Pakistanis back assault on Taliban

Pakistani troop morale is high three weeks into the army’s assault against the Taliban.
The military has made significant gains in its campaign in South Waziristan so far – and across the country there seems consensus that the operation is the right option at the moment.
“Yes, we feel very confident and sure. Whatever is being done is right,” says Maj Faizan Ali, an army officer involved in anti-Taliban operations.
“I think the operation was long overdue.”
The military’s confidence is not without basis – despite a wave of militant attacks that has killed hundreds in recent weeks, most Pakistanis remain firmly behind the operation in South Waziristan.
But opinion remains divided over its timing and consequences.

‘Too much blood’
“The government is absolutely right to launch the operation,” says Ahmed Khan, a shopkeeper in Rawalpindi.
“Those people have too much blood on their hands. Our lives have been taken hostage – enough is enough.”
But not everybody is as confident about the way the authorities are handling the situation.
“The operation in South Waziristan is only going to exacerbate the problem,” says Sohaib Mateen, a business analyst in Karachi.
Mr Mateen closely follows the situation on the ground and believes the solution is not just a military one.
“Jihad [holy war] is not a tangible thing. It is an idea and needs to be dealt with on an ideological level as well,” he says.
“Just killing the militants is not going to help. The militancy was confined to the tribal regions, but now it will spread to towns and cities.”
But he is in the minority, as most Pakistanis remain firmly behind military action.
Their main issue remains the disruption of everyday lives due to the rising level of violence.
“I don’t have a problem with the operation,” says Nazish Mohsin, a young mother of three in Lahore.
“The operation appeared to have been inevitable. If the army had not done it the Americans would have.
“My issue is with the authorities not being prepared to defend ordinary citizens. Most of all it’s my children’s education I am worried about.

“Every day my children ask whether they are going to school or not. Every second day the school shuts down.”
Mrs Mohsin’s concerns are shared by most parents and students, not just in Lahore but across the country.
“Nobody is coming to school these days,” says Zainab Azhar, 16, who studies at a military-run college in the capital, Islamabad.
“There is a lot of security. Only official cars are allowed inside. We have to walk a long way and metal detectors have been installed at the entrances.
“We are told not to talk to strangers or take anything from them.”
She says studies are greatly affected by school closures.
“Our teachers send us assignments on e-mail, but nobody takes them seriously. Nothing can replace school.”

Clinton vows to support Pakistan

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has pledged to “turn the page” on her country’s relationship with Pakistan.
Speaking during a three-day visit to the country, she also promised US support for Pakistan’s fight against Taliban militants.
Shortly after her arrival, a massive car bomb killed dozens of people in the north-western city of Peshawar.
Mrs Clinton said the countries should begin to move beyond co-operation on terrorism into development projects.
“This is a critical moment and the United States seeks to turn the page, to a new partnership, with not only the government, but the people of a democratic Pakistan,” Mrs Clinton told a news conference in Islamabad.
“We hope to build a strong relationship based on mutual respect and mutual shared responsibility,” she said.
“I am confident that if we listen to one another, we consult, we work closely together, we will succeed.”
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the two countries needed to “build a relationship based on mutual respect and a relationship based on shared objectives”.
He said his American counterpart’s visit was “well timed” as Pakistan “entered a critical phase in its fight against extremism and terrorism”.
“To visit Pakistan at this stage to express solidarity with the people of Pakistan is a loud and clear message from the government, the administration, and the people of the United States of America,” he said.

US concerns
Mrs Clinton commended the Pakistani army for its operations against the Taliban in the South Waziristan province, and offered US help to Pakistan in its “fight for peace and security”.
“We will give you the help that you need, in order to achieve your goal,” she said.
Mrs Clinton is expected to sign several civilian investment deals during her visit.
The US has concerns about the increasing numbers of militant attacks on the Pakistan authorities, and the security of its nuclear weapons.
This is Mrs Clinton’s fifth visit to the country, and her first as US secretary of state.
During her visit, Mrs Clinton will visit mosques and shrines, meet Pashtun elders and university students and hold a record number of media interviews with local journalists.
As she arrived in the country, she said she hoped her visit would reinforce the US commitment to the region.
“It is unfortunate that there are those who question our motives, perhaps are sceptical that we’re going to commit to a long-term relationship, and I want to try to clear the air on that,” she said.

US ‘interference’
The visit comes at a crucial time for Pakistan and for Washington’s relations with Islamabad.
The country is a key ally and its help is crucial to US core interests.
The Obama administration is currently debating how best to implement its strategy to defeat al-Qaeda and the Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Last week the US Senate passed a big defence spending bill which aims to ensure that military aid to Pakistan is used solely to fight America’s “war on terror”.
It sets tough new conditions which say that no resources given by the US to Pakistan may be used against India.
The bill also stipulates that US military hardware sent to Pakistan must be tracked to see where it ends up.
Correspondents say the bill is likely to fuel tensions over what Islamabad sees as US interference in its domestic affairs.
Earlier this month, President Barack Obama signed into law a $7.5bn aid package for Pakistan tripling non-military US aid to an annual outlay of $1.5bn for five years.
The aid money will not be directly handed over to Pakistan but will be spent on different development projects through the US embassy in Islamabad, Washington says.

