Pakistan to put offensive against militants on hold

Other News Materials 31 August 2008 12:50 (UTC +04:00)

Pakistani security forces fighting pro-Taliban militants in the violent north-western regions were scheduled at Sunday midnight to discontinue the offensives for a month, officials said.

The decision was announced overnight by the prime minister's security adviser, Rehman Malik, who said the reprieve came in veneration of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan starting early next week.

But Malik, who is believed to be the de facto interior minister, clarified that the military would not refrain from repulsing any attack on their personnel or installations, the dpa reported.

"Any kind of militant action will be responded to with full force," he said in the eastern city of Lahore at a seminar on cyber crimes.

Clashes between the security forces and the militants have intensified in recent months with the military fighting heavily armed and well-trained insurgents on three fronts close to the Afghan frontier.

In Bajaur tribal district, a known sanctuary for Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters, the government troops are using helicopter gunships and jet aircraft to pound militant positions since August 6.

According to official figures, more than 560 militants have been killed in the action, which also triggered a mass exodus from Bajaur to safer areas in the adjoining North-West Frontier Province.

Pakistan is under growing pressure to crack down on militants entrenched in its tribal areas as the Western allies in the US-led war against terror believe they regularly attack the international troops fighting Taliban in Afghanistan.

Analyst says political instability in the country, especially after the resignation of former president Pervez Musharraf last week, has hampered the efforts against militancy.

Pakistan is set to elect a new president on September 6.