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Central & South Asia
Pakistan 'nears Swat victory'
Defence official and military give conflicting deadlines for anti-Taliban campaign.
Last Modified: 31 May 2009 11:45 GMT

Syed Athar Ali told delegates that Pakistan's offensive in Swat would be over in days [AFP]

Pakistan has said it expects its military offensive against Taliban fighters in the country's northwestern Swat valley to be complete in a matter of weeks.

Major-General Athar Abbas, Pakistan's military spokesman, told Al Jazeera on Sunday that the operation could be over in  just two weeks, in apparent contradiction to earlier comments by a government official.

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

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.

"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," he was quoted as saying.

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

Military rebuttal

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

In depth


 Video: Swat's fleeing Sikhs
 Pictures: Refuge for Swat's Sikhs
 Video: Inside the war zone in Mingora city

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 Diary: Imran Khan
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 Riz Khan: The battle for the soul of Pakistan
 Interview: Asif Ali Zardari
 Q&A: The struggle for Swat
 Your views: Crisis in Swat
 The fight for northwest Pakistan
Talking to the Taliban
Pakistan's war
 Witness: Pakistan in crisis

"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 its repatriating 3.4 million refugees and giving them back their homes and their land," he said.

Humanitarian crisis

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

There are no figures of civilian casualties, but some of the displaced have told of innocent relatives being killed.

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.

Also on Sunday, there were reports that at least 15 fighters and between two and 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 valley and there is an expectation that the military will turn its focus on the area, which borders Afghanistan, once its Swat operation is over.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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