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Pakistani Fight Against Militants Continues, Concern Grows Over Safety of Displaced People


As Pakistani Army continues its crackdown on the Taliban in South Waziristan near the Afghan border, thousands of people displaced by the earlier offensive in the Swat Valley have begun to return home.

As experts warn the Taliban could return, a key Pakistani minister urges Americans to continue supporting the fight against Islamic militants.

The Pakistani military continues its crackdown on Taliban militants in remote South Waziristan.

As people flee the fighting here, they join more than two million people already displaced by fighting around Pakistan, including these people who left their homes in Swat valley.

While the government now is encouraging Swat residents to leave the camps Pakistani analysts say Taliban militants who melted away without a fight could return.

Pakistani Army officials say Taliban leaders could still be in Swat.

Major General Athar Abbas is the spokesman for the Pakistan Army. Abbas says, "The rest of them, I can assure you, is being constantly targeted and we are chasing them."

Pakistan's Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, Babar Awan, says the government is hiring 100,000 ex-soldiers to guard the Swat region.

Awan says, "All those who are the enemies of the constitution of Pakistan, flag of Pakistan, the writ of the State of Pakistan will face the same consequences."

The visiting minister told a gathering in Washington that Pakistan cannot afford to lose the war against the Taliban. He said Pakistan is fighting not only for its own survival but also for people in the West.

"Therefore, there is no question of losing this war, no question of retreat, no question of defeat and no question of non-management after we pull out the military," says Awan.

A recent survey showed that a majority of Pakistani people now support the government crackdown on the Taliban. Clay Ramsay of the World Public Opinion.Org organized the survey.

Ramsay says, "A major shift has taken place in Pakistanis' perception of religious militant groups in their country. Eighty-one percent now see the activities of the Islamist militants and Taliban in the FATA areas as a critical threat to Pakistan - while in the Fall of 2007, when we asked the same question only 34 percent saw it as critical."

Babar Awan says the shift in public attitudes in Pakistan is here to stay.

Awan believes, "Because it is a home grown change, indigenous change, a change from within, I do not see that this is going to wither away."

Awan claims the U.S. should realize that the fight against the Taliban is like fighting a state of mind, a psyche. Without naming the country, he alleged the psyche is being spread by a fundamentalist sect based in Saudi Arabia.

Awan says, "We need to work on the places from where this psyche is being fueled."

As the army neared the end of its push in Swat late last month, it began attacking Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud in his South Waziristan stronghold in mountains on the Afghan border.

Meanwhile, the UN says nearly half of the people displaced in Pakistan are children. Foreign aid workers say the children need food, schools and protection now, as Monsoon season threatens with heavy rains and flooding.

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