Carnage as car bomb hits Peshawar

At least 91 people have been killed after a huge car bomb ripped through a busy market in Peshawar, Pakistan.
The attack, which injured at least 200 others, was the deadliest to hit Pakistan this year.
Similar attacks have killed hundreds of people in recent weeks, as the army carries out an operation against Taliban militants in South Waziristan.
The blast came as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began a visit to the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.
Mrs Clinton told a news conference the US was “standing shoulder to shoulder” with Pakistan in its fight against “brutal extremist groups”.

The Taliban have denied being behind this bombing, but the government blames them for a wave of attacks apparently launched in response to the army operation against their strongholds on the Afghan border.
The BBC’s Syed Shoaib Hasan in Islamabad says that few people will take the Taliban’s denial seriously and they remain the major suspects for the bombing – if only because few other groups would have a motive for carrying out such a devastating attack.
The blast tore through buildings in Peshawar’s Peepal Mandi market street, destroying several – including a mosque – and leaving others on fire.
The market mostly sells products for women, and most of the dead were women and children.
“There was a huge blast. There was smoke and dust everywhere. I saw people dying and screaming on the road,” eyewitness Mohammad Siddique told AFP news agency.
Crowds dug through rubble to rescue people.

‘We will not buckle’
Medical staff appealed for people in Peshawar to give blood.
Some complained that the authorities were not prepared to deal with the aftermath of such a large attack.
“There were a lot of wounded people. We tried to help them but there were no ambulances so we took the victims on rickshaws and other vehicles,” Muzamil Hussain told the Associated Press.
“There were no police. The police and government didn’t help us, the police even opened fire on us.”
Security has been stepped up across Pakistan, but the government still appears to be unable to stop the attacks, the BBC’s Mark Dummett in Islamabad says.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmoud Qureshi promised that the country’s resolve would not be shaken by “such heinous crimes”.
At a news conference in Islamabad with Mrs Clinton, he told potential militants: “We will not buckle, we will fight you. We will fight you because we want stability and peace in Pakistan.”

‘Brutal extremists’
Mrs Clinton is in Pakistan to discuss US concerns about the increasing numbers of militant attacks and the security of the country’s nuclear weapons.
She condemned the “vicious and brutal” attack in Peshawar and said the fight against the Taliban was “not Pakistan’s alone”.
“Pakistan is in the midst of an ongoing struggle against tenacious and brutal extremist groups who kill innocent people and terrorise communities,” she said.
“We commit to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Pakistani people in your fight for peace and security, we will give you the help that you need in order to achieve your goal.”
Last week, Pakistan launched an offensive in South Waziristan, which is considered to be the main sanctuary for Islamic militants outside Afghanistan.
Correspondents say the Peshawar blasts will come as a violent reminder for the US of the difficult task it is facing in the fight against the Taliban, both in Pakistan and across the border in Afghanistan.

Aid workers seek Pakistan access

The Red Cross says relief workers are being kept out of South Waziristan region, where the Pakistani army is mounting an anti-militant offensive.

At least 100,000 people have fled the fighting.

At least 100,000 people have fled the fighting.

A senior official said there was evidence that the level of civilian casualties there was rising sharply.
He added that aid workers faced “very heavy restrictions on access”, mainly because of the heavy fighting.
His comments come on a day that has seen at least 23 people killed in bomb attacks in northern Pakistan.
At least 16 wedding guests – most of them children – were killed when their minibus hit an explosive device in the tribal area of Mohmand, about 35km (22 miles) from the district capital, Ghalnai.
A suicide bomber killed seven other people near an air force base 60km south-west of the capital, Islamabad.
And in Peshawar, a car bombing wounded at least 15 people – the first attack in the city since the army began its offensive in nearby South Waziristan.
The International Committee of the Red Cross’s head of operations for South Asia, Jacques de Maio, said reports from people who had managed to flee South Waziristan – and other areas of northern Pakistan where the army was battling militants – suggested that the number of civilian casualties had surged.
“What we see now is a sharp and extremely worrying increase in the number of civilian casualties,” he told journalists.
“Aid must reach those who need it. We see effective and unobstructed medical services for the sick and wounded as imperative, followed by assistance to IDPs [internally displaced people] and host families.
“To achieve this… humanitarian access must expand and reach a meaningful level.”

Some aid agencies have been ordered not to assist the refugees, as there are fears the money or supplies might find its way back to the militants.

