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Pounding on, 70 Taliban killed
Afzal Khan wriites from Islamabad

With artillery fire and gunships continuing to pound Taliban hideouts in Dir area for the third day, Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik on Tuesday claimed that 70 militants, including their leader Qari Shahidullah, have been killed during the current offensive. Talking to reporters here, Malik said the campaign would continue till the area was cleared of armed Taliban. He said there was a disturbing report that around 450 Taliban were still present in adjacent Buner area.

“I warn them to vacate the area. We are not going to spare them. Action will be taken if anyone tries to block our efforts to re-establish writ of the government in Buner and other areas,” he said.

Rehman also dared top Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsood operating in tribal area: “If you think you will continue to indulge in your nefarious terrorist designs, you are grossly mistaken.”

In Peshawar, the provincial government of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) reiterated offer to resume negotiations with pro-Taliban cleric Sufi Mohammad for immediate implementation of Nizame Adl Regulation (NRA) on his demand for setting up 'Darul Qaza' as higher tier of qazi courts under the regulation. Talks were broken when the security forces began their campaign against militants in Dir on Sunday.

But a spokesman of Sufi's Tehrike Nifaze Shariah Mohammadi (TNSM), Ameer Izzat Khan, said there was no question of resuming the talks until the security operation was halted. The TNSM also demands that the Darul Qazi must be regarded as last appellate court instead of putting it under the normal system of high courts and the Supreme Court.

Izzat disclosed that the organisation had lost all communication with Sufi Mohammad who was last seen leaving for his home in Lal Qila area from his base camp in Maidan on Saturday afternoon. He said the cleric had started for his base camp along with his son Ziaullah, just when the paramilitary forces moved in to attack militants’ hideout in Lal Qila. He said he was concerned about Sufi's security.

NWFP Information Minister Mian Iftikhar said no military operation was underway in Dir but the security forces had to intervene and be reinforced after armed militants seized control of police check posts and disrupted supplies to security forces. He said the provincial government was also trying to locate Sufi for talks that would ensure implementation of the regulation without further delay.

Earlier, a two-member team of the NWFP government comprising Senator Afrasiab Khattak and Mian Iftikhar Hussain flew into Upper Dir on Monday. But Sufi was nowhere to be seen. Anxious to resolve the remaining issues, the government is believed to have reached out to all those who could locate Sufi Mohammed.

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