Army consolidates gains in Waziristan

ISLAMABAD: Twenty Taliban insurgents have been killed as military tried to consolidate gains in its offensive against militants in South Waziristan, the army said on Sunday.

Pakistan launched a punishing air and ground offensive in the region bordering Afghanistan on October 17, with 30,000 troops backed by fighter jets and helicopter gunships laying siege to Taliban bolt-holes.

‘In the last 24 hours, 20 terrorists have been killed and eight soldiers, including an officer were injured,’ the military said in its daily statement.

The military provides the only regular information coming from the frontlines. None of the details can be verified because communication lines are down and journalists and aid workers barred from the area.

Three militants were killed in gunfights as troops recovered a cache of arms and ammunition in the town of Sararogha, a former Taliban stronghold.

The army said troops had ‘consolidated’ positions there.

Another 12 militants were killed and eight soldiers injured in a battle near Kaniguram village –which the army says they have captured—while five more rebels were killed in fighting elsewhere in the region.

The tribal belt has been dubbed by Washington the most dangerous place in the world because of an abundance of Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters.

The army claims to have stormed a number of key Taliban strongholds including Sararogha, Makin and Kaniguram.

They say nearly 480 militants and 42 soldiers have been killed since the offensive began.

The long-awaited assault on South Waziristan came after a spring offensive in the northwestern Swat valley and Malakand.

In July, the government declared the Swat offensive a success but sporadic outbreaks of violence continue.

The South Waziristan offensive has displaced more than 250,000 people and the United Nations has urged Pakistan to ensure safety and security of civilians during the operation. — AFP

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Operation in Malakand, Waziristan is no solution

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani conceded during a debate in the National Assembly on Saturday that the military operation in Malakand or South Waziristan was no lasting solution and the government was taking measures to bring stability to the region.

However, the prime minister refrained from responding to a lawmaker’s criticism of Interior Minister Rehman Malik, whom legislators blamed for the nation’s deepening sense of insecurity.

Mr Gilani highlighted several steps his government had taken to normalise the situation in Malakand, saying that parliamentary leaders of all parties had been taken into confidence before launching the military operation in South Waziristan. ‘The nation is also united on combating terrorism to the finish.’ The prime minister said the government had taken good care of Malakand IDPs and was also providing assistance to the people who fled South Waziristan.

A sum of Rs8.5 billion had been set aside for Waziristan IDPs and every displaced family was being given Rs5,000. An amount of Rs 25,000 would be provided to each family on return home, he added.

The prime minister said the government had earmarked Rs50 billion in the current budget for rehabilitation of the Malakand IDPs and released Rs6 billion of the proposed Rs25 billion package for upgradation of security in the region.

Since Monday will be observed as a holiday on account of Allama Iqbal Day, the lower house was summoned on Saturday, a weekly dayoff.

The house wore a deserted look until the prime minister entered the house. Earlier, lawmakers delivered their speeches in the absence of ministers and officials of interior and foreign affairs ministries. No more than 25 lawmakers were present and the dismal attendance continued till the end of the proceedings.

Presiding officer Riaz Pirzada reminded the government twice during the debate about the absence of interior and foreign ministry officials who should have been there to take notes of important speeches.

Zafar Bhittani, a lawmaker from the tribal areas, urged the prime minister to pick any one of the 342 legislators in the assembly for the job of interior minister instead of ‘banking on a person who preferred to fly to Abu Dhabi for talks with the MQM’.

He alleged that the ‘notorious American organisation’ Blackwater was playing havoc with law and order in the country.

Mr Bhittani said the interior minister had not said a ‘single truth’ about the law and order.

Palwasha Behram Khan, of the PML-Q, said Pakistan should take a leading role in any future US policy for the region.

Humayun Saifullah Khan urged the government to avoid relating the war against terrorism to what he called ongoing ‘skirmishes’ because it was affecting the country’s image.

Sheikh Waqas Akram, of the PML-Q, said the government must engage militants in talks alongside the military campaign. He said the US had also expressed its willingness to enter into talks with the Taliban after its generals admitted that they were losing the war in Afghanistan.

He said the situation had become so grave that no multinational company was ready to invest in Pakistan. The government was doing nothing to establish its writ in southern Punjab where the Taliban were roaming around freely, the MNA alleged.

PAKISTAN MINT: Lawmakers expressed concern over the deteriorating condition of the building of Pakistan Mint, the oldest coin press, in Lahore.

Through a call-attention notice, Shakeel Khanam Rasheed, Begum Ishrat Ashraf, Naseer Bhutta and Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho called for setting up a house committee to examine
the situation.

