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Central & South Asia
Swat locals told to resist Taliban
Pakistan's military calls on fleeing citizens to stand up to fighters.
Last Modified: 10 May 2009 13:34 GMT

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footage of the Swat exodus
Pakistan's military has appealed for residents of the Swat valley to "declare war" on the Taliban, before an expected offensive on the area by government forces.

The military's call to action in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) came on Sunday, as hundreds of thousands of people fled Swat.

"The military is making a passionate and fervent appeal to the brave and patriotic citizens of Swat that they should stand up and declare a war against the miscreants who have undermined the peace and stability of the valley," the military statement, passed to Al Jazeera, said.

"The people should extend all their support in the drive against the miscreants in order to make this operation successful."

Earlier, the military temporarily lifted a curfew in Swat to allow residents to leave, but it was reimposed at 3pm local time (09:00 GMT).

At one point, the military extended the period of time it gave for residents to leave, but revised it back.

The changing deadline made it possible that some people could be caught in the fighting after the military issued a "shoot on sight" order for anyone found violating the curfew.

In all, about half a million people are expected to leave. They join more than 550,000 people displaced earlier from Swat and nearby areas because of fighting since August.

Exodus

"They're leaving in huge numbers," Al Jazeera's Kamal Hyder, reporting from Peshawar, the provincial capital, said.

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"They're taking what belongings they can, selling their cars for a pittance to get some money. Even respectable families who lived in big houses have become IDPs [internally displaced people] - refugees in their own land."

Chris Lockyear, the head of Doctors Without Borders' Pakistan operations, said that those displaced could need medical treatment.

"Hundreds of thousands of people who have moved out of their homes are now seeking shelter and water, and if they don't get these basic essentials, then their health is going to be seriously at risk," he told Al Jazeera.

"We know there are a number of casualties who desperately need treatment in a very short space of time. We would like to have the ability to evacuate them to a safe place and give them the medical treatment they need."

Civilian flight

While the roads out of Swat have been packed with refugees, the military has locked down roads leading in to the valley.

"The government wants to ensure that the Taliban cannot re-enforce their positions there," Hyder reported.

Helicopters and warplanes targeted Taliban hideouts in Mingora, Swat's main town, and other areas in the valley, Nasir Khan, a military spokesmen in the area, said.

In depth


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Pakistan's war

"It's a tough battle. They're operating in small groups. They don't fight a pitched battle, but we're closing in on them, squeezing them and have cut their supply lines," he said.

He offered no information on casualty figures, but a statement on the military's website said that between 180 to 200 fighters had been killed in the last 24 hours of operations by security forces.

In recent days, the military has battled the Taliban in the area, often imposing curfews without notice in order to do so.

But it lifted its curfew at midnight GMT on Saturday and ordered residents out, initially giving people seven hours to leave.

An all out assault on Taliban positions is expected once the residents have left.

"You can't put a time line on [an attack], but the movement of people [from the area] would clear the path for the military to bring in the boots on the ground," our correspondent said.

'War of survival'

Yousuf Raza Gilani, Pakistan's prime minister, has called the military's operations against local Taliban members a "war of the country's survival".

The deal, which had allowed for the enforcement of the sharia, or Islamic law, across the NWFP's Malakand division, which includes the Swat valley, had been criticised both at home and abroad.

Many of those fleeing Swat have
ended up in IDP camps
But while Washington has been enthusiastic about Pakistan's offensive on Taliban positions, the fighting has caused a humanitarian crisis in the NWFP - one that the local government has been unprepared to deal with.

Despite the huge influx of refugees to IDP camps in nearby Mardan, there has been little evidence of the local government's presence.

Many local government officials are thought to have gone into hiding since the collapse of a recent peace pact between the government and Taliban forces, fearing that they have become targets for the Taliban.

"The only people who have really responded to this crisis have been the international aid agencies and the local population - volunteering in the camps and opening their homes," our correspondent reported.

Sitara Ayaz, the minister for social welfare in the NWFP, said that local officials were doing all they could.

"We are supporting them," she said.

"We are providing them [with] the first basic necessities. Eighty per cent of these people are not in the camps - only 20 per cent are in the camps.

"In all the camps all the UN agencies they are there and the local government are there. Nobody is going on leave, all of the government people are in the field."

Some fear that the fighting may spread closer to the camps, with reports of Taliban fighters being seen in parts of Mardan.

Source:
Al Jazeera
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