Pakistani Forces Deploy in New Region Infiltrated by Taliban
By Barry Newhouse
23 April 2009
Militants in Pakistan have ambushed paramilitary forces who were being rushed to a region near the capital that was recently overrun by Taliban forces from the nearby Swat valley. Witnesses say gunmen in Buner district, killed at least one of the paramilitary troops. Despite the latest clashes, political leaders say they continue to favor diplomacy in dealing with the militants.
Troops take up key positions
Locals in Buner district, which is only about 100 kilometers from the Pakistani capital, say security forces began arriving Wednesday, taking up positions around government buildings and key roads. It is unclear how many additional forces have been ordered to Buner. Local officials say as many as eight platoons, or about 400 paramilitary troops have arrived in the mountainous region.
Sher Akbar, a retired lawmaker who represented Buner in parliament, tells VOA that Taliban fighters are now patrolling parts of the district and local police have not been seen in public.
Taliban controls Buner
Speaking by phone from Buner he says the Taliban are totally in control of the district and the local government has lost authority over the region.
Pakistani news media have reported government officials and aid groups have abandoned local offices. Sher Akbar says many in Buner are worried that fighting could break out soon between security forces and militants, and some people are preparing to leave.
Groups of militants infiltrated Buner last week, shortly after the government signed a peace deal to establish Islamic law in nearby Swat valley and other parts of the northwest. Local officials estimate more than 500,000 people live in the Buner area.
Since the Taliban's arrival, fighters have clashed with local police and armed tribal militias that initially tried to repel them from the area. Local leaders had reportedly asked the provincial government earlier for extra police and paramilitary troops when the controversial peace agreement in Swat was being negotiated but the request was ignored.
Clinton: situation poses 'mortal threat' to US
The government's peace agreement in the northwest, and subsequent Taliban expansion into nearby areas including Buner, has drawn intense concern in Washington. On Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused the Pakistani government of ceding more and more territory to the Taliban. She said the deteriorating situation poses what she called a "mortal threat" to the United States and the world.
"I think that we cannot underscore the seriousness of the existential threat posed to the state of Pakistan by the continuing advances, now within hours of Islamabad, that are being made by the loosely confederated group of terrorists and others who are seeking the overthrow of the Pakistani state, which is, as we all know, a nuclear-armed state," she said.
Pakistan defends anti-Taliban strategy
When asked about the criticism on Thursday, Pakistan's prime minister defended the government's strategy, saying officials continue to favor pursuing talks with mediator Sufi Muhammad in dealing with the situation.
"In case peace is not restored, then naturally the mandate is the provincial government - they will discuss with the jirga, with all of the political forces of their province, they will discuss with Sufi Muhammad. And if the provincial government decides otherwise or if peace is not restored, certainly we have to review our policy," said Prime Minister Gilani.
The Islamic courts have drawn criticism among lawmakers in recent days after Taliban fighters refused to disarm and Sufi Muhammad said militants believe the new courts will not be integrated into Pakistan's legal system. Political leaders have said the creation of a parallel legal system is unacceptable and a violation of the peace agreement.
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