Some aid agencies have been ordered not to assist the refugees, as there are fears the money or supplies might find its way back to the militants.

The BBC’s M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says that aid workers – and journalists – are currently prohibited from entering South Waziristan.
He adds that the army would argue that it is still too dangerous, especially for foreign aid agencies that have been targeted by militants in the past.
Pakistan launched an offensive against the Taliban stronghold in the nearby region of South Waziristan last weekend.
The region is considered to be the main sanctuary for Islamic militants outside Afghanistan. It also has numerous training camps for suicide bombers.
Tens of thousands of civilians have fled the region since the offensive began, according to the army.
There are no details of the latest fighting, as journalists are not allowed into the conflict zone.
Security across Pakistan has been stepped up amid rising militant violence as the offensive continues.
Attacks in cities have killed nearly 200 people in October alone.

Pakistan schools closed

All schools and universities have been closed across Pakistan a day after suicide bombers attacked an Islamic university in the capital, Islamabad.

Four people died and at least 18 were wounded in the twin blasts at the International Islamic University.
The Taliban claimed the attack and said there would be more violence unless the army ended its offensive in the tribal areas of South Waziristan.
Meanwhile, at least four people died in more intense fighting in that region.
Pakistani troops are battling to gain control of the key Taliban-held town of Kotkai, but say they are meeting fierce resistance.

A Taliban spokesman said 40 soldiers had been killed in an attack on a security post near the town, but the army gave a much lower figure.
The army said it had killed 90 militants since beginning its offensive on Saturday.
Because of reporting restrictions, it is extremely hard to find out what is going on in South Waziristan.
The fighting has caused tens of thousands of civilians to flee the area.

‘Sense of loss’
Wednesday’s attack was the first since the army launched its offensive against the Taliban in South Waziristan.
The militants have threatened more such attacks if the army continues its offensive.

Following the attack, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that Pakistan was now in what he called a state of war.
The government has ordered the closure of schools, colleges and universities to prevent them from being targeted by suicide bombers.
Some students said they were scared to go to classes.
“It’s really a tragedy for us and there’s a real sense of loss with the acts of terrorism,” Islamabad student Shehzeen Anwar told the BBC.
“Students are terrified and they’re afraid to go out. Roads are almost empty and people are staying at home.”
Earlier, schools run by the armed forces and the government – and some public schools – closed for a week as a result of the South Waziristan operation.
The BBC’s M Ilyas Khan, in Islamabad, says the present closure is indefinite.
However, schools, colleges and universities may reopen next week if the security threat decreases, he says.
A wave of attacks on Pakistani cities has killed more than 180 people during the month of October alone.

Bombs at Islamabad University

At least two people have been killed in bomb explosions at a university campus in the Pakistani capital Islamabad, government officials say.
Police say the blasts at the Islamic International University were caused by suicide bombers.
The attack comes as the Pakistani army continues its offensive against militants in South Waziristan, in the country’s north-west.
Pakistan was hit by a wave of bombings in the days before the assault began.
“It was a bomb blast. It was inside the Islamic university building,” police official Mohammad Afzal told AFP.
“There was another one a few minutes later.”

Pakistan targets key Taliban town

Hundreds of people continueto arrive in Dera Ismail Khan to escape fighting.

Hundreds of people continue to arrive in Dera Ismail Khan to escape fighting.

Fierce fighting is taking place in South Waziristan as Pakistani troops battle to gain control of the important militant-held town of Kotkai.
The army said it had secured the heights around Kotkai, the home town of top Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud.
Up to 100,000 civilians have fled the conflict zone, according to the army.
The army says it has killed nearly 80 militants so far. The Taliban deny the claim. Journalists are denied access to the area and cannot verify the reports.
Soldiers are reported to have briefly taken control of Kotkai in the course of fighting overnight.
But on Tuesday morning the Taliban hit back, destroying army checkpoints and killing seven soldiers, local officials said.
The officials said four Taliban militants were also killed – a claim the Taliban deny. The militants say they have yet to lose a single fighter.
Kotkai is also the home of senior militant commander, Qari Hussain, the man reportedly responsible for training Pakistani Taliban suicide bombers.

Propaganda war
Fighting is in its fourth day across much of South Waziristan. Both sides are using heavy weapons to bombard each other’s positions, the BBC’s Syed Shoaib Hasan in the nearby town of Dera Ismail Khan said.

The army has put up checkpoints in Manzai in the west, Jandola in the east, Razmak in the north and Wana in the south-west.
The army and the Taliban are also engaged in a propaganda battle for the sympathies of the Mehsud tribe – about two-thirds of South Waziristan’s population are Mehsuds.
The military says it has dropped leaflets from helicopters urging Mehsud tribesmen to rise up against the militants and to support the government offensive.
But a statement issued by the Taliban to the BBC warned Mehsud tribesmen of retaliation if they supported the government.
“We also call on the Mehsud and their leaders not to support or speak in favour of the government. If any Mehsud tribesman helps the government or speaks in their favour, strict action will be taken against them,” Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq told the BBC.

