M A I N   N E W S

Pak pulls out more troops from tribal belt

Islamabad, December 28
Notwithstanding its top leaders’ assertions that they do not want a war, Pakistan continues to withdraw troops engaged in the anti-Taliban operations from its troubled north-western tribal belt for possible redeployment on the Indian border amidst heightened tensions in the wake of the Mumbai attacks.

Hundreds of soldiers were pulled out, along with heavy weapons from Bajaur, Mohmand, South and North Waziristan tribal regions since Friday, senior military officials told The News daily.

They said one of the two divisions deployed in Bajaur Agency had been withdrawn.

Residents of Ghalanai, the main city of Mohmand Agency, said they had seen about 20 trucks carrying soldiers out of the semi-autonomous region. Sources in Miranshah, the capital of North Waziristan, too said a large number of troops had left the area.

Mohammad Rahman, a resident of Miranshah, said he had seen a convoy of 200 trucks, cannon and tanks leaving the region. Hundreds of troops were also withdrawn from Razmak in North Waziristan, an area close to the main stronghold of Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud.

An official of the Inter-Services Public Relations confirmed that a “limited number of troops had been pulled out”.

The move came despite Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Premier Yousuf Raza Gilani seeking to tone down the rhetoric, saying they do not want a war.

Various courses for army officers scheduled for the first six months of 2009 have been postponed till further orders, sources said.

On Friday, up to 20,000 Pakistani troops were withdrawn from snow-bound areas and regions where operations are not ongoing so that they could be moved to the Indian frontier.

However, government officials said Pakistan did not plan a complete withdrawal of troops from its tribal areas.

The paramilitary Frontier Corps will stay to guard the Afghan border and troops from the army’s 11 Corps will continue to back up the frontline force, the officials said.

Brigades from other corps will be redeployed to defend Pakistan in the event of an Indian attack, they said.

Pakistan had deployed over 1,00,000 soldiers to battle the Al-Qaida and the Taliban in tribal areas after the confidence-building measures with India and a ceasefire along the border in Jammu and Kashmir eased tensions since late 2003.

Regional military commanders secured “guarantees” from elders of the Ahmedzai Wazir tribe in South Waziristan that they would not allow Mehsud or foreign terrorists to take advantage of the decreased troop presence near the border with Afghanistan.

The elders told the military commanders that they should “leave the security of the western border to the tribesmen or allow us to go to the eastern border for Pakistan’s defence”.

The troops could not leave Swat at this juncture as the militants would “step up their brutality and kill civilians”, officials said. — PTI



HOME PAGE | Punjab | Haryana | Jammu & Kashmir | Himachal Pradesh | Regional Briefs | Nation | Opinions |
| Business | Sports | World | Letters | Chandigarh | Ludhiana | Delhi |
| Calendar | Weather | Archive | Subscribe | Suggestion | E-mail |