Thousands of people in northwest Pakistan are fleeing a renewed
offensive by Pakistani forces against Taliban militants. With the army saying it has killed more than 45 militants since the operation began Sunday, the fighting casts further
doubt on the viability of the region's peace deal that has been widely
criticized by U.S. officials.
Pakistani media broadcast
footage of thousands of people walking out of the Lower Dir region,
fleeing helicopter gunship attacks and artillery strikes against
Taliban militants accused of attacking security forces.
officials in the North-West Frontier Province repeated demands for
militants in the Malakand division to honor their pledge to disarm
after the government agreed to implement Islamic law throughout the
The deal sparked criticism from U.S. officials,
especially when Taliban militants began moving closer to Islamabad.
Last week, they took over Buner district, just 100 kilometers from the
capital. The capture of the strategically important district raised
fears militants may threaten a critical highway between the capital and
Provincial officials said Monday that although militants promised to leave Buner on Friday, many still remain in the area.
army spokesman has defended the government's approach in a series of
interviews with foreign news agencies. General Athar Abbas tells VOA the strategy has succeeded in one of its main goals.
great achievement or victory for the government in this would be that
they have politically disarmed the militant groups of the valley," Abbas said.
say the deals have shown to the Pakistani public that while the
government has honored its commitment to militant demands for Islamic
courts in Malakand, the militants still have not put down their weapons
or halted their expansion beyond the Swat valley. Militants have said
they will not disarm until the courts are fully functioning.
army's assault against militant targets in Lower Dir District has left
the peace agreement in doubt. Athar Abbas says the government
continues to favor talks, but that does not mean it will rule out
"If it could
avoid a bloodbath and destruction and displacement, I think that would
be a great achievement. But in case it does not work out and they
refuse to lay down their arms and insist to continue their struggle for
whatever reason, then the government is keeping the military option
open," Abbas said.
British Prime Minister Gordon
Brown is expected Tuesday in Pakistan. In Kabul, he emphasized the
strategic importance of securing Pakistan's border region with