Pakistani security forces have begun an offensive against pro-Taliban
militants in the country's northwest, prompting a leading Taliban
commander to call off peace talks with the government.
Major-General Alam Khattak, head of the paramilitary Frontier Corps, told reporters today (Saturday) his troops have taken control of the Khyber tribal district in North West Frontier Province. The operation is expected to last several days.
Security officials say at least one militant has been killed so far. Troops have also destroyed key militant bases and the home of local Islamist leader Manghal Bagh, in the Bara area near the city of Peshawar.
The government began the offensive following increased sightings of fighters loyal to Bagh near Peshawar. Earlier this month, militants kidnapped 16 Christians from the city, and there have been reports of militants threatening owners of music and video shops.
Shortly after today's operation was launched, Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud announced a suspension of negotiations. He said talks would not resume until the offensive ended.
Officials say a curfew has been ordered for the Bara area, and that some roads in the region have been closed. Local hospitals were also put on alert.
Peshawar, a city of three million people, is a two-hour drive from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. It is also on the road to the Khyber Pass, a major supply route for U.S. and NATO forces in neighboring Afghanistan. Bagh's fighters have been accused of attacking supply convoys.
Saturday's anti-militant operation in the northwestern border region of Khyber marks the first major military action launched by the new Pakistani government headed by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.
The new government initiated low-level talks with pro-Taliban militants after taking power earlier this year.
The United States has been critical of the policy, saying it has failed to stop militant attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan.