04/25/2014, 00.00
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Air strikes against Taliban strongholds in Pakistan: 37 dead and 18 injured

First military operation against the TTP since March cease-fire. Army flexes its muscle and strikes a blow to government peace efforts. Strike targeted a cell responsible for the attacks in Peshawar. The Taliban announces retaliation and revenge.

Islamabad ( AsiaNews / Agencies) - The Pakistani air force has launched a series of attacks in the tribal district of Khyber, bordering Afghanistan , north- west of the country, putting a sudden end to the ceasefire between Islamabad and the Taliban. Military sources report 37 Islamist fighters died and at least 18 were injured in yesterday's operations. At the moment there are no possible independent reports on the number and identity of the victims, because press is not allowed to enter the area. Yesterday's air raids are the first military operation against the Tehrik- e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) , the declaration of ceasefire in early March.

Analysts and policy experts note that the army's move is a major blow to peace efforts - however uncertain - promoted by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. A senior army officer, speaking anonymously, says the strikes targeted a militant cell , responsible for the attack in Peshawar on April 21 that caused the deaths of five policemen. This would be the same group responsible for the attack on 9 April at the vegetable market in the city, in which 22 people died.

The Pakistani Taliban have already announced retaliation in response to the attack plane: "As soon as these dead are confirmed - announced a spokesperson - we will of course avenge them". However, they do not seem to willing to close the doors on the dialogue established in recent months with the executive. On April 22, the two sides met in Islamabad, planning a new series of dialogue and a new period of truce to prevent further attacks.

The government launched peace talks with the Taliban in January, followed by the presentation last month of the first Code of Conduct on national security. Neither initiative stopped the spiral of Islamic extremist violence that has bloodied the country for some time now. If, on the one hand, the TTP has vowed to respect the cease- fire, on the other, Taliban militia groups have attacked institutions, police stations and military targets on several occasions. In response, the army has carried out a series of raids in the tribal areas against Islamist strongholds.

The truce between the government and Taliban expired on April 16 , but the Islamists have confirmed their intention to continue negotiations. Moreover, in the context of the talks, the Taliban demand the release of hundreds of prisoners, the army's withdrawal from the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and the introduction of Islamic law (sharia).

With a population of more than 180 million people (97 per cent Muslim), Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world, the second largest Muslim nation after Indonesia. About 80 per cent of Muslims are Sunni, whilst Shias are 20 per cent. Hindus are 1.85 per cent, followed by Christians (1.6 per cent) and Sikhs (0.04 per cent). Violence against ethnic and religious minorities is commonplace across the country, with Shia Muslims and Christians as the main target, with things getting worse.


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