Pakistan to put offensive against militants on hold

September 1st, 2008 - 12:28 am ICT by IANS  

Islamabad, Aug 31 (DPA) Pakistani troops fighting Islamist insurgents will halt their offensives for a month by Sunday night.The decision was announced overnight by the prime minister’s security adviser, Rehman Malik, who said the reprieve came in veneration of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan starting early September.

Malik, who is the de facto interior minister, clarified the military would not refrain from repulsing any attack on their personnel or installations.

“Any kind of militant action will be responded to with full force,” he said in the eastern city of Lahore at a seminar on cyber crimes.

Clashes between security forces and the militants have intensified in recent months with the military fighting heavily armed and well-trained insurgents on three fronts close to the Afghan frontier.

In Bajaur tribal district, a known sanctuary for Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters, government troops have been using helicopter gunships and jet aircraft to pound militant positions since Aug 6.

According to official figures, more than 560 militants have been killed in the action, which also triggered a mass exodus from Bajaur to safer areas in the adjoining North West Frontier Province.

Pakistan is under growing pressure to crack down on militants entrenched in its tribal areas as Western allies in the US-led war against terror believe they regularly attack the international troops fighting Taliban in Afghanistan.

This has also prompted US to carry out several aerial attacks in recent months on suspected Al Qaeda operatives on Pakistani soil.

The suspension of military action against insurgents was ordered following pressure from some two dozen lawmakers from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), after they had given a 24-hour ultimatum last week threatening to withdraw their support for the ruling party candidate Asif Ali Zardari in the presidential elections to be held Sep 6.

These votes are crucial for Zadari, the widower of the late former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, especially after the split of ruling coalition following Musharraf’s ouster.

On Thursday, Zardari held a meeting with officials from FATA and agreed to a unilateral ceasefire.

But analysts believe the decision could be a major strategic set back for security forces who had squeezed the militants in Bajaur. A unilateral ceasefire could provide rebels with an opportunity to regroup.

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