Pakistani troops seized control of a town just outside Peshawar yesterday after a one-day shelling offensive cleared militants who were threatening the city.
The move made a break with the new coalition government's policy of pursuing peace deals with the Taliban and withdrawing troops. In response, Baitullah Mehsud, the Pakistani Taliban commander allegedly behind scores of suicide bombings across the country last year, has threatened more violence as far away as the provinces of Punjab and Sindh.
The Frontier Corps, a regional paramilitary force, smashed at least four militant centres in Bara, on the edge of the Khyber tribal region, under the control of Mangal Bagh, the leader of the militant group Lashkar-i-Islam. A propaganda radio station was knocked out and "torture cells" were discovered by troops. The government decided to act after a string of incidents triggered public anxiety about a push towards Peshawar, the capital of the north west frontier province and a strategic city suffused with history from the Raj, the Cold War and the rise of the Taliban.
Over recent weeks, a flurry of accounts emerged of kidnappings, intimidation of DVD shop owners and barbers, militant forays into Peshawar suburbs, and residents' alarm at the prospect of a Taliban takeover.