Swat Taliban move closer to Islamabad (Lead)

April 22nd, 2009 - 5:17 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban Islamabad, April 22 (IANS) After consolidating their hold in Swat and other areas of Pakistan’s restive northwest, the Taliban have now moved south and taken control of Buner district just 100 km from this federal capital.
The Taliban have extended their control to almost all tehsils of the district and law-enforcement personnel remain confined to police stations and camps, Dawn reported Wednesday.

Equipped with advanced weapons, the Taliban are now reported to be eyeing the Swabi district further south, as also Mardan to the west, the home district of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) Chief Minister Haider Khan Hoti.

According to reports from Buner, the militants have set up checkposts along the borders of the two districts.

The militants have started digging trenches and setting up bunkers on the heights in strategic towns of Gadezi, Salarzai and Osherai.

They have also started patrolling bazaars, villages and towns in the district.

“They have robbed government and NGO offices of vehicles, computers, printers, generators, edible oil containers, and food and nutrition packets,” Dawn said.

Sources said leading political figures, businessmen, NGO officials and tribal elders, who had played a role in establishing a peace council earlier this month to stop the Taliban from entering Buner, had been forced to move to other areas.

Taliban-backed radical cleric Sufi Mohammad had Feb 16 signed a controversial peace deal with the NWFP government to impose Sharia laws and six other districts of the province, collectively known as the Malakand division, in return for the militants laying down their arms.

At that time, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari had said he would ratify the accord only after peace returned to the area. He, however, backtracked in the face of strident international protests against the deal and tossed it to the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament.

The National Assembly passed the Nizam-e Adil Regulation by a majority April 13 after the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), a junior partner of the ruling coalition walked out in protest. Zardari ratified it the same night and the Sharia laws came into force two days later.

Significantly, when the Regulation was presented before the National Assembly, it was preceded by a warning from the Taliban that any legislator who did not endorse it would be deemed a “non-Muslim” - meaning that he or she would be considered an apostate and deemed worthy of being killed.

The Nizam-e Adl Regulation was Monday challenged in the Supreme Court on the ground that it was out of sync with Pakistan’s laws.

Led by local Taliban commander Fateh Mohammad, the militants in Buner have been asking local people, particularly youngsters, to join them in their campaign to enforce Sharia.

On Tuesday, armed groups entered the Rural Health Centre at Jure in the Salarzai area and took away a Land Cruiser being used by the Expanded Programme of Immunisation (EPI).

Earlier, the militants April 17 raided a basic health unit in Chamla tehsil and looted 480 cans of edible oil. They took away from the house of a lady health visitor a large number of food and nutrition packets supplied by USAID and sewing machines from an Action Aid sponsored vocational centre in the Korea village of tehsil Chamla.

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