ISLAMABAD – Pakistan's army will finish its offensive against Taliban militants in the Swat valley and ensure peace, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said on Monday as he rallied the support of political parties.
The offensive, launched this month as international alarm grew over an intensifying insurgency, was making progress and every effort would be made to help the more than 1 million people displaced by the fighting, he said.
The operation against the terrorists is progressing very successfully and those who destroyed the peace of the nation are fleeing in disguise, Gilani said in an opening address to an all-parties conference on the fighting.
Troops will remain in the region until peace is ensured and all the displaced people return home, he said.
Militant violence in nuclear-armed Pakistan has surged over the past two years, raising fears for its stability and alarming the United States, which needs Pakistani action to help defeat al Qaeda and bring stability to neighboring Afghanistan.
More than 1,000 militants had been killed in the offensive in the Taliban's Swat bastion, the government has said, while nearly 50 soldiers have been killed, according to the military.
There was no independent confirmation of the government's estimate of militant casualties.
Reporters have left Swat and the army is not letting any back into the valley. Communications with residents still there have also been disrupted.
The offensive in the one-time tourist valley, 130 km (80 miles) northwest of Islamabad, has forced at least 1.17 million people from their homes, and the United Nations has called for a massive international response to the humanitarian crisis.
The displaced men, women and children should not feel alone. We won't leave any stone unturned in providing them help and protection, Gilani said.
A victory in the fight against terrorism is in fact a guarantee for the security and protection of our coming generations, he said.
Despite widespread doubts over Pakistan's alliance with the United States in its campaign against Islamist militants and objections to fighting America's war, most political parties and many members of the public support the offensive.
But opposition is bound to grow if the plight of the displaced worsens or if many of the civilians still in Swat are killed when the army tackles Taliban dug in the valley's main town and other populated centers.
Gilani called for political parties to play a constructive role.
I'm well aware that army action is not a durable solution to any problem, Gilani said.
Unless the people and political parties come out to play their genuine role for the solution to an issue, no durable solution can be found, he said.
About 15,000 members of the security forces are fighting between 4,000 and 5,000 militants in Swat, the military says.
The offensive has worried investors in Pakistani stocks and the main index has lost ground in some sessions over the past two weeks despite signs of economic improvement such as lower inflation which allowed for an interest rate cut last month.
The market ended a marginal 0.07 percent, or 4.79 points, lower at 7,172.85 in thin trade.
Investors are cautious about the Swat situation and that is evident from the low volume today, said Sajjad Mankani, a dealer at BMA Capital Ltd.