Islamabad (AsiaNews) – Almost one hundred dead, thousands in flight, warplanes and helicopters are pounding the Taliban resistance. It’s all out war between the Islamic extremists and the Pakistani army in the Swat Valley, Northern Pakistan, where a humanitarian tragedy is unfolding at devastating speed.
At least 69 Taliban have been killed in army air raids, as the military advances on securing positions in Mingora and Buner, in Swat. It’s the first “planned operation” by the army since the end of the peace deal between the fundamentalists and the government of the North West Frontier Province (Nwfp), which saw the legalising of Sharia law.
A son of radical cleric Sufi Mohammad spiritual leader of the Tahrik-e-Nifaz Shariat Muhammadi, (Tnsm), was killed when an artillery shell hit his house in the neighbouring Dir district, his son in law wounded. Army sources report four soldiers died in the attack, six were injured. There has been no confirmation so far that 30 civilians also died in the attack.
The recent flare-up in violence in the once renowned tourist destination has forced an estimated 40 thousand to flee Swat. Over 90% of the territory is “under Taliban control” according to Muslim Khan, spokesman for the extremist movement Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. He confirms that the pact with the government is broken and accuses the army of being responsible.
Meanwhile a humanitarian tragedy is unfolding in Swat: local government sources confirm that “up to 800 thousand out of a total 1.6 million people could seek to abandon the valley” because of the violence. In recent weeks the Taliban have carried out summary executions against adultery, public lashings, banned women from appearing in public and closed all girls’ schools and organisations. They have also stepped up their campaign of persecution of all religious minorities, including Christians.
Volunteers from the International Committee of the Red Cross Red Crescent are being mobilized to bring aid to over 120 thousand refugees, affected by the war and in need of help, food and medicines. In Peswhar, the hospitals are “strengthening internal resources” to help “up to 100 wounded at a time”, says Benno Kochner, head of aid operation sin NWFP. Pascal Cuttat, head of ICRC in Islamabad, has invited both sides to respect “International law” and to ”keep civilian casualties to a minimum”.
Yesterday in Washington President Barack Obama, met his Pakistani and Afghan counterparts, Asif Ali Zardari and Hamid Karzai. Obama stressed that he “appreciated the seriousness” with which the two leaders are facing “the Taliban threat”. He added that the governments need to collaborate in the fight against fundamentalism to “stop them” threatening local people and Americans.