Pakistan presses on with offensivePakistani paramilitary forces destroyed a handful of militant centers and uncovered alleged torture cells as they pressed ahead Sunday with an offensive against extremists near the Afghan border, officials said.
By: By Riaz Khan, The Associated Press, The Jamestown Sun
PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Pakistani paramilitary forces destroyed a handful of militant centers and uncovered alleged torture cells as they pressed ahead Sunday with an offensive against extremists near the Afghan border, officials said.
A spokesman for Pakistan’s top Taliban commander promised Sunday that militants would retaliate against the government, and were suspending efforts to reach and implement peace deals.
The operation in the Khyber tribal area is a shift for Pakistan’s new government, which has sought to reduce violence through the peace deals. But with extremists increasingly threatening Peshawar, a major northwest city, and ambushing supply convoys bound for U.S.-led coalition troops in Afghanistan, the government turned to its troops.
The paramilitary Frontier Corps killed one attacker but encountered relatively little resistance since launching the operation Saturday, officials said.
Troops, backed by tanks and armored personnel carriers, quickly cleared militants out of Khyber’s Bara region, said Muhammad Siddiq Khan, a local official. They then moved into areas outside Bara.
The troops destroyed at least four militant centers and uncovered a privately run jail, said Habibullah Khan, additional chief secretary for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
“The criminals were running a parallel administration in the area,” Khan said. “They were kidnapping the people, trying them and punishing them and the government is fully determined not to allow anyone to run a parallel administration.”
Khan said the jail contained what he called “torture cells” with special equipment, but offered no details.
Rehman Malik, head of the Interior Ministry, said forces destroyed a radio station used by the militants to broadcast propaganda.
Khan said the operation would continue for several more days and insisted it was not aimed at any particular militant group.
The semi-autonomous tribal areas, where the federal government has long had limited authority, are home to many militant groups, some of whom are engaged in feuds.
On Saturday, authorities blew up the headquarters of militant leader Menghal Bagh, who had apparently fled. The operation was also expected to target Haji Namdar, whose Vice and Virtue Movement is suspected of attacks against coalition soldiers in Afghanistan.
Baitullah Mehsud, the top Taliban leader in Pakistan, said he was suspending talks between his allies and the government. His spokesman, Maulvi Umar, said the Taliban would avenge any government use of force in the tribal areas and other border regions. He said the government was not honoring its commitment to peace efforts.
“The government should not ruin the country just to please the Western world and should immediately halt the operation in Khyber agency,” Umar told The Associated Press on Sunday. “If it is not stopped it will bear very grave results.”
American officials have complained that peace deals with militants will simply give them time to regroup and plan new attacks, including across the border in Afghanistan.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Sunday defended the deals, but warned that authorities will use force “if (the groups) backtrack from their agreements and damage state property.”
Gilani said the government was forced to take action because it faced an “immediate problem” from militants near Peshawar and in the Swat Valley.
Afghan officials welcomed the operation in Khyber and reiterated their suspicion that a surge in violence in Afghanistan was partly due to the lack of pressure on militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
“We endorse this operation, we want this operation to be continued and we want this operation to be successful,” Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi said.
NATO spokesman Brig. Gen. Carlos Branco said “everything that can minimize the threat in Afghanistan is good for us.”
Maj. Gen. Alam Khattak, head of the Frontier Corps, has hinted this would not be the only operation against militants and other officials said the Swat region could be next.
On Sunday, a remote-controlled bomb blast killed two soldiers on a foot patrol in Swat’s Matta area, a former militant stronghold, army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said.
Pro-Taliban fighters have battled security forces in Swat in recent months, despite a peace deal between militants and the new provincial government.
Associated Press writers Sadaqat Jan and Zarar Khan in Islamabad and Stephen Graham in Kabul contributed to this report.