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The Pakistan Army intensified its operation Tuesday against militants in the Lower Dir district in the country's northwest. The operation, which began on Sunday, has already claimed the lives of 50 militants and 13 security forces. In response, the Pakistani Taliban have suspended their talks with the government.
Religious political parties have widely condemned the operation, pointing out that it violates a peace-for-sharia (Islamic law) deal that the government recently struck with militants, and which was subsequently approved by the Pakistani Parliament. But the international community is encouraged by the government and Army's decisive response to Taliban presence in Dir. During his visit to Islamabad on Monday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown hailed the operation and offered Pakistan continued support in its fight against terrorism.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan government on Tuesday announced that the military operation would not end with Dir and would extend into Buner and other neighboring regions if Taliban militants did not withdraw from the area.
The main military focus on Tuesday was on the Maidan region of Lower Dir. The BBC's M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says there is a communications blackout in the area.
Neither mobile phones nor landlines are working, and there is a power cut, which means people trapped in the area have no access to television news....
Reports quoting military officials said security forces had secured all the major target areas and that militant hideouts on the hills separating Dir from Swat were now being targeted.
However, our correspondent says witnesses suggest the Taleban are fanning out across the area, possibly to more difficult valleys in Upper Dir where they already have hideouts and, according to local observers, more public sympathy than in Lower Dir.
On Monday, the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat Mohammadi (TNSM), the Sufi Mohammad-led group that has been mediating between the Taliban and the Pakistani government, announced a suspension of talks with the provincial government, reports Dawn, a leading Pakistani newspaper.
A spokesman for Sufi Mohammad said there would be no further dialogue with the government until it stopped its operation.
'We are suspending talks with the government until the military operation in Dir is halted,' said Ameer Izzat, a spokesman for Sufi Mohammad.
'Our council of leaders met on Sunday night and decided to suspend peace negotiations with the government in North West Frontier Province,' said Ameer Izzat.
Religious political parties in the Northwest Frontier Province have also spoken out against the Dir operation, reports The Nation, an English-language Pakistani daily. The leader of the Jammat-e-Islami party in Rawalpindi – Islamabad's twin city – described the operation as a "violation of peace accord."
"It seems that the federal government has launched the fresh operation under the mounting pressure of US, which is remorseful," [City Amir Jammat-e-Islami Raja Abdul Waheed Advocate] added….
He also accused President Asif Ali Zardari [of consenting] to the military operation "just to make Americans happy before his departure for his scheduled visit to US."
The international community, however, is hailing the Dir operation, reports the Pakistani English-language daily, The News.
[British Prime Minister] Gordon Brown praised the action of the Pakistan's armed forces in Dir to flush out the Taliban from there. "The Pakistan Army and the government are already taking strong actions against the Taliban leadership."
Around 30,000 people in northwest Pakistan have been displaced by a military offensive to flush out Taliban militants, a provincial minister said Tuesday.
"Up to 30,000 people have left Maidan in Lower Dir district over the past few days, we are making arrangements for them in Peshawar, Nowshera and Timargarah districts," Mian Iftikhar Hussain told a news conference.
An editorial in Dawn complains that the Dir operation is a case of too little, too late.
Welcome as it is, the operation in Dir may also strengthen the impression that the military cracks down hard only when its own are attacked. Taliban violence against civilians is largely ignored for some reason. The army chief said the other day that the military would drive back the Taliban if they made any further inroads. Why just 'drive back'? These people are merciless and have no qualms about indulging in savagery.
In an interview with the Pakistani blog CHUP (Changing Up Pakistan), security expert Khalid Aziz says the government should have paid more attention to the grievances of people in the tribal areas, where militants are based.
There are "always upset people in any society and if they have grievances, they act as a tool for the militants who come and organize communities around discontent.... We have been too reliant on the use of force and that has led to a lot of collateral deaths, which has again aggravated and increased the grievances."
While pounding continued in Dir, Interior Minister Rehman Malik on Tuesday warned that the military offensive could extend to Buner, a neighboring area that lies only 60 miles northwest of Islamabad, reports The Washington Post.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik said around 450 Taliban were reported to have sneaked into Buner on Monday.
"I warn them to vacate the area. We are not going to spare them," he told reporters.
According to The News, the military has been preparing for a military offensive in Buner and action against militants in that area is imminent.
The army is gearing up for launching a full-scale military operation in the strategically located Buner district to defeat the militants and secure control of the area to block their possible advances to other areas, particularly Hazara, official sources told The News on Monday.
Official sources said that Frontier Corps and army troops would take part in the operation. For the purpose, they added, two brigade army troops were arriving in the troubled district. "The operation could be started in the next few days," the sources said, avoiding giving an exact date for launching action.