Tide in Pakistan’s Swat has decisively turned: Army chief (Lead)

June 4th, 2009 - 9:39 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban Islamabad, June 4 (IANS) The situation in Swat in Pakistan’s troubled northwest, where the military is engaged in major anti-Taliban operations, has “decisively turned” in the security forces’ favour, army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani declared Thursday.
“The tide in Swat has decisively turned. Major population centers and roads leading to the valley have been largely cleared of organized resistance by the terrorists,” Kayani said while presiding over the 119th Corps Commanders’ Conference in the adjacent garrison town of Rawalpindi on a day the military operations in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) entered their 41st day.

“High value targets are being aggressively hunted. To clear the remaining hideouts and sanctuaries, the army will continue to carry out operations at a limited scale,” the army chief said.

However, as isolated incidents of violence will continue and “will have to be managed”, the army will stay in Swat to provide security to the people, Kayani added.

On Thursday, the military said the security forces had consolidated their hold in Swat.

“Security forces, after successfully securing Charbagh have been able to establish link up with forces coming from Gulibagh at Dakorak,” an Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) statement said.

Six militant hideouts were destroyed in various areas of Swat and Bunner districts of the NWFP, the statement said.

In the 24 hours to Thursday afternoon, 10 terrorists were killed and six apprehended while one soldier was killed and two others were injured, the statement added.

This would take to over 1,300 the number of militants killed since the operations began April 26. Casualties among the security forces are close to 90.

Kayani also lauded the sacrifices and heroic resilience of the millions of civilians displaced by the fighting for “sustaining difficulties for the sake of peace and stability in their homeland.

“We cannot afford to leave our displaced brethren in lurch at this critical time,” he said, urging all stakeholders to work together for their relief and rehabilitation.

The army chief also hoped the government would be able to immediately launch a robust administrative effort “on the heels of successful military operation”, making it possible for the refugees to return home “as soon as possible”.

Stressing that a “civilian administrative surge” is required for creating a “conducive environment” for the return of the refugees, Kayani said the army would provide “whatever assistance is required.

“We will spare no effort towards this end,” he added.

The security forces were ordered into action April 26 after the Taliban reneged on a controversial peace deal with the NWFP government and instead moved south from their Swat headquarters to occupy Buner, which is just 100 km from Islamabad.

The operations had begun in Lower Dir, the home district of Taliban-backed radical cleric Sufi Mohammad who had brokered the peace deal, and later spread to Buner and Swat. The cleric is the father-in-law of Swat Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah.

Under the peace deal, the Taliban were to lay down arms in return for the imposition of Sharia laws in Swat, Buner, Lower Dir and four other districts of the NWFP that are collectively known as the Malakand division.

The military operations have triggered the biggest and fastest civilian exodus in recent times.

The social welfare department of NWFP has registered some 1.4 million refugees at its camps but the UN estimates the number could be as high as 3 million as many could be staying with relatives and friends.

The UN estimates that close to $543 million would be required for the relief and rehabilitation of the refugees.

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