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Pak army warns Taliban, asks them to pull out of Buner
Action follows US pressure
Afzal Khan writes from Islamabad

With army delivering a stern warning of possible resumption of operation amid alarming spurt in militancy in Swat and adjacent districts, the Taliban on Friday announced they are withdrawing armed men from Buner and Chinglai areas they had seized this week.

Swat next?

Amid reports of Pakistani military mobilising forces for an operation in the Taliban-dominated Swat valley within 48 hours, army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani said the Pakistan army had a strong presence in Swat as forces for the past two years had been conducting operations against the Taliban in adjoining Bajaur district. — PTI

“The recent pause in operation was meant to give peace efforts a chance,” army chief Ashfaq Pervez Kayani stated after presiding over an urgent operational meeting of field commanders. “ It must not be taken for a concession to the militants,” he added while warning that the militants would not be allowed to dictate terms to the government or impose their way of life on the civil society of Pakistan.

In Swat Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan told the media that militant leader Fazlullah has ordered that his fighters be “immediately called back” from Buner. Early this week, they had overrun the area seizing police checkpoints, occupying houses of influential people and ordering civil courts to close down. Muslim Khan was vague whether the Taliban would surrender arms but said they had no plans to disrupt normal life in the area.

Making its intensions clear, the government moved eight platoons of para- military Frontier Constabulary, two of which reached Buner on Thursday, while more were on way. In Swat, provincial government representatives had a meeting with religious and spiritual leader of the Taliban, Sufi Mohammad, forcing him to withdraw for indefinite period his deadline for establishment of qazi courts by April 23. Sufi also promised to persuade the Taliban to withdraw its armed men from Buner and other areas and not to create hurdles in the functioning of administration officials.

The Taliban’s advance in Buner amid passive official resistance caused deep concern within the country and abroad. US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton on Wednesday warned in extremely strong language that Pakistan was “basically abdicating to the Taliban and to the extremists”. Defence secretary Robert Gates said Pakistan’s leaders must act to stop the militants who have taken control of districts about 100 km outside the capital Islamabad.

While addressing the participants of the operational meeting, General Kayani stated that he was aware of the doubts being voiced about the intent as well as the capability of the army to defeat the militancy in the country. He made it clear that the Pakistan army never has and never will hesitate to sacrifice, whatever it may take, to ensure safety and wellbeing of people of Pakistan and country’s territorial integrity.

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