Pakistani Taliban to avoid combat in key Swat town
The Taliban urged civilians to return to the main town in Pakistan's Swat Valley on Monday, saying they won't trigger battles that could harm innocent bystanders or destroy public property.
"I would like to appeal to the people of Mingora to get back to their homes and start their routine life as we will not fire even a single shot," said Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan on Monday.
The declaration stopped short of declaring a ceasefire.
"Our aides will remain there in Mingora but we will not attack, we will not fire shots," he told The Associated Press.
But Pakistani army officials said the statement showed the insurgents were "staring defeat in the face."
The army has already ruled out halting its month-old operation in the valley. The operation in the urban centre will also continue to go as planned, said army spokesman Maj.-Gen. Athar Abbas.
The military entered the city where militants are believed to be hiding on Saturday.
A resident on the outskirts of the city said 3,000 people were stranded in his neighbourhood and were suffering.
"We do not have anything to eat. We do not have water," said Liaqat Ali. "We do not have medicines. We do not have any doctor or any hospitals to go to."
Fighting intensified last month after a peace deal between the regional government and hardline cleric Sufi Muhammad failed to take hold, and a military operation was launched to expel the Taliban from their stronghold in the Swat.
Washington has pressed Islamabad to crack down on al-Qaeda and Taliban strongholds along the Afghan frontier, saying the militants threaten not only U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, but also Pakistan's existence.
Capturing Mingora, a city of about 375,000, is critical to government efforts to regain the valley in the north of Pakistan and prevent it from being a safe haven for insurgents.
Army officials said eight major intersections in Mingora have been secured.
The Malam Jabba ski resort, which was being used by the Taliban as a training centre and logistics base, has also been taken over, the military said.
'This is a long war'
Elsewhere in the northwest, security forces attacked militant hide-outs in the South Waziristan tribal region after the insurgents lobbed rockets on military camps, intelligence officials said.
The military says about 1,100 suspected insurgents have died so far in the offensive. It has not given any tally of civilian deaths, and it's unclear how it is separating non-combatants killed from militants killed.
Four suspected militants were killed on Monday and eight were arrested, officials said. Six Pakistani security forces personnel were also wounded.
Khan said the militants will continue to fight until an Islamic system is enforced.
"This is a long war and we will fight it strategically," he said.
Close to 1.9 million people have fled the valley and surrounding districts but up to 20,000 are believed to still be in Mingora.
Most of the refugees are staying with families or friends but more than 160,000 are in relief camps just south of the battle zone.
Pakistan will need at least $1 billion to reconstruct damaged areas and help the displaced resettle once the fighting ends, federal Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said.
"To send them back home, we have started initial satellite surveys for the rehabilitation of their homes, business and cultivatable lands," he said.
With files from The Associated Press