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Army officers sympathetic to Taliban 'purged': Pak Prez

Revealing that Pakistani army officers sympathetic to militants have been "purged", President Asif Ali Zardari has said the war on Taliban will be extended beyond Swat into tribal areas, where Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leadership are believed to be hiding.

world Updated: May 17, 2009 15:52 IST

Revealing that Pakistani army officers sympathetic to militants have been "purged", President Asif Ali Zardari has said the war on Taliban will be extended beyond Swat into tribal areas, where Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leadership are believed to be hiding.

"The army is committed to defeating the Taliban. I think the casualties speak for that, the displacement speaks for that," Zardari said in an interview published in 'The Sunday Times' today.

His comments as Pakistani army stepped up its offensive against the Taliban militants in the restive Swat valley and some other areas in the country's northwest. "Officers sympathetic to the militants have been purged. I'm confident the army perceives the Taliban as much of a national threat as we do," Zardari said. "You cannot fight this war only on the battlefield. You also have to fight it on the economic front - you have to offer something to youth."

On the question of extending the war on Taliban beyond Swat, he said "we're going to go into Waziristan (tribal agency), all these regions, with army operations. Swat is just the start. It's a larger war to fight."

Zardari also emphasised that Pakistan would need billions of pounds in military assistance and aid for up to 1.7 million refugees, the biggest movement of people since the partition in 1947. (More)

Bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda leaders are believed to be hiding in Pakistan's fiercely independent tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. "We need to develop our capability and we need much more support," said Zardari. "We need much, much more than the 1 billion dollar (military aid) we've been getting, which is nothing. We've got 150,000 troops in (the tribal areas) - just the movement of that number would cost 1 billion dollar."

The army is planning to open new fronts in Darra Adam Khel and Waziristan, which is the headquarters of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan led by Baitullah Mehsud, who is accused of masterminding the assassination of former premier Benazir Bhutto.

Appealing for USD 1 billion in aid for refugees, Zardari said "if we are to win the hearts and minds of these people we need to be able to relocate them back into civil society, rebuild their houses and give them interest-free loans to restart their business," he said.

"If we don't they will turn against the government and we will lose the impetus we've managed to create in the country against the Taliban."

The Pakistani army claims to have killed more than 900 militants over the past two weeks in the operations in the country's northwest.