ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistani Taliban will continue attacks during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, rejecting a government announcement it would halt military actions in the northwest, a Taliban spokesman said on Sunday.
Violence has surged in Pakistan in recent weeks with the military battling al Qaeda- and Taliban-linked fighters in three different parts of the northwest.
The militants have responded with suicide and remotely detonated bomb attacks on the security forces and civilian targets.
Deteriorating security has coincided with a faltering economy and political upheaval, as the resignation of unpopular President Pervez Musharraf on August 18 was followed a week later by a split in the ruling coalition.
“It’s a joke. It isn’t a matter of holy or unholy. All months are holy. If they want to end fighting, it should be permanent,” Muslim Khan, Taliban spokesman in the Swat Valley, told Reuters by telephone.
“We want enforcement of Sharia laws and will continue our struggle. We haven’t got instructions from our top leadership to stop fighting. If they do (order a halt) then we certainly will.”
Pakistan’s government had said on Saturday that security forces would suspend operations from Sunday night for Ramadan, which ends at the beginning of October, but would retaliate if attacked.
Worries about security and politics has unnerved investors who have sent Pakistani financial markets skidding lower. The country’s main share index has fallen about 36 percent this year.
According to government estimates, up to 300,000 people have fled from fierce clashes between security forces and violent militants in the tribal region of Bajaur on the Afghan border.
Many displaced people have moved to temporary shelters set up in various towns outside the region, where despite government and foreign aid agencies’ efforts, shortages of food and medical supplies and poor sanitation are common complaints.
The United States and other allies have been concerned the government led by assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s party might be less committed to the unpopular war against militancy after the resignation of firm ally Musharraf.
Washington says al Qaeda and Taliban militants have been given shelter by Pakistani allies in ethnic Pashtun tribal lands on the Afghan border and from there not only carry out attacks on both sides of the border but plot violence in the West.
FOOTAGE OF ABDUCTED TROOPS
The military is engaged in fighting with militants in the Bajaur area on the Afghan border, across mountains to the west of Swat, and in the South Waziristan region.
In Swat and Bajaur especially, jet fighters and helicopter gunships are being used to strike militant positions. Several hundred people, mostly militants, have been killed in recent clashes, government officials say.
A Pakistani private television channel, Aaj, broadcast footage on Sunday of what militants said were 38 security force members abducted by them from Swat in late July.
The footage showed the hostages’ legs were chained while men carrying AK-47 rifles and wearing black scarves over their faces guarded them.
The channel said the militants shot dead another hostage a few days ago in response to the killing of their commander, threatening to kill others if the military operation continued and their comrades were not freed.
The mountain valley was one of Pakistan’s main tourist destinations until last year, when Pakistani Taliban infiltrated from sanctuaries in lawless areas on the Afghan border to support a radical cleric campaigning for hardline rule.
Violence subsided after the new government came into power following February elections and opened talks with militants. But a lull ended when the militants’ commander Baitullah Mehsud, who was also accused of plotting Bhutto’s murder in December, suspended peace talks with government.