Pakistan nets two most wanted Swat Taliban | The Daily Star
11:00 PM, September 11, 2009 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:00 PM, September 11, 2009

Pakistan nets two most wanted Swat Taliban

Pak police in no-show after militant warning


Handout photographs show arrested Pakistani chief spokesman of Taliban militants in Swat, Muslim Khan (L) and a commander Mahmood Khan in custody of security forces. Photo: AFP

Pakistan announced yesterday the arrests of two of its most-wanted Taliban insurgents and said the feared militia was staring at defeat after two years of carnage in the Swat valley.
The northwest valley slipped out of government control after radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah rose up in July 2007, commanding thousands of followers who beheaded opponents, burnt schools and fought to enforce Islamic law.
Pakistan launched a blistering offensive against the Taliban after militants marched out of the former tourist district and advanced further south towards the capital Islamabad in April. The military now claims the area is clear.
The country posted a reward of 50 million rupees (more than 600,000 dollars) for Fazlullah and offered rewards for 15 of his top lieutenants, last May but Friday marked the first announcement of any arrests from the list.
"Muslim Khan and Mahmood Khan with head money of 10 million rupees (120,482 dollars) have been arrested by security forces in a successful operation in Swat," Major General Athar Abbas said in a statement released in English.
"The arrested terrorist leaders are under interrogation of law enforcement agencies," he said -- without saying when the men were detained but denying media reports that any negotiations took place.
"The security forces are conducting operations on the information obtained from the arrested terrorist leaders," the military added.
Muslim Khan was second on the most-wanted list behind Fazlullah. He is around 50 years old and earned notoriety as a prolific Taliban spokesman.
He was quick on the telephone to claim Taliban responsibility for almost all bomb attacks and the destruction of schools in Swat, issuing statements on Fazlullah's behalf and representing him in negotiations, Taliban members say.
Stocky and with a grey beard, they say Khan worked in the merchant navy until around 2002, by when Pakistan was a firm ally in the US-led "war on terror" launched in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Mahmood Khan was number four on the most-wanted list and like Fazlullah's other top aides came from northern Swat. Pakistan put a 10-million-rupee price on his head and said he was a commander in the northern Kuza Banda.
Pakistan's civilian government on Friday paid tribute to the country's powerful military over Muslim Khan's arrest.
"The Taliban are nearing their logical end and the remaining Taliban should surrender themselves to the government otherwise operations will continue until the elimination of the last Talib," the interior ministry said.
Defence analysts welcomed the arrests as a significant breakthrough in the government's bid to wrest back control of territory under its control and eliminate what the United States has called an existential threat to Pakistan.
"The arrests of wanted Taliban leaders in Swat are a major breakthrough in Pakistan's fight against the militants," analyst Talat Masood told AFP.
"It shows Pakistan is steadily gaining the upper hand and the Taliban leadership is on the run," he added.
The military said three other "terrorist leaders" -- Fazle Ghaffar, Abdul Rehman and Sartaj -- had also been apprehended. The Taliban said it had no information about any of the arrests.
Pakistan's army chief of staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, on Friday visited the northwest and praised the security forces for flushing out militants and assisting the return of "97 percent" of those displaced by the conflict.
Pakistan unleashed its military operation in Swat and neighbouring districts Buner and Lower Dir in April.
The offensive forced 1.9 million civilians from their homes, creating a humanitarian crisis for impoverished Pakistan, although the United Nations said this week that 1.65 million have since returned home.
Fourteen police cadets were killed late August in a suicide attack in Swat's main town Mingora that -- along with continued skirmishes -- raise fears that the Taliban are regrouping in the mountains.
Meanwhile, around 500 tribal police officials heeded a warning from a Taliban-linked militant and failed to report for duty in the lawless border district of Khyber yesterday, a senior official said.
Pakistan launched a military offensive last week in the area -- home to the fabled Khyber Pass over mountains into neighbouring Afghanistan and where a suicide bomber killed 22 tribal policemen late last month.
The offensive is targeting fighters from Lashkar-e-Islam (Army of Islam), a militant group battling the government in Khyber, which is part of Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal belt.
Militant commander Mangal Bagh, who has ties to the Taliban, in an FM radio broadcast threatened that lawmakers, army and paramilitary troops in the region who did not resign would see their homes demolished and other harsh penalties.
Hours after the speech on Thursday, militants blew up three houses belonging to khasadars or tribal police, to terrorise its members, residents said.
"Some 500 khasadars abdicated their duties today," Khyber region's administration chief Tariq Hayat told AFP.

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