751 Taliban killed; Britain, France back Pakistan’s war on terror (Night Lead)

May 12th, 2009 - 9:42 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban Islamabad/New York, May 12 (IANS) At least 751 Taliban have been in the security forces’ operations in Pakistan’s restive northwest, the military said, as Britain and France Tuesday fully backed Islamabad in its efforts to root out extremism.
Chief military spokesperson Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas told reporters in Islamabad that 751 militants had so far been killed in Operation Raah-e-Haq that began April 26, while 29 security personnel had lost their lives and 77 were injured.

At separate meetings in New York with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, the foreign ministers of Britain and France “threw their full weight behind Pakistan’s drive to root out extremism”, APP reported.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner especially lauded the leadership and courage demonstrated by Zardari during these challenging times, a statement issued by the Pakistani mission to the UN said.

During their meeting, Zardari hoped the international community would continue to show its understanding and support for the government and people of Pakistan in meeting the challenge posed by the scourge of terrorism.

On his part, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband reiterated Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s backing for Pakistan’s policies and hoped the government would succeed in overcoming the challenges it faced.

Abbas’s briefing in Islamabad came on the day when heliborne troops landed in the heartland of the Swat Taliban for what seemed to be the final push against the militants.

According to Abbas, the security forces had accomplished “significant achievements” in their operations in Swat and two other districts of the North West Frontier Province.

Images and videos of the dead militants will be released Wednesday, Abbas, who heads the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), added.

The statement acquires significance in the light of questions being raised by Pakistani citizens on the manner in which the operations were being conducted.

“Today”, The News said in an editorial, “there is guarded support from the common man, but questions are beginning to be asked - where are all these dead Taliban for one?”

“Why is artillery being used to attack the Taliban rather than infantry who can then hold the position they have just taken? What is the physical state of the centre of towns like Mingora and why can’t we have a couple of ‘embedded’ correspondents who can write a pooled dispatch for the English and Urdu press every day?” the editorial wondered.

“We know surprisingly little - in fact beyond official daily briefings almost nothing - about the war with the Taliban,” it said.

TV channels show stock footage of Cobra helicopters and armour being moved on flatbed trucks “and the very-capable army spokesperson gives a daily update in measured tones that tell us next to nothing of substance - and is not backed up by any battlefield reports or even still-pictures of our army in action”, the editorial pointed out.

Earlier Tuesday, another army officer was quoted as saying: “Heliborne troops have landed in Peochar.”

Peochar is the headquarters of Swat Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah, the son-in-law of radical cleric Sufi Mohammad who had brokered a widely panned-peace deal with the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) government.

Under the deal, Sharia laws were to be imposed in Swat and six other districts of the NWFP, which are collectively known as the Malakand division, in return for the Taliban laying down their arms.

The accord came into force in mid-April but the Taliban reneged on it and instead moved south from Swat to occupy Buner district that is just 100 km from Islamabad.

The Pakistani Army went into action initially in Lower Dir to the west of Swat and which is Sufi Mohammad’s home district and then in Buner and Swat.

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