News from Pakistan: 22,000 flee Pakistan offensive: UN
- 22,000 flee Pakistan offensive: UN
PESHAWAR, Pakistan — About 22,000 Pakistani civilians have fled a fresh
military push against Taliban fighters in the lawless tribal area on the Afghan border, officials said Thursday.
The offensive is concentrated in Mohmand district, part of the semi-autonomous region that Washington considers a global nexus of Al-Qaeda and Taliban who plot attacks in the West and destabilise Afghanistan.
"Over the last few days about 22,000 people have been registered in the two camps that UNHCR has helped to set up," UN Refugee Agency spokeswoman Ariane Rummery told AFP.
Amjad Ali, the top administrative official in Ghalanai, the main town of Mohmand, confirmed the number.
"We are providing them with food, non-food items and tents," he told AFP.
Ali said the ground and air offensive is targeting local Taliban and other fighters who have fled operations elsewhere in the semi-autonomous tribal belt, including the premier fortress of Waziristan.
"We have sealed the border with Afghanistan and also sent in troop reinforcements," he said.
An official in Pakistan's Frontier Corps paramilitary said more than 70 militants had been killed over five days of fighting and confirmed that thousands of people have been displaced.
Mian Iftikhar Hussain, information minister in northwestern province Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, attributed a recent spike in bomb attacks on civilians to the fresh operation.
"Whenever action is taken in the tribal areas, militants react here in the settled areas. Fresh bomb blasts are reaction of the Mohmand operation," he told AFP in the provincial capital Peshawar.
Pakistan suffers near-daily attacks blamed on Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants that have killed more than 4,000 people since government troops evicted Islamists from an Islamabad mosque in a deadly July 2007 siege.
The military has claimed victory in a number of battles against militants, perhaps most notably in 2009 in the Taliban's former headquarters of South Waziristan, but militant attacks have continued.
Washington has said that eliminating militant sanctuaries in the tribal belt, particularly North Waziristan, is vital to winning the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan and defeating Al-Qaeda
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Speaking up for minorities came easy to Salmaan Taseer, the Governor of Punjab who was brutally assassinated by his own bodyguard last Tuesday. Half a century before he took up the cause of Aasia Noreen, a poor Christian woman facing a death sentence for blasphemy that she never committed, Taseer and his childhood friends resolved to protest the death sentence of Jimmy Wilson, a poor African-American.
"It was outrageous that he was going to be hanged for stealing a mere dollar," recalls co-conspirator Tariq Ali, the left-wing writer. Along with a third friend, the teenage subversives mounted a "Free Jimmy Wilson" demonstration to the US Consulate General in Lahore. But halfway there, Ali realised how few of them there were. Shrewdly, Taseer devised a fix. Somehow he swiftly gathered an excitable crowd of street urchins to make up the numbers. "They didn't even know what they were protesting about," says Ali, guffawing at the memory.
The move was typical Taseer. Quick-thinking was a trait that later served him well in business. A passion for loud, defiant political protest saw him take up unpopular causes. And develop a keen sense of humour. In a country where prospects for mobility remain slim, he was a rare example of someone who had risen from a modest background to become one of its most successful businessmen, and later, one of its most notable politicians.
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A burqa-clad female suicide bomber in Pakistan lobbed hand grenades, then detonated her explosive belt among a crowd at an aid center Saturday, killing at least 45 people in militants' latest strike against the authorities' control over the key tribal region bordering Afghanistan.
Police believed it was the first time Islamic militants have sent a woman to carry out a suicide attack in Pakistan, where the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan against al-Qa'ida and the Taliban insurgents continues to spill over despite Islamabad's repeated claims of victory on its side of the porous border.