Pakistan Declares Curfew, Fighting With Militants Intensifies

30 July 2008

Fighting has erupted between Pakistani troops and a Taliban faction located in the Swat valley in the country's northwest. Pakistani forces reported killing at least 25 militants on Wednesday and imposed a curfew throughout the valley. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad.

Government officials signed a peace agreement in May with militants in Swat to try to end months of fighting that began in late 2007. The deal permitted the implementation of Islamic law in Swat in exchange for the removal of military forces.

But soon after it was signed, militants resumed burning schools and blowing up barbershops. Last week, Taliban fighters said the government had broken the peace agreement because of the continued presence of Pakistani soldiers and demanded the troops leave. On Tuesday, militants kidnapped at least 25 police officers after killing three government intelligence agents.

On Wednesday, the military retaliated, pursuing fighters with troops, armored vehicles and helicopter gunships.  

Iftikhar Hussain, the information minister for the Northwest Frontier Provincial government, says now there are no plans to meet militant demands to withdraw the military.
He says under the agreement we promised to withdraw troops after peace was established. But now there is no justification for pulling out the army.

Despite the fighting, both militants and local officials in the region say they have not abandoned the peace deal. But Syed Alla-ud-Din, who represents Swat in Pakistan's National Assembly, says there is little chance the region will return to normalcy soon. He also puts some blame for the faltering deal on the provincial government.

He says the provincial government rushed the negotiations and signed the final agreement in haste. He says there were some militants who were not included in the talks and that is why there have been repeated violations of the deal.

The lawmaker says the violence is severely affecting the livelihood of the many people in Swat whose businesses depend on a steady flow of tourists.  

Militants have in fact specifically targeted Swat's tourism industry, in particular the well-known ski resort called Malam Jabba. Last month, part of the hotel at the resort was burned by militants. This week, militants blew up the rest of the building.

"I would say that Malam Jabba was a jewel in the network of tourism in Paksitan. It was among the most favorite and frequented destination for tourists all over the world. I do not know what the militants have gained from destroying this facility," said Amman Ullah, the managing director of the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation.

Ullah vowed the government will rebuild the hotel