Planning and Development Minister Makhdoom Shahabuddin said the government was aware of the situation and had allocated Rs10 million for upgradation of the building.

Waziristan offensive kills 20 Taliban: military

ISLAMABAD: Twenty Taliban insurgents have been killed as Pakistan’s military tries to consolidate gains in its offensive against the militants in the northwest tribal district, the army said Sunday.

Pakistan launched a punishing air and ground offensive into the region bordering Afghanistan on October 17, with 30,000 troops backed by fighter jets and helicopter gunships laying siege to Taliban bolt-holes.

‘In the last 24 hours, 20 terrorists have been killed and eight soldiers including an officer were injured,’ the military said in its daily statement.

The military provides the only regular information coming from the frontlines. None of the details can be verified because communication lines are down and journalists and aid workers barred from the area.

Three militants were killed in gunfights as troops recovered a cache of arms and ammunition in the town of Sararogha, a former Taliban stronghold. The army said troops had ‘consolidated’ positions there.

Another 12 militants were killed and eight soldiers injured in a battle near Kanigurram village, which the army says they have captured, while five more rebels were killed in fighting elsewhere in the region.

The tribal belt has been dubbed by Washington the most dangerous place in the world because of an abundance of Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters.

The army claims to have stormed a number of key Taliban strongholds including Sararogha, Makeen and Kanigurram. They say nearly 480 militants and 42 soldiers have been killed since the offensive began. -AFP

Car bomb blast kills 95 in Peshawar

PESHAWAR: A car bomb tore through a packed market in Peshawar on Wednesday, killing 95 people and trapping casualties under pulverised shops, in one of Pakistan’s deadliest attacks.

The explosion detonated in a crowded street in the Meena Bazaar of Peshawar, one of the most congested parts of the volatile northwest city, sparking a huge blaze and ending in carnage routine shopping trips for scores of people.

The attack underscored the scale of the militant threat in Pakistan just hours after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Islamabad for three days of talks with political and military leaders.

‘There was a huge blast. There was smoke and dust everywhere. I saw people dying and screaming on the road,’ witness Mohammad Siddique told AFP.

Angry flames leapt out of burning wreckage and smoke billowed in the air as a building collapsed into dust and rubble. Police evacuated panicked residents from the smouldering wreckage and firemen hosed down the flames.

‘It was a car bomb. Some people are still trapped in a building. We are trying to rescue them,’ bomb disposal official Shafqat Malik told reporters.

‘We have received 86 dead bodies, 213 people were injured, we are facing a shortage of blood,’ Doctor Hamid Afridi, head of the Peshawar’s main Lady Reading Hospital told AFP as staff declared an emergency.

A hospital official outside the casualty wing made a public announcement, appealing on people to donate blood as doctors spoke of harrowing scenes.

‘There are body parts. There are people. There are burnt people. There are dead bodies. There are wounded, I’m not in a position to count. But my estimate is that the death toll may rise to 70,’ said Doctor Muslim Khan.

Rescue workers and government officials had warned that casualties were trapped under collapsed shops at the bomb site, where a large blaze, a toppled building and the narrow streets hampered the relief effort.

‘I am counting the dead bodies, 86 are confirmed dead, the injured are more than 200, there are children and women among the dead,’ Mohammad Gul, a police official at the hospital, told AFP.

The area was one of the most congested parts of Peshawar and full of women’s clothing shops and general market stalls popular in the city of 2.5 million.

‘A building structure has collapsed… People are trapped in the fire and buildings. This is the most congested area of the city,’ Sahibzada Mohammad Anees, a senior local administrative official, told a private TV channel.

Peshawar, a teeming metropolis, is a gateway to Pakistan’s northwest tribal belt, where the military is pressing a major offensive against Pakistani Taliban militants blamed for some of the worst of the recent carnage.

Tensions have soared across Pakistan following a spike in violence blamed on Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked extremists in which more than 240 people have died this month.

Waziristan Operation vital for anti-terror war: Kayani

WANA: Chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani visited South Waziristan Agency (SWA), Geo News reported Sunday.

The COAS inspected the operation in the SWA and met jawans and officers engaged in the operation and lauded them for their high morale.

The tribal veterans also called on the Army Chief and assured him of their complete cooperation in the Pak Army operation against the terrorism.

Speaking on this occasion, he stressed the success in Waziristan Operation is indispensable to win the war against terrorism, adding the operation would be completed on time.

