ISLAMABAD: Pakistan yesterday expanded its offensive against the Taliban from Lower Dir to Buner with warplanes and helicopter gunships pounding militant hideouts.
The Taliban moved into Buner this month from the nearby Swat Valley. They set up checkpoints, patrolled streets and warned local residents to abide by their interpretation of Islam. The majority of them later withdrew to Swat, but some stayed back in hills surrounding Buner in bunkers. Helicopter gunships are dropping bunker-buster bombs to smoke out the militants, military intelligence said. There was no word on the number of casualties.
Buner lies about 100 km from the capital Islamabad. The offensive will cause major strains on an already shaky peace deal in the Malakand region, to which Buner belongs. The truce has been widely viewed in the West as a surrender to militants seen as slowly expanding their grip on the nuclear-armed nation.
Earlier, military spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said Lower Dir, further north, has been completely cleared of militants. During the operation over 75 militants were killed. Ten soldiers also lost their lives.
“In the Dir operation no foreigner was arrested or killed. The Dir area is completely free of militants,” Abbas asserted.
Humanitarian and local officials estimate up to one million people are displaced in northwestern Pakistan. Officials from North West Frontier Province, under which both Lower Dir and Buner come, appealed for international relief aid at an unprecedented meeting with relief agencies and donor countries in Geneva.
“We are hearing a lot of pledges and promises made from the international community to Pakistan, and many of them are for security, for the police and the army, but the civilians are not getting what they are supposed to,” said Sitara Ayaz, minister for social welfare and development in the province.
“In our province we need more support and help from the international community,” she said after the two-day meeting.
– With input from agencies