By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
30 killed as fighting escalates in Pakistan valley
Pakistan Militant V 5537581
Pakistani police officers sit in a bunker at a check post in Kabal, a troubled area of Swat valley in northern Pakistan on Wednesday, July 30, 2008. Pakistan imposed a round-the-clock curfew in the restive mountain valley in the northwest on Wednesday as the army claimed more than 20 militants died in clashes with security forces. - photo by Associated Press
    PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Pakistani troops battled Islamic militants in a valley near the Afghan border Wednesday, killing 25 insurgents and losing five soldiers as escalating combat threatened the new government’s policy of offering peace to pro-Taliban groups.
    Authorities said security forces also chased off another band of extremists from a town elsewhere in the Swat Valley, a day after militants captured at least 25 police officers and paramilitary troops and clashes killed two soldiers and two militants.
    The military, meanwhile, rejected new claims that Pakistan’s main intelligence service has ties with Islamic hard-liners allied with the Taliban and al-Qaida.
    Under U.S. pressure to crack down on militant sanctuaries along the border, Pakistan’s 4-month-old government has sought to reach peace deals with fundamentalist Islamic groups in the northwestern tribal areas but increasing violence is raising questions about that approach.
    Wednesday’s clash in Swat began when militants attacked a security post about 12 miles from Mingora, the valley’s main town, the army spokesman, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, said. He said troops repelled the attack, killing 25 militants and wounding many more, while five soldiers, including two officers, also died.
    Another group of about 70 militants tried to seize the market area of the town of Matta, but fled when reinforcements reached the police station, Abbas said.
    ‘‘The situation in Swat is that curfew has been imposed and security forces have been given orders to take strict action wherever militants or miscreants are involved in such actions,’’ he said.
    It was not possible to independently confirm the casualty toll because the army refused to let journalists travel to the area.
    An aide to Muslim cleric Mullah Fazlullah, Swat’s main militant leader, disputed the army’s version. Muslim Khan told The Associated Press that only five pro-Taliban militants died in the battle and claimed the insurgents killed more than 30 soldiers.
    ‘‘The morale of our Taliban is high and security forces are retreating in several areas,’’ Khan said.
    An around-the-clock curfew was imposed in the Swat Valley after Tuesday’s fighting.
    Civilians scurried to buy food Wednesday when the curfew was lifted for an hour during the afternoon. Some people headed to safer areas.
    Qazi Shaukat, a 44-year-old shopkeeper in Mingora, said the escalation in violence had killed his business and made life hard for his family.
    ‘‘We are thinking about leaving this place permanently. But what can I do? My children go to school and college here. How would I get them admitted to some other place?’’ he said.
    Followers of Fazlullah, who rallies support using a pirate FM radio station, seized parts of the valley last year before an army offensive drove them back.
    The cleric struck a peace deal with the provincial government in May that provided for the release of prisoners and concessions on militants’ demands for the use of Islamic law, but the two sides have traded accusations that the other is violating the terms.
    Army and government officials refused to comment Wednesday on whether the Swat agreement was dead, and Fazlullah’s spokesman stopped short of disowning it.
    ‘‘If the government doesn’t announce a formal end to this deal, neither will we,’’ Khan said.
    Ikram Sehgal, a Pakistani defense analyst, said the flare-up bore out warnings that militants in Swat entered into the cease-fire deal only to buy time to regroup.
    He predicted peace negotiations in all the tribal areas along the Afghan frontier would quickly break down, partly because of the growing links between militant groups.
    While the government’s approach has reduced the number of suicide attacks in Pakistan, NATO complains that the talks and truces have allowed militant groups to step up attacks in Afghanistan.
    Pakistan also faces accusations — most vocally from the Afghan government — that its Inter-Services Intelligence agency continues to support Taliban militants even though the previous military government of President Pervez Musharraf allied with Washington after the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S.
    A U.S. counterterrorism official in Washington said Wednesday that the Bush administration suspects rogue elements in the ISI are helping militants stage attacks in Afghanistan from strongholds in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
    The official, who insisted on anonymity because it was sensitive matter involving a critical U.S. ally, outlined the U.S. suspicions while confirming a New York Times report that a top CIA official confronted Pakistani officials with evidence that ISI agents have ties with a network led by Jalaluddin Haqqani, a key figure in the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan.
    Abbas confirmed that Stephen R. Kappes, the CIA’s deputy director, had accompanied Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in meetings with Pakistani generals this month.
    Abbas said he did not know if the CIA official presented any information on alleged links between the ISI and militants. But he insisted such allegations are ‘‘unfounded and baseless.’’
    ‘‘ISI has contributed the maximum in fighting the war on terror for the coalition, particularly for the United States,’’ Abbas said.
    State Department spokesman Sean McCormack declined to comment specifically on the story. He said there was ‘‘every indication’’ Pakistan’s government is committed to confronting extremists.
    Associated Press writers Sadaqat Jan, Asif Shahzad and Stephen Graham in Islamabad and Pamela Hess in Washington contributed to this report.

Sign up for the Herald's free e-newsletter