Officials said they had managed to destroy a militant leader’s headquarters and shelled suspected hideouts of other fighters in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP), many of them linked to the Islamic Taliban group.
It came just days after up to 28 bloodsoaked, trussed-up, bodies were found dumped near the key garrison town of Jandola, where followers of shadowy Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud have been fighting rival tribesmen throughout the week.
Those killed were members of a Peace Committee, a body of tribal elders helping the government to tackle militancy in the conservative regions near the Afghan border, where minority Christians and moderate Muslims have been targeted for allegedly not obeying strict Sharia, or ‘Islamic’ law.
"According to our information 28 corpses of the Peace Committee members have been found in Kariwam village," said high-ranking District Official Barkat-Ullah Marwat, of the government of South Waziristan, the area where the fighting took place. "Some of the dead were shot and some had their throats slit," by members of commander Mehsud’s group, he said in comments monitored by BosNewsLife.
The killings underscore concerns among Islamabad’s Western allies about the government’s peace talks with Mehsud, who was blamed by the previous administration for the assassination of ex-premier Benazir Bhutto in December, and whose forces attack key supply roads for NATO and United States forces in neighboring Afghanistan.
The murders also added to doubts among rights watchers about the sincerity of a Taliban apology for the kidnapping of 16 Christians, earlier this month. The pro-Taliban group Bara-based Lashkar-e-Islam reportedly apologized for the kidnapping of 16 Christians in the NWFP capital of Peshawar, on June 21, saying there was "a misunderstanding."
However the US-based human rights group, International Christian Concern (ICC) with Web site www.persecution.org told BosNewslife that while the apology is "admirable" it "rings incredibly hollow" as the "Muslim landlord who rented his buildings to the Christians is still in their custody."
Under the strict Islamic law the militants want to enforce in the region, "he is the one who is the most guilty since he "betrayed" his religion by allowing non-Muslims to "desecrate" a former Islamic Seminary," said ICC, which closely follows the situation in the area.
"If the Taliban takes out their wrath on him, their apology is meaningless and these Christians will be defenseless. They would likely be turned out of their homes by whoever takes possession of his property," the group said. The whereabouts of the Muslim man, identified as Haji Siraj, was not immediately clear Saturday, June 28.
Local residents of the Jandola region told BosNewsLife that the situation “was tense” in the region and that armed militants were still in the town. However speaking to reporters, a spokesman of the Pakistani Defense Forces, Major General Athar Abbas, said militants "had been walled and compelled to withdraw from the Jandola region," after his forces moved in this week. At least nine people were reportedly killed in the recent fighting between Islamic insurgents and the Pakistani military, but it was difficult to independently confirm those figures.
As minority Christians and moderate Muslims awaited the outcome of the latest government-drive to end the militant insurgency, residents told BosNewsLife that all shops in Jandola’s market place were closed, while roads were virtual deserted in the town and surroundings areas. (With additional reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos. Jawad Mazhar is a Christian journalist covering and investigating persecution from the most difficulties areas of Pakistan. As everyone at BosNewsLife, he currently raises his own financial support to make his ministry possible. Will you help him? Please prayerful consider any donation to: ‘Rays of Development Organization’ , Account # 13727900012403, Habib Bank Limited, College Road, Kalyar Town, Sargodha, Pakistan. You can also become a regular prayer/support partner. For more information visit: RaysOfDevelopmentOrganization.BlogSpot.Com or write to Office.ROD@Gmail.Com or call: +92-345-8622504. BosNewsLife: Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals.)