Border raids put Swat peace deal under pressure

The Taliban today dismissed a peace deal with the Pakistani government as “worthless”.

The reaction came after helicopters and artillery were used against terrorist hide-outs along both sides of the Afghan border.

A collapse of the pact would likely please Obama administration officials pressing Islamabad hard for more robust action against extremists threatening the stability of nuclear-armed Pakistan as well as neighbouring Afghanistan.

Pressure on the creaking peace deal grew yesterday when troops backed by artillery and helicopter gunships attacked Taliban forces in Lower Dir, part of the region covered by the pact.

Paramilitary troops killed 20 suspected militants today , and a total of 46 had died since the operation began. Troops were combing the Maidan area of the district.

Some terrified residents have fled the area clutching no more than their children and a few belongings.

A spokesman for the Taliban in their Swat Valley stronghold denounced the operation as a violation of the pact and said their fighters were on alert and waiting to see if a hard-line cleric who mediated the deal pronounced it dead.

“The agreements with the Pakistan government are worthless because Pakistani rulers are acting to please Americans,” Muslim Khan said.

A spokesman for Sufi Muhammad said the cleric was trapped in his home in the same area of Lower Dir attacked by troops on Friday and that his supporters have been unable to contact him.

“We will not hold any talks until the operation ends,” a spokesman said.

The government agreed in February to impose Islamic law in Swat and surrounding districts that make up Malakand Division if the Taliban there ended their violent campaign in the one-time tourist haven.

In recent days, Taliban forces from Swat began entering Buner, a neighbouring district just 60 miles from the Pakistani capital Islamabad, stirring international alarm.

Western officials have described the pact as a capitulation and urged Pakistani leaders to switch their security focus from traditional foe India to violent extremists inside their borders.

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