By Yangtze Yan
ISLAMABAD, July 9 (Xinhua) -- Pakistan said on Wednesday that the military
operation against Taliban in northwestern Pakistan's Swat and Buner districts
completed, clearing out militants and making the area safe for return of the
displaced local population.
But hundreds of thousands of dislocated families in the country's
conflict-ridden northwest and day-to-day restive drone attacks in the country's
Afghan-border face Pakistan more sore challenges ahead.
OPERATION COMES TO END?
The military operation in Swat and adjoining districts is "complete" and
various areas of Malakand division had been taken back from the Taliban, but the
army will stay on in the valley to conduct search-and-destroy operations
wherever required, said Pakistani Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira and
army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas on Wednesday.
At a press conference, the military spokesman however came out with a
slightly different version, by saying that the operation Rah-e-Raast had entered
into a final phase, creating conditions for safe return of the dislocated
population of Malakand Division including Swat.
Abbas said army chief General Ashfaq Kayani had presided over a high-level
meeting at the General Headquarters, to discuss a host of issues related to the
operation. The meeting did not rule out isolated incidents of terrorism in the
area. "The army will, therefore, stay in Swat," it said.
The army said the Taliban's command-and-control structures, logistics and
training infrastructure had been either destroyed or disrupted. They also said
that a large number of Taliban leaders had been killed or arrested.
Some 1,600 terrorists were killed and another 700 apprehended since
Pakistani security forces launched the military operation against Taliban late
April after militants in early April entered the Buner district from the
adjacent Swat and refused to vacate the area despite their pledge to do so.
Abbas said the army will stay in Swat adding that the size and location
will depend upon operational requirements for conducting search and destroy
operations where required. He said the hideouts of the terrorists will remain
target of the security forces. Local media doubted how much longer the forces
still have to stay there.
DISLOCATED NEEDS SHELTER
The information minister said Wednesday the Pakistani government would
announce a schedule for the phased return of millions of internally displaced
persons (IDPs) within the next two days. The army spokesman said the NWFP
provincial government had made a comprehensive plan for return of the dislocated
The Pakistani government had said the IDPs return may start later this
month to the Swat valley as well as Buner and Low Dir districts in NWFP.
UN refugee agency and Pakistani officials had said that over two million
people were displaced as the result of fighting between the Taliban militants
and the security forces in parts of Pakistan's northwest. About 10 percent, or
200,000 of them are in camps. The other 90 percent are staying with family and
Xinhua has witnessed the disastrous living conditions of those forced to
crouch in the roadside makeshift camps in Buner late June. Last Friday, the
World Health Organization warned about the IDPs in Swat valley are at increased
risk of getting ill during the upcoming monsoon season.
WHO said urgent support is needed to immediately fill the alarming and
widening gap between increasing health needs and available health service
provision in communities hosting this acute increase in numbers of IDPs.
"A common thread running through my discussions with the displaced was that
they all want to go home as soon as possible. But they need to be sure that they
will be safe when they go back, and most importantly that they will not have to
leave their homes again," said UN humanitarian chief John Holmes during a visit
to NWFP's Peshawar, Mardan and Swabi on Wednesday.
DRONE STRIKE NEVER ENDS
Also on Wednesday, two separate drone attacks killed 48 militants in
Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal agency bordering Afghanistan. This was the
fifth suspected U.S. drone strike in South Waziristan in less than one month.
The United States has intensified drone attacks on the tribal regions
despite Pakistan's protest at a time when the security forces are engaged in
major offensive against Pakistan Taliban leader Baitullah Mahsud in South
Waziristan. Pakistani officials said the drone strikes have killed more than 400
people in about 50 attacks since August 2008.
Pakistani army spokesman said Wednesday that the government's policy on
drone attacks was very clear. He said these attacks were a clear violation of
Pakistan's sovereignty. "We reserve the right to retaliate and will do it when
we deem it appropriate," he remarked.
Abbas said the U.S. does not have the right to target criminals inside
Pakistan and should share credible intelligence with Pakistan.
Islamabad has been criticizing the U.S. attacks in the tribal areas along
the Afghan borders, saying the attacks were hampering its efforts to curb
militancy and were counter-productive in the war against terrorism.
However, Washington believes these attacks have proved effective and would
be continued, which makes Pakistan's media and analysts wonder when the restless
strike will end.
Special Report: Pakistani