Another aide of radical cleric Sufi Muhammad, who had brokered a controversial peace deal with the Taliban in Pakistan's troubled northwest and whose violation prompted the military to launch a major offensive against the militants, has been arrested but there is no word about the cleric's whereabouts.
The aide, Iqbal Khan, headed Sufi Muhammad's Tahreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi(TNSM) in Swat, one of the three districts of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) where the military operations entered their 45th day on Tuesday.
Khan, who had participated in the Afghan jihad in 2001, was arrested from the Hyattabad area of NWFP capital.
On Thursday, an army officer in Sufi Muhammad's home district of Lower Dir was quoted as saying that the cleric and five of his aides had been arrested.
On Saturday, however, after Sufi Muhammad's deputy and his spokesman were killed in a militant ambush, the army flatly denied he had been arrested.
"He is not in our custody," chief military spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said at a briefing in Islamabad.
The two men who were killed were identified as Maulana Muhammad Alam and Ameer Izzat Khan. They died after militants ambushed an army convoy transporting them to Peshawar.
The Pakistani military went into action after the Taliban reneged on a peace deal with the NWFP government and instead moved south from their Swat headquarters and occupied Buner, which is just 100 km from Islamabad.
The operations had begun in Lower Dir and later spread to Buner and Swat.
The fighting has spurred the largest and quickest refugee exodus in recent time, with some three million civilians streaming out of the three districts.
The UN estimates that some $543 million would be required for the relief and rehabilitation of the refugees. The US, which has already pledged $110 million, has promised another $200 million. Pakistan has also received pledges of $244 million at an international donors conference in Islamabad in May.