Pakistani forces bombarded suspected militant hide-outs with mortar shells on Saturday as the government launched a major offensive against Taliban fighters threatening the main city in the country's volatile northwest, officials said. The offensive in the Khyber tribal region marked the first major military action Pakistan's newly elected government has taken against militants operating in the volatile areas along the border with Afghanistan.
The government had said that it preferred to defuse tension with the groups through negotiations, but with threats to the city of Peshawar growing in recent weeks, the military decided to take action. Khyber is also a key route for US military supplies into neighboring Afghanistan.
A round-the-clock curfew was imposed in the Bara area bordering Peshawar, and heavy contingents of troops were deployed, blocking the main road into Khyber, said Mujeeb Khan, a senior local official.
“All bazaars are shut, and residents have been asked not to come out of their homes,” he said. Local newspapers reported hospitals in Peshawar had been put on alert.
By Saturday afternoon, the paramilitary Frontier Corps began shelling suspected militant hide-outs in the mountains in Khyber, said local official Muhammad Siddiq Khan. “The operation has been launched,” he said.
No plan to capture Peshawar: Mehsud
Amid reports that Pakistani army was preparing for a major push against Taliban, the outfit's local chief has threatened to end peace talks with authorities and dismissed as government propaganda claims that militants wanted to capture Peshawar.
“Peshawar isn't Srinagar that we want to capture it. Taliban cannot think of damaging their beloved Peshawar, which is the capital and identity of our (North West Frontier) province,” Baitullah Mehsud said in a statement.