Army not to halt Swat operation
MINGORA (AFP): Pakistan will not halt a military offensive in northwestern Swat Valley until all militants are cleared from the once-popular tourist site, the region’s army commander said Monday.
“There is no time-frame for completion of the operation as there is still 400 hardcore militants hiding in Swat valley,” Major General Nasser Janjua, the regional commanding officer, told reporters.
“It will take time to wind up the operation” he added.
Janjua said the army was still on the trail of Maulana Fazlullah, a radical cleric who has demanded Islamic law in the valley.
The army launched a major offensive in November to drive his followers out of Swat.
“He is around Swat district but is hiding somewhere and keeps changing his location. We are behind him,” Janjua said.
Maj-Gen Janjua said the Army had secured 90 per cent of the region near the Afghan border, with more than 230 militants killed and 1,035 questioned during the offensive.
He said 36 Pakistani soldiers had died during operations.
The mountainous, snow-capped Swat region is renowned for its ancient Buddhist relics and once attracted large numbers of foreign and local tourists, but has been beÂset by recent violence blamed on pro-Taliban militants.
Hundreds of people have died across northwest Pakistan in recent months in clashes between pro-Taliban militants and security forces and in a wave of suicide attacks blamed on the rebels.
A roadside bomb hit a wedding party convoy in Swat on Friday, killing 14 people including the bride.
Janjua said hard-line Islamists were losing support amid ongoing violence, a trend reflected in last week’s general elections, which saw an alliance of religious parties lose control of the northwest region.
“Locals in Swat have been taken onboard by winning their hearts and minds. They are now resenting the militants,” Janjua said.
Source: The Nation