Pakistan Army says militants will not be allowed to dictate terms

April 24, 2009

Is the Pakistan army getting ready to act against the Taliban militants who have made the deepest advance yet into the country, seizing control of Buner district, 100 km (60 miles) from Islamabad, after taking over Swat region?

The militants began withdrawing on Friday just as quietly as they moved into the district, and it wasn’t clear what had led to the sudden withdrawal.

It came just as Pakistan army chief General Ashfaq Kayani issued a statement saying the army “will not allow the militants to dictate terms to the government or impose their way of life on the civil society of Pakistan.”

It must be one of the strongest statements yet from the army chief since the government made a peace deal with the Islamists in the Swat valley and comes on top of some rather menacing  noises from Washington.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Pakistan posed a mortal threat to the world by abdicating  to militants, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates said relations could be affected.

A small force of less than 300 paramilitary soldiers was sent to Buner on Thursday after the Taliban advance triggered global alarm. The poorly-equipped force was repulsed, and the question obviously arose as to why the army was not going in.

It is a question that has cropped up each time the militants have acted with impunity. It came up when their threats were rewarded with a peace deal in Swat deal and again when a teenage girl was flogged in public.

Kayani said a pause in operations was meant to give conciliatory forces a chance and shouldn’t be misconstrued as a concession to militants.

Is the Pakistan army readying for an offensive? U.S. officials remain sceptical and the New York Times quotes a defense department official as saying troops from the poorly trained constabulary force were sent to Buner on Thursday because Pakistan army troops were not available. He also said the generals were reluctant to pull reinforcements off the border with India.

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