Thursday, May 7, 2009

Gilani Says Pakistan Won’t Bow to Taliban Militants in Swat

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said his government won’t bow to militants and will force them to surrender as the nation’s troops battled Taliban guerillas in the northwest.

“The nefarious activities of militants to disrupt security have forced us to take decisive action,” Gilani said in a televised speech to the nation late last night. “To protect the homeland, armed forces have been called in to eliminate the terrorists.”

The prime minister’s first speech since the troops began an operation in the northwest region on April 26 came hours after the country’s army chief vowed an all-out assault to defeat the militants, who last month advanced within 100 kilometers (60 miles) of the capital, Islamabad raising concern in the United States.

The military has said it has killed about 250 militants in the past two weeks including the eldest son of a prominent pro- Taliban cleric, who died in Swat Valley yesterday.

“The whole nation is concerned about the security situation in Swat,” Gilani said in his speech. “The nation faces grave challenges of security and economy and the people will have to unite to meet these challenges.”

Kifayatullah, one of cleric Sufi Muhammad’s 14 sons, died when mortar shells hit his house, Rizwanullah Farooq, his brother, said by telephone from Swat. Military jets and helicopters bombed Taliban hideouts in Swat and Malakand districts yesterday and may have caused many casualties, AAJ television said. The government hasn’t said if there have been any civilian casualties since the operation began.

Internal Threat

“Pakistan’s army is fully aware of the gravity of the internal threat,” the army said in a statement yesterday, citing General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani in Rawalpindi as fighting intensified amid an exodus of refugees. “It will employ requisite resources to ensure a decisive ascendancy over the militants.”

A February peace accord negotiated by Muhammad that saw Islamic law introduced in the Swat valley and neighboring districts after almost two years of violence, collapsed last month. Taliban gunmen, instead of laying down their arms as agreed, advanced to neighboring districts as senior U.S. officials said the government and the army were appeasing the militants.

The prime minister said in future there will be “no compromises” with the militants, who are trying to take the country hostage.

“There is no hope of resuming peace talks,” said Farooq, who is also a spokesman for his father’s Tehrik-e-Nifaaz Shariat Muhammadi. “Nobody can talk when the operation is killing people and destroying houses.”
Security Forces

Taliban fighters continue to attack security forces, occupy homes and government buildings and loot banks in the area, according to the military.

At least 45,000 people have fled the conflict in the Swat Valley and neighboring districts this week, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Local government officials say they are preparing emergency shelter for as many as 500,000 people.

“We can no longer reach the areas most affected by the fighting on account of the volatile situation” Benno Kocher, of the International Committee of the Red Cross, was cited as saying in a statement on the agency’s Web site yesterday.

President Barack Obama is pressing the government in Islamabad to wrest control of the area from extremists, who have beheaded local officials, burned schools and banned education for girls in their campaign to impose Islamic law.

Pakistan will stand “shoulder to shoulder with the world to fight this cancer” of terrorism, President Asif Ali Zardari said on May 6 in Washington, where he met with Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The terrorist threat “will be defeated by our joint struggle” he said.