Reuters : Pakistan deploys troops in volatile northern valley

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Pakistan deploys troops in volatile northern valley

By Augustine Anthony | October 24, 2007

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - The Pakistani army is deploying more than 2,000 troops in a remote northwestern valley to counter Islamist militants trying to enforce Taliban-style laws there, the military said on Wednesday.

Militants have attacked security forces and carried out bomb attacks in recent months in the scenic Swat valley in North West Frontier Province, and have been forcing people to follow a strict Islamic code.

Army spokesman, Major-General Waheed Arshad, said the troops were there to provide security to the people.

"Troops of the Frontier Corps along with the police will set up checkposts and ensure security in the area," Arshad said, referring to the valley in Pakistan's volatile tribal belt.

Swat has seen a surge in militant activity after Maulana Fazlullah, a pro-Taliban cleric, reportedly broadcast an appeal for people to join in a jihad or Muslim holy war on an illegal FM radio station.

A large number of TNSM supporters were killed in the fighting while security forces arrested its founder, Maulana Sufi Mohammad, as he returned from Afghanistan. He is still in prison.

Pakistani tribal areas have been a hotbed of support for al Qaeda and the Taliban militants who have fled Afghanistan. Thousands of soldiers and militants have been killed in battles in these regions.

Violence has escalated across Pakistan since July, when militants scrapped a peace deal and army raided a radical mosque in the capital, Islamabad.

At least 139 people were killed in a suicide attack in a procession led by former prime minister Benazir Bhutto on her return from an eight year exile in Karachi last week.

Officials suspect Islamist militants were behind the worst blast in Pakistan's 60 years of history.

(Additional reporting by Haji Mujtaba)

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