Kabal Tehsil, and that militant training centers in the mountains have been targeted and destroyed.

Humanitarian crisis feared

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees expressed his deep concern about the safety of people displaced by the fighting while the International Committee of the Red Cross said a humanitarian crisis was intensifying, Reuters reported.

Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said it had to halt its emergency medical care because of the fighting which had trapped untold numbers of people in their homes.

Many fled when the authorities relaxed a curfew.

‘We can’t stay here when bombs are falling,’ said resident Mohammad Hayat Khan as he loaded his family of 14 onto a pick-up truck. He said there had been shelling near his home.

Many others were heading out of Mingora on foot, loaded up with whatever they could carry.