05/09/2009, 00.00
PAKISTAN

Islamabad, final offensive against the Taliban. One million civilians flee

by Qaiser Felix
The provincial government and United Nations announce a humanitarian emergency in Swat Valley. The death toll from the clashes is 170 fundamentalists and 10 soldiers. The United States approves an aid package of 1.9 billion dollars.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) – 170 Taliban and 10 Pakistani soldiers have died in fighting in the Army’s final offensive against the Islamic fundamentalists in Swat Valley.  Another six people were killed in a missile attack launched by a US drone in the province of South Waziristan on the border with Afghanistan. Meanwhile a humanitarian tragedy is unfolding : provincial government officers and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees speak of “more than one million people” driven from their homes by the war.

Army spokesman General Maj Gen Athar Abbas confirmed the military had launched a “full-scale operation” in Swat, with 12,000 to 15,000 armed forces personnel taking part in the operation.  He said the operation will continue till “its logical conclusion” and complete” elimination of extremists from the area”.   Abbas said militants are trying to block the exodus of innocent civilians by preventing their departure through coercion, road blocks and making the people hostage; for this reason operations are being conducted with lot of caution.

The approximate number of terrorists in Swat is around 4000 and while the militants in Swat are predominantly Pakistani, they have been joined by Afghans, Tajiks and Uzbeks. He said drug money coming from Afghanistan was the biggest source of finances received by the militants who also generate funds by kidnapping for ransom.

Meanwhile the government of the North West Frontier Province (Nwfp) the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees speak of “more than one million people” driven from their homes by the war. Wajid Ali Khan, NWFP Environment Minister, has launched an appeal to the International community for “food and basic goods for the refugees”.  The UNHCR estimated that between 150 thousand and 200 thousand people had arrived in safe areas of the NWFP over the last few days with another 300 thousand on the move or about to move. Those fleeing the latest escalation of hostilities in Lower Dir, Buner and Swat join another 555,000 who have left their homes in Fata and the NWFP since August last year.

Finally the US government has approved 1.9 billion dollars for Pakistan, 591 million above the request.  In the past week Washington had put pressure on both Pakistan and Afghanistan, putting copious amounts of funding on the balance, in return for concrete measures against the Taliban.  The money is needed to support local agriculture and guarantee food to the population as well as improve internal security and education.

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