Pakistani Taliban pull out of key district amid warnings (Second Lead)

April 24th, 2009 - 6:49 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban Islamabad, April 24 (DPA) Pakistani Taliban began their pull-out Friday from north-western Buner district they overran this week, as the country’s civilian and military leadership warned militants against breaching the peace.
The withdrawal from Swat’s adjoining Buner district, hardly 100 km from the capital Islamabad, was agreed in a meeting held earlier in the day between government officials and Sufi Mohammad, a hard-line cleric who brokered a peace deal in the Swat region in February.

Mian Iftikhar Hussain, a minister in the government of North West Frontier Province, where Swat is located, confirmed that the militants were leaving the area.

Television footage showed masked militants with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades boarding pickup trucks outside a sprawling building they were using as their headquarters.

Mohammad also travelled to Daggar, the main town of Buner, to oversee the withdrawal that preceded separate warnings by Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

In a strongly-worded statement, Kayani stressed the military would not allow the militants to dictate terms to the government or impose a lifestyle defined by them on the people.

Kayani said an “operational pause, meant to give the reconciliatory forces a chance, must not be taken for a concession to the militants”.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari last week approved the introduction of Islamic sharia law in nearly one-third of the North-West Frontier Province, in return for an end to the months-long insurgency in which hundreds of people were killed.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani also asserted that the government was not bound to honour the peace pact in case of any violations.

“If, God forbid, they breach the agreement, let me assure you that we can revisit the policy,” Gilani told lawmakers in the National Assembly Friday.

His word of caution to the militants preceded statements by US officials that the nuclear-armed country needed to confront the emboldened militants instead of ceding more and more territory to them.

As the premier spoke in the capital Islamabad, the chief minister of the province, Amir Haider Khan Hoti, consulted political parties on how to react to advances by the Swat militants who had refused to lay down arms.

The Taliban fighters killed a police officer and wounded one more Thursday when they ambushed a convoy of security forces sent to Buner to secure government installations.

Private television channels reported Friday that the provincial government had decided to amend the peace agreement, amid statements that the “time has come to make some hard decisions”.

Though reluctantly supported by the Pakistani political leaders and public, the controversial peace agreement has drawn serious criticism from aboard.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Wednesday said Pakistan “is basically abdicating to the Taliban and to the extremists”.

Clinton cautioned that Pakistan posed a “mortal threat” to world security. But Islamabad rejected Washington’s views and reiterated its commitment to fight extremism and terrorism.

Kayani also rejected the Western concerns about the capability and will of Pakistani security forces in fighting the Taliban.

The army “has resolved to fight to eliminate the militants, who endanger the lives of peaceful citizens of the country and challenge the writ of the state,” he said.

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