Taliban begin leaving Buner, Pakistani Army prepares for action (Roundup)

Islamabad, April 23 (Inditop) Ending their standoff with the Pakistani government, the Taliban, which had occupied Buner in the country’s northwest just 100 km from this federal capital, have begun withdrawing from the area amid reports that the army is preparing to go into action against the militants.

The withdrawal followed talks between the government’s representative, Syed Mohammed Javed, and Sufi Mohammad, the Taliban-backed radical cleric who had brokered a controversial Feb 16 peace deal to impose Sharia laws in Swat, Buner and five other districts of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), that is collectively known as the Malakand division, in return for the fundamentalist militants laying down their arms.

“There has been a major breakthrough in the talks and Maulana Sufi Mohammad has agreed to travel to Buner and convince the Taliban to leave the area,” DPA news agency quoted Javed, the divisional commissioner of Malakand, as telling reporters earlier Friday.

The cleric then visited Buner, following which the Taliban began pulling out and headed for their Swat headquarters.

The withdrawal notwithstanding, the Pakistani Army was mobilising and would be ready to go into action against the Taliban by Sunday, Dawn News channel said, quoting military sources.

Analysts here pointed out that should the army go into action, it would effectively nullify the peace accord. The army had been fighting the Taliban till early February, when the militants declared a truce to enable the peace accord be worked out.

On his part, Pakistani Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani said Friday the military fully backed the government in its fight against terrorism. Speaking at a meeting of the top brass at the General Headquarters in the adjacent garrison town of Rawalpindi, he said victory against militancy will be achieved by all means.

Emboldened by the peace deal, the Taliban had moved out of their Swat headquarters to occupy Buner, triggering international alarm and prompting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Wednesday accuse Pakistan of “abdicating” to the militants.

On his part, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani warned of action against Taliban if they didn’t abide by the Feb 16 peace deal. He added to that Friday, saying: “Whatever be their demands, we will do what is in the best interests of the nation.”

The reference was to the Taliban demand for setting up Darul Qazas or Islamic courts of appeal to hear challenges to verdicts handed down by the Qazi courts to be set up in Malakand under Sharia laws.

Sufi Mohammad has previously termed as un-Islamic the Peshawar High Court and the Supreme Court which would hear the appeals.

That the Pakistani Taliban was softening was evident Thursday when it indefinitely extended the April 23 deadline it had set for establishing the Darul Qazas. The Taliban also clarified that it wasn’t seeking to create a state within a state with its Darul Qaza demand.