Islamabad (AsiaNews) – The Pakistani army has begun closing in on the Taliban in the Swat Valley: Army helicopters dropped commandos into the remote Piochar area in the upper reaches of the valley. Officials identified it as the rear-base of an estimated 4,000 Taliban militants entrenched in Swat's main towns. It is seen as possible hiding place of Swat Taliban chief Maulana Fazlullah. A military spokesman declined to give details of the Piochar assault, but a senior government official expressed optimism that the battle for Swat might prove short.
Despite the military crackdown Taliban attacks continue: yesterday a suicide car bomber killed 10 people in an attack on a checkpoint in Darra Adam Khel. A six-year-old girl was among those killed. Seven people were injured. May 10th last the shrine of renowned Pashto poet Ameer Hamza Shinwari, a girls’ college and a girls’ school were attacked. President Asif Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani condemned the attacks; Interior Minister Rehman Malik adds the security forces have killed 700 Taliban in four days of military operations. Twenty security personnel have also been killed, and nineteen others injured.
But government data on the numbers killed are countered by independent sources; all journalists have abandoned the area for security reasons. Yesterday the very last TV reporter, Shireenzada, abandoned the area, saying “working as a journalist is extremely difficult in the present situation”. Twenty-two journalists were registered with the Swat Press Club until the military action against the Taliban began on May 7. Now there are none. Swat Press Club President Salahuddin Khan confirmed “thousands of residents were still stranded” and could face shortages of food and drinking water in absence of electricity; the wounded and sick could not go to hospitals because of the curfew.
The escalation in conflict between the army and Taliban is also concerning the international community. Canada's Defence Minister Peter MacKay defined nuclear-armed Pakistan as ‘the most dangerous country in the world”. Mackay said the Taliban's recruiting and rearming in Pakistan is also harming NATO efforts to rout insurgents in neighbouring Afghanistan, where Canada has deployed some 2,800 troops. “As long as insurgency is allowed to foster and to incubate inside Pakistan - he said - the problem remains very real, very difficult”.
On the humanitarian side the drama of displaced people unfolds: North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) Information Minister Iftikhar Hussain, counts 700,000 displaced from Swat, Buner and Shangla. The local government is seeking at least 90 billion Rupees in aid (equal to 800 thousand euros); The United States said that it would provide 4.9 million dollars for families displaced by the current anti-Taliban offensive. Today the UN High Commissioner for Refugees began airlifting 120 tonnes of humanitarian aid and camp materials.