Taliban pledge not to attack in embattled city; Pakistan calls gesture a ploy
ISLAMABAD - The Taliban urged civilians yesterday to return to the Swat Valley's main city, promising they would not attack security forces out of concern for trapped residents.
Pakistan's military dismissed the gesture as a ploy that would allow the militants to blend in with the residents of Mingora and said it had no intention of halting its offensive in the valley.
More than 2 million civilians have fled Swat and nearby districts, making it easier for the army to single out insurgents, but returning civilians could further complicate the battle.
The appeal also appeared designed to play off the growing public concern for thousands still stuck in Mingora amid shortages of food and water.
The United States has strongly backed Pakistan's month-old offensive in the northwest valley and neighboring districts.
US officials want Pakistan to root out hide-outs used by Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters to plan attacks on Western troops in nearby Afghanistan, and Swat is considered an important test of the Muslim nation's ability and willingness to do so.
Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan said late Sunday and yesterday afternoon that the Taliban's pledge was not a formal cease-fire offer and that the Islamist militia's "aides" would stay in the city.
"I would like to appeal to the people of Mingora to get back to their homes and start their routine life as we will not fire even a single shot," Khan said in a phone call from an undisclosed location.
The army says it secured several major intersections in Mingora, a key commercial hub that under normal circumstances is home to about 375,000 people.