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Pakistani Government Wages Public Relations Campaign for Swat Valley Offensive


As the Pakistani army continues its' military offensive against Taliban militants in the northwest, top government officials are waging a public relations campaign to unite the country behind them.

It is not unusual for Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to address the media or make public statements. He does so nearly every day.

But over the past few days, his public statements and press conferences have the feel of a campaign designed to get the public behind the government's military operation against Taliban fighters in Swat. And the Pakistani media is listening, broadcasting his statements and those of other top officials on 24 hour news television stations.

On Tuesday, the prime minister addressed a conference of religious scholars and leaders. Mr. Gilani defended the government's decision to go after Taliban militants and condemned them for targeting places of worship, challenging the Pakistani constitution and accusing the government of being "un-Islamic." He said there is no room in Pakistan for a parallel government.

"That is a state within a state and will we not allow that," said Mr. Gilani. "We were left with no other option just to [other than to] order for the military action."

Mr. Gilani also called on religious leaders to stand up against terrorism and show the public that Islam has nothing to do with extremism.

On Monday, Mr. Gilani and other top leaders directed the government's message to Pakistan's political class. An All Parties Conference was held in Islamabad, where the vast majority of politicians voiced their support for the military action against the Taliban, who are accused of violating a controversial peace deal allowing the imposition of strict Islamic law in Swat Valley.

Other Pakistani officials are on message, too. Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira also defended the Swat Valley offensive this week and said the government will protect and compensate the estimated 1.5 million people who have fled the violence.

"The safety and security of civilians is paramount," he said. "It should be insured that minimum harm is caused to the non-combatant civilian population."

Officials also appear to be speaking to the United States. The prime minister, the information minister and military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas have repeatedly said that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is completely safe following reports in the U.S. media that U.S. officials are deeply concerned that Taliban militants could get a hold of nuclear material.

Meanwhile, the military says more than 1,000 militants have been killed since the Swat offensive began earlier this month. However, the military has not said how many civilians have been killed. It says government troops are in the midst of fierce clashes with militants near Matta and Mingora, the main town in Swat held by Taliban militants, and are prepared to enter the area.

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