Militants killed in fresh Swat clashes

MINGORA: Troops killed 15 militants in fresh clashes in Swat, the army said on Tuesday, taking the death toll to 45 in five days after a lull in the campaign to clear the Taliban out of the northwestern valley.

Security forces also launched an operation to flush out militants in the northwestern tribal region of Khyber, bordering Afghanistan, a government official said.

The army went on the offensive in Swat in late April and says it has killed over 2,000 militants, and lost 312 soldiers in the fighting. Independent casualty estimates are unavailable.

Despite the Taliban’s losses, the recent clashes and a suicide attack in Swat’s main town of Mingora on Sunday showed they can still hit back.

‘It was very precise and we managed to kill 15 militants,’ Lt. Col. Akhtar Abbas, a military spokesman in Swat, said of the attack launched on Monday evening.

The army had already killed at least 30 insurgents in encounters since Friday, while 12 police recruits were killed by a suicide bomber on Sunday.

Show of force

Pakistan’s show of force in Swat had allayed fears among allies, in particular the United States and other countries with troops in neighbouring Afghanistan that the nuclear-armed country was failing to confront spreading militancy.

In Khyber, forces killed five militants and destroyed three militant bases in the latest offensive.

‘It’s an assault against terrorists, anti-social and anti-state elements and it will continue until the region is cleared of them,’ the top government officer, Tariq Hayat Khan, told Reuters.

Troops used artillery to attack militant positions while residents said helicopter gunships flew over the area but did not take part in the operation.

The offensive in Khyber came less than a week after a suicide bomber killed 22 Pakistani border guards in an attack at the main crossing point into Afghanistan.

The August 27 attack on Khyber was the first major operation since Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a US missile strike in early August.

Hakimullah Mehsud, who led militants in the Khyber, Orakzai and Kurram tribal regions, has been chosen as the new overall commander of the Pakistani Taliban.

Security officials have been expecting Hakimullah’s fighters to mount more reprisals following the killing of Baitullah.

At least 41 more corpses found in Swat

PESHAWAR: At least 41 bodies, mostly of Taliban militants, have been found in Pakistan’s Swat valley over the past 24 hours, officials said Tuesday, describing them as revenge killings by residents.

The corpses, six of them beheaded, were dumped on the roadside, riverside and fields in different areas.

Pakistan’s military claims to have cleared Swat of extremists in an offensive launched earlier this year after militants extended their grip into the northwest valley, terrorising residents with public beheadings and other violence.

Officials said a total of 251 people had been found dead in similar circumstances since July, and believed that the militants were killed by residents who feared a Taliban comeback.

‘Among the 41 dead bodies, six were beheaded, almost all of them were militants,’ Atifur Rehman, the top administrative official of Swat district, told AFP, adding that the rest had bullet wounds.

‘According to my information they were militants and were killed by residents,’ Rehman said.

Fourteen police cadets were killed Sunday in a suicide attack in the main town in Swat valley which police blamed on Taliban militants.

‘People are now familiar with dead bodies, it is becoming a routine,’ Swat resident Sakhawat Ali, 34, said.

‘We see dead bodies almost every morning, most of them are Taliban,’ he told AFP.

Pakistan in April launched a punishing military offensive against the Taliban in the northwest after the militants advanced closer to Islamabad.

The military push forced 1.9 million civilians from their homes, most of them seeking refuge with relatives and the rest crowding into refugee camps, creating a humanitarian crisis for impoverished Pakistan.

Last month, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced that the military had ‘eliminated’ extremists in the northwest and according to government and UN statistics 1.6 million displaced people have returned home.

Swat slipped out of government control after radical cleric Fazlullah mounted a violent campaign in which his followers beheaded opponents, burnt schools and fought against government troops to enforce Islamic sharia law.

Pakistan says more than 2,000 militants and over 170 security personnel have been killed in the government offensive, but the death tolls are impossible to verify independently.

Pak Army lacks anti-missile technology: Defence Minister

LAHORE: Defence Minister, Ahmed Mukhtar Saturday said Pak Army has no anti-missile system to counter missiles attacks by U.S. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (in tribal areas) and Pakistan would have acted if it had been properly geared in this regard.

Addressing here at Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar said war on terror is Pakistan’s own battle and it is being fought against an unknown enemy.

He said trafficking of arms is the largest trade of the world.

The Defence Minister pointed out that eradication of inflation and power load-shedding is the foremost priority of the government. Positive outcomes will be visible in this regard in the next six months, he added.

He said relief package for textile will be announced soon and observed that all the sectors will benefit if the international oil prices remain stable at the current level, he said.