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Central & South Asia
Pakistan's Swat exodus continues
Thousands more flee despite government's claim that it is close to routing Taliban.
Last Modified: 01 Jun 2009 10:13 GMT

The military says it should wrap up its
offensive in two weeks [AFP]

Pakistan's military has said it expects to wrap up its offensive against Taliban fighters in the country's northwestern Swat valley within weeks or even days.

But that confidence does not seem to be shared by the people of Swat, who, despite the assurance of the military that the main city of Mingora was now safe, continue to leave by the thousands.

More than two million people have already fled their homes during the month-long offensive.

Major-General Athar Abbas, Pakistan's military spokesman, told Al Jazeera on Sunday that the operation could be over in just two weeks.

"The main valley is likely to be completed, let's say, in two weeks' time," Abbas said by phone from Rawalpindi.

Conflicting comments

Abbas was responding to comments earlier by Syed Athar Ali, Pakistan's secretary of defence, who suggested the Taliban would be pushed out of Swat in just a few days.

In depth


Videos:
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 Swat's fleeing Sikhs
 Inside war-torn Mingora city

Pictures:
 
Refuge for Swat's Sikhs
 Lahore bombing

 Diary: Imran Khan
 Riz Khan: Obama's 'AfPak' strategy
 Riz Khan: The battle for the soul of Pakistan
 Interview: Asif Ali Zardari
 Q&A: The struggle for Swat
 Your views: Crisis in Swat

Focus:
 The fight for northwest Pakistan
Talking to the Taliban
Pakistan's war
 Witness: Pakistan in crisis

"Only five to 10 per cent of the job is remaining and hopefully within two to three days, the pockets of resistance will be cleared," Ali was quoted as saying.

Ali, who made his comments at a defence conference in Singapore, is Pakistan's third highest ranking defence official.

But Pakistan's military moved quickly to play down his comments.

"I'm sure this official must be referring to Mingora city rather than the Swat valley because Swat will take more time," Abbas told Al Jazeera.

Analysts had also questioned the defence secretary's statement.
 
"What he is trying to say is that, as far as the battle is concerned, it's going to be over very soon," Talat Masood, a defence analyst and retired general from the Pakistan army, told Al Jazeera.

"But in such like insurgencies, it's not just winning the battle. As you regain territory, you have to make sure that the administrative structures are set up."

The debate over how long it will take Pakistan to re-take the Swat valley comes a day after the military said it had regained full control of Mingora, the valley's main city.

Imran Khan, Al Jazeera's correspondent reporting from Islamabad, the capital, said the defence secretary's assessment of victory in two to three days was "an optimistic statement".

"It depends in part on what your indicator is - whether you think it is routing the Taliban that means victory or whether it's repatriating 3.4 million refugees and giving them back their homes and their land," he said.

About 2.4 million people have fled in the wake of the military's campaign against the Taliban, joining people displaced by earlier fighting.

Seeking food

Al Jazeera footage indicates thousands are continuing to flee the Swat
Taking advantage of a lull in fighting and a lifting of a military-imposed curfew on Sunday, residents of Mingora came out to seek food in the few shops that were open.

The Swat offensive has earned Western praise, as troops have retaken large swaths of the region from the Taliban, but some residents have expressed anger at what they say is the high civilian toll and massive destruction from the army offensive.

Around 300,000 people lived in Mingora until the Taliban occupied the town in early May when the army first launched an offensive in Swat and only about 20,000 are estimated to remain.

Also on Sunday, there were reports that at least 15 fighters and up to three soldiers were killed in clashes in South Waziristan, in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province.

Fighting there has intensified in recent days amid the offensive in the nearby Swat and there is an expectation that the military will turn its focus to the area, which borders Afghanistan, once its Swat operation is over.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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