Pakistan blows peace talks aside with new offensive on Taliban
Military changes tactics to launch mortar strikes on militants threatening to take control of Peshawar
Pakistan's military yesterday launched what it described as a major offensive against Taliban forces that were threatening to take control of the city of Peshawar.
In recent weeks, militants have been tightening their hold on villages and towns on the outskirts of the city, capital of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP). Truckloads of Taliban fighters armed with automatic weapons have been entering the city, threatening video store owners and others in a "moral crackdown". A number of residents have also been abducted for ransom.
Pakistan's new government had been seeking to broker peace with the militants – a tactic that has drawn criticism from the US and Nato forces in Afghanistan. But with the threat to Peshawar apparently growing, the authorities made the decision to push extra troops into the area and to launch a series of mortar strikes against suspected militant positions in the Khyber tribal region.
Tauseef Haider, a senior official with the Frontier Corps, said his forces had brought in reinforcements and heavy weapons to protect Peshawar against a possible counter-attack by militants. "Since the operation is going on in the tribal area, that is why we have to be extra cautious," he told the Associated Press. "We have increased our strength. We will not let any militant come this way."
Officials said the threat from the Pakistani Taliban had been growing steadily worse. Two weeks ago a group of militants from Khyber entered Peshawar and kidnapped 16 Christians, whom they later released.
"The situation is such that the Taliban are all around Peshawar. They are on our doorstep," said Mahmood Shah, a former security chief in the tribal regions. "The situation is like water flowing into a field, and until you have some obstruction to stop it, you will drown. We are drowning."
The threat to Peshawar highlights the Taliban's steady growth in Pakistan. Many believe the movement is exploiting a power vacuum in Islamabad, where there has been constant infighting since February's election produced a coalition government led by the Pakistan People's Party.
Pakistan's tribal areas have fallen ever further into the grip of the Taliban and al-Qa'ida, but for one of the country's major cities to do so would cause an international alarm. The US argues that a major supply route for its troops in Afghanistan through the Khyber Pass would be threatened and, with its allies, has opposed the new government's efforts to negotiate ceasefires with the militants.
Any such initiative appeared last night to be in tatters. Baitullah Mehsud, a leader of the Pakistan Taliban and one of the targets of the Pakistan army's operation, said he was abandoning negotiations. "The talks will remain suspended until the government stops talking about operations and attacks against us," he told Reuters by satellite phone.
Another likely target of the military operation was the so-called Vice and Virtue Movement of militant leader Haji Namdar. The group is blamed for attacks on Western troops in Afghanistan.
- 1 Finland schools: Subjects scrapped and replaced with 'topics' as country reforms its education system
- 2 The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
- 3 Watch: Man takes selfie every mile of 2,600 mile hike, creates amazing timelapse video
- 4 The day I starred in Only Fools and Horses
- 5 Scientists have discovered a simple way to cook rice that dramatically cuts the calories
Germanwings plane crash: Co-pilot Andreas Lubitz 'sought treatment for eyesight problems'
Saudi Arabia says it won't rule out building nuclear weapons
The battle for the Middle East's future begins in Yemen as Saudi Arabia jumps into the abyss
#FreeTheNipple: Women in Iceland bare breasts in solidarity with trolled student
Yemen crisis: Saudi Arabia ready for long campaign against Houthi rebels across the border
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
Revealed: Putin's army of pro-Kremlin bloggers
Germanwings plane crash: Co-pilot Andreas Lubitz wanted to 'do something people would remember him for'
The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...
£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...
£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...