The Pakistan army offensive against Taliban has so far killed more than 1000 militants in northwestern parts of the country abutting Afghanistan and will “continue till the last Taliban are flushed out,” said a top official.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik, speaking after visiting Pakistanis displaced by the battle, also did not rule out stretching military operation in the Swat valley and surrouding areas where al-Qaida and the Taliban have long thrived.
However, figures of Taliban death toll provided by Malik could not be verified.
“The operation is going in the right direction as we had planned,” Malik said in a televised news conference from Mardan, a district hosting several relief camps for some of the nearly 1 million people turned refugees. “People wish to go back. That is what the government also wants. I cannot give a time but we will try (to complete the operation) at the earliest.”
At same time, Malik denied allegations that Pakistan had lost control of any of its territory, though accounts from the 3,500-square mile (9,000-square kilometer) Swat Valley alone have long suggested that government authority in much of that region was nonexistent.
“I should say there are pockets in Swat, maybe 2 percent maximum, where the Taliban are creating problems,” he said. “This operation will continue till the last Taliban are flushed out.”
Of the nearly 1 million civilians who have evicted the conflict zone, about 100,000 are now staying in sweltering relief camps. The military has warned that some militants are trying to flee as well, some after shaving off their beards to blend in with refugees.
Army spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas said Saturday that 47 militants had been killed in the previous 24 hours and that one pocket of the valley near the town of Khwazakhela was safe enough for residents to return.
The army has been preparing to assail the Swat Valley’s main town, Mingora, where many of the estimated 4,000 Taliban fighters in the valley are believed to be holed up.
The military does not explain how it differentiates civilian from militant killings, and it has not released a civilian death toll, but witnesses have reported many innocent people have been wounded or killed.
Malik insisted the devastation would not last long.
“Instead of a terrorists’ hub, Swat will soon be a tourists’ hub like it used to be,” he said.