Unite in the war against terror: Pakistani Army chief (Roundup)

May 7th, 2009 - 11:10 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban Islamabad, May 7 (IANS) Pakistani politicians across the spectrum should unite to combat the menace of terrorism and extremism, army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani declared Thursday and the country’s land and air forces continued their offensive against the Taliban in the troubled northwest.
Gen. Kayani’s remarks came at the inauguration of the 118th Corps Commanders’ Conference at the General Headquarters in the adjacent garrison town of Rawalpindi.

Pakistan, Kayani maintained, was a sovereign state and under a democratic dispensation supported by the army, was capable of handling the present crisis in three districts of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) in its own national interests, a statement issued by Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said.

The Pakistani Army was fully aware of the gravity of internal threat and would employ the requisite resources to ensure a decisive ascendancy over the Taliban, it said.

“The participants were given a comprehensive briefing on prevailing security situation in the region. The matters of operational preparedness and professional interest were discussed in the meeting,” the ISPR statement said.

In NWFP, Pakistani jets strafed militant positions in the troubled Swat district Thursday as civilians struggled to flee the escalating conflict, DPA reported, quoting officials and locals.

The fresh fighting came as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned that the humanitarian crisis was intensifying in the region.

Jet aircraft targeted Taliban fighters in the Khwazakhela area, about 25 km north of Swat district’s main town of Mingora, a security official said on the condition of anonymity.

The bombing raids were followed by rocket strikes by military helicopter gunships, which hit the rebels in the Korai, Jablus Siraj and Malam Jabba areas, the official said.

“Ground troops are also advancing toward these militant strongholds but facing resistance from insurgents holding positions on the hills,” the official added.

No casualty figures were given, but according to the official, “the toll ran high”.

Crowds of people left their homes to try to exit the town for safer areas but confronted a shortage of transport as heavily armed Taliban militants blocked roads and patrolled the streets.

The Red Cross said Thursday that the humanitarian crisis was intensifying in the region, where an estimated half-million people were displaced.

“We can no longer reach the areas most affected by the fighting on account of the volatile situation,” said Benno Kocher, the head of the Red Cross operations in NFWP.

Fighting has flared up in the Malakand division, which includes Swat, in recent days after the virtual collapse of a three-month-old peace deal between the Taliban fighters and the regional government.

In another clash in the Maidan area of Lower Dir, a son of the pro-Taliban cleric Sufi Mohammad, who brokered the February peace accord that led to the introduction of Islamic sharia law in Malakand in mid-April, was killed, Geo TV said.

Under the agreement, Taliban militants said they would disarm after the imposition of sharia law, but they did not honour their promises and expanded their territory to nearby districts.

The Pakistani military claimed troops have killed more than 300 militants since April 26 when the anti-Taliban offensives began from Lower Dir.

The fresh clashes came as US President Barack Obama discussed the surge in the Taliban insurgency with his Afghan and Pakistani counterparts in Washington and stressed a coordinated effort was needed.

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