Thousands of people are fleeing northwestern Pakistan, as the military
targets Taliban militants with paramilitary forces backed by helicopter
gunships and artillery.
Pakistani officials say troops have killed more than 45 militants since
the operation in the Lower Dir district of Malakand began Sunday.
The region is included in a controversial peace deal between the government and militants to impose strict Islamic law (Sharia) in Malakand in exchange for an end to extremist violence there.
Earlier Monday, a spokesman for radical cleric Sufi Mohammad (Ameer Izat) said
he had suspended peace negotiations between the Taliban and government
officials until the military operation in Lower Dir was halted.
Pakistani officials say Taliban militants have violated terms of the
deal by exporting fighters to neighboring areas, including Buner
district, which is just 100 kilometers from Islamabad.
The Taliban's steady advance toward Islamabad has raised questions in
Washington about the ability of the Pakistani army to confront the
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said Monday that the country's
nuclear weapons are safe and would not fall into Taliban hands.
He also said that Pakistani intelligence believes Osama bin Laden is dead, but acknowledged they had no evidence.
Mr. Zardari was responding to reports that militants in the area
covered by the peace deal had offered sanctuary to the al-Qaida chief.
In other violence Monday, police say a roadside bomb killed two people
in the Lakki Marwat area of northwestern Pakistan. At least one police
officer died, and five others were wounded.