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Pakistan Sends Troops to Counter Pro-Taliban Militants


Pakistan's military says it has sent more than 2,000 paramilitary troops to reinforce security forces in Swat district, a stronghold of pro-Taliban groups in the country's northwest. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad.

The new contingents of paramilitary troops are said to be erecting barricades and checkpoints in the scenic Swat valley, where a series of recent bloody attacks on police and government leaders has been carried out by alleged pro-Taliban militants.

Pakistan's military spokesman, Major General Wahid Arshad, says the police and military forces in Swat have lacked the capacity to ensure security. He says commanders sent the new forces into the region Tuesday to help stabilize the situation.

"Well it's paramilitary forces which have been deployed in the area - in the district of Swat - to ensure security for the people there, to improve the law-and-order situation," said Arshad. "So that this band of criminals are taken to task and they are prevented from terrorizing innocent people there."

Militants responded to the deployment Tuesday by detonating a remote-controlled bomb near a convoy heading into the valley, slightly wounding four troops.

The main object of the deployment appears to be a Muslim cleric, Maulana Fazlullah, and the Islamist group he heads, the Movement for the Implementation of Islamic Law. The group is also known as TNSM, the initials of its Urdu name.

TNSM sent hundreds of troops into Afghanistan in 2001 to help the Taliban government then in power against the U.S.-led invasion of that time. The group was later outlawed by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

News reports say Fazlullah has gained popularity in the northwest in recent months through radio broadcasts that discourage education for women and criticize the government.

Earlier this month, Islamic militants in Swat damaged a giant rock Buddha when they attempted to destroy it with dynamite.

That act brought to mind the dynamiting in 2001 of Afghanistan's famous 6th century Bamiyan Valley Buddhas. The ultra-orthodox Taliban destroyed the Buddhas because they objected to the symbols of any religion other than Islam. The destruction of the famous statues prompted worldwide condemnation.

Unlike Pakistan's tribal-controlled areas to the southwest, Swat district, a popular tourist area located about 50 kilometers north of Peshawar, has long been under the control of the provincial government. Until this summer, it had been relatively peaceful.

But following the government's deadly clash with militants at Islamabad's Red Mosque in July, violence and suicide bombings shot upwards (rose rapidly) in Swat and other parts of the northwest.

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