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3.4 Million Fleeing Swat Fighting

While the Pakistani army is reporting that it has almost completed the recapturing of Mingora, the main city in the Swat Valley, the numbers of internally displaced persons (IDP) have reached over 3.5 million, according to Pakistani officials.

“The nation stands by you; keep faith in Allah, in your government and the army; you are our brothers and sisters and we will try our level best to take good care of you,” Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said during a visit to an IDP camp on Friday, according to a statement release by the Pakistani government.

The offensive was launched in the districts of Lower Dir and Buner at the end of April, followed by the incursion into Swat at the beginning of May; last week it spread to the province of South Waziristan on the Pakistani border with Afghanistan.

“I am here to share your sufferings and problems,” the president said, adding that the entire nation stood by them.

Over the weekend, the army conducted house-to-house fighting in search of Taliban still in Mingora, and in South Waziristan the army repelled a Taliban attack on a paramilitary base, killing over 40 Taliban fighters, the Pakistani daily Dawn reported.     

While the army is making significant progress on all fronts, there is a growing concern in Pakistan that if the top leaders of the Taliban are not captured or killed soon then they will be able to make the reconstruction phases, which had just started in the areas affected by the fighting, very difficult.

Maulana Fazalullah, also know as the FM Mullah, who heads the Pakistani Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP), fled his former base of operations in Mingora at the end of last week as the army was closing in on the city.

The is no news on the status of  Baitullah Mehsud, the TTP commander in South Waziristan, who, together with Fazalullah, was considered to be the greatest threat toward the Pakistani government prior to the latest offensive, according to Jane’s Intelligence Review.

The fighting has triggered a massive exodus from the Swat Valley in what a United Nations official called the “fastest and most massive movement of people since Rwanda.”

To put the number in perspective, the number of IDPs in Darfur is estimated at around 2.7 million people.

While over the past year the Taliban have operated out of the tribal areas in north western Pakistan to carry out attacks against United States forces in Afghanistan, they have now turned their attention to Pakistan itself.