Civilian exodus
The fighting in South Waziristan has caused tens of thousands of civilians to flee.
The flow of refugees was unabated on Tuesday and about 8,000-10,000 people were expected to register themselves as displaced, social welfare officials told the BBC.
But officials have warned of several difficulties in setting up camps for those displaced.
A shortage of registration forms meant that new arrivals were not being offered aid and the conservative social customs of the people pouring out of the region also presented difficulties in accommodating them, officials said.
About 10,000 people from Waziristan are also reported to have fled south to the neighbouring Pakistani province of Balochistan. Reports say that until now no aid agency had been aware of their arrival in the region.

100,000 flee fighting in Waziristan

Pakistan’s army is engaged in fierce fighting for a third consecutive day as it continues its drive against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in South Waziristan.
The army has set up five temporary bases in the mountainous region near the border with Afghanistan to try to seal off the Taliban’s main stronghold.
There is no clear word about casualties, with each side claiming the other has suffered heavy losses.
Up to 100,000 civilians have fled the conflict zone, an army spokesman said.
Residents in the remote area say dozens of people have died since the offensive began.
Reports from the region are sketchy as it is difficult and dangerous for foreign or Pakistani journalists to operate inside South Waziristan.
Meanwhile, US Central Command chief David Petraeus, who oversees the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, has arrived in Islamabad where he will hold talks with senior Pakistani military officials.
Separately, US Senator John Kerry is meeting Pakistani leaders in Islamabad.
He is expected to discuss America’s multibillion-dollar aid package for Pakistan, amid concerns by some officials in the country that it comes with unacceptable strings attached.

Clashes between security forces and the Taliban have continued throughout the night across the South Waziristan region, the BBC’s Syed Shoaib Hasan reports from neighbouring Dera Ismail Khan.
But the army has ceased its push into the militant heartland – the territory controlled by the Mehsud tribe – and started to consolidate itself on the periphery before pushing deeper in, our correspondent says.
Checkpoints and supply depots have been established in Sherawangai and Mandana in the south-west towards the Tiarza sub-division.
Security forces have used artillery to pound militant positions in Wana, Servakai, Manzai, Jandola and Razmak, in the north, south and east of the area of operations.
Fighter jets have also been deployed to attack the Taliban in Makeen, Nawazkot, Spinkamar and Khaisora.
The army has also taken control of the key Ingalmall mountain range, which marks the passage into Afghanistan.
This will play an important role in disrupting the militants’ supply lines and in ensuring more help does not arrive from Afghanistan, our correspondent adds.
According to reports, the Taliban have been using heavy weapons to fire back at the troops.
A Taliban spokesman said they had taken dozens of soldiers and not one of their men had been killed.

‘Getting nothing’
Meanwhile, hundreds of people from South Waziristan continue to arrive in Dera Ismail Khan to escape fighting.
“I decided to leave when my neighbour’s house was destroyed by jet fighters,” Rahim Dad Mehsud, a labourer from Tiarza, was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.
He said he had walked three days to get to Dera Ismail Khan with his 12 relatives.
The BBC’s Aleem Maqbool in Dera Ismail Khan says there is very little preparation for the displaced people.
“At least 20,000 people are registered here. They are not getting anything, some are being taken in by the extended families and relatives,” he says.
The federal government and the military have ordered the closure of many schools and colleges for a week in Islamabad and some other cities for security reasons.
The move comes amid fears that militants may try to take hostages to force the authorities to ease pressure on their positions in South Waziristan, correspondents say.
Security is tight across Pakistan and police in Islamabad have searched a number of religious seminaries and some nearby rural areas for militants.
According to reports, nearly a dozen suspects have been detained near the city’s main vegetable and fruit market.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik said in a statement that action would be taken against any foreign preachers, if found.
On Sunday, reports said Taliban militants, supported by Uzbek fighters linked to al-Qaeda, were engaged in street clashes with soldiers as the army tried to break the militants’ grip on South Waziristan.
Gen Abbas said the troops were encountering less resistance than expected but admitted they were progressing slowly because of the remote area’s rugged, mountainous terrain.
He told the BBC there were mines and IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in the area which required clearance.
The army has been massing troops near the militants’ stronghold for months – ever since the governor of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province announced a ground offensive in South Waziristan on 15 June.
Pakistan’s government has been under considerable pressure from the US to tackle militancy there.
North and South Waziristan form a lethal militant belt from where insurgents have launched attacks across north-west Pakistan as well as into parts of eastern Afghanistan.
South Waziristan is considered to be the first significant sanctuary for Islamic militants outside Afghanistan since the 11 September 2001 attacks in the US.