Security forces in Pakistan have begun an operation against pro-Taliban
militants in a tribal region bordering Afghanistan and serving as a
major route for trade and supplies to U.S-led foreign forces based
there. The offensive has provoked an al-Qaida-linked self-proclaimed
commander of the Pakistani Taliban to suspend peace talks with the
government. From Islamabad, Ayaz Gul has more details.
say paramilitary forces are leading the offensive in the Khyber tribal
region and have destroyed key militant bases without any significant
resistance. They say that most of the militants have retreated to
mountains close to the Afghan border.
The government began the
crackdown following increased sightings of Taliban militants in parts
of the nearby city of Peshawar, just two hours drive from the Pakistani
In a major extremist action earlier this month in the
northwestern city, suspected Taliban fighters briefly kidnapped some 16
members of the minority Christian community. There were also reports of
militants warning traders against video and music business.
police chief, Malik Naveed Khan, tells VOA that criminal gangs were
behind the kidnapping and other incidents but, as he puts it, media
blew them out of proportion. He says the operation in the adjoining
Khyber tribal region is meant to punish tribal criminals responsible
for these attacks. The police chief says security forces are focusing
on the town of Bara, which borders Peshawar.
"There were only
some incursions from the tribal gangs in which unfortunately some
Christians were kidnapped who were immediately released within ten
hours," he explained. "And after that we strengthened our positions on
the [city] borders and after that no such incident has taken place. The
government has launched an operation in Bara against these miscreants,
and they have successfully pushed them back and they have taken
successful action against them."
Residents say that paramilitary
soldiers have set up bunkers in areas of Peshawar close to the scene of
military action and patrolled the streets in vehicles mounted with
Saturday's anti-militant operation in the
northwestern border region of Khyber marks the first major military
action the new Pakistani government headed by Prime Minister Yousuf
Raza Gilani has launched.
Speaking to reporters by telephone
from his stronghold in the South Waziristan tribal region,
self-proclaimed commander of Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud,
demanded the government immediately halt the security operation.
militant leader says he is suspending peace talks with the government
and his fighters will retaliate until the offensive is stopped.
Minister Gilani started the peace dialogue with militants through
tribal elders several months ago to try to end militancy and violence
in tribal regions along the border with Afghanistan.
of the U.S.-led coalition forces and Afghan authorities have long
maintained the Pakistani border regions are being used by Taliban and
al-Qaida militants for attacks in Afghanistan. They have criticized the
government's peace talks, saying such deals will lead to more attacks
on Afghan and foreign forces.