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In a sign of growing public support for the Pakistani army’s latest offensive against militants, the residents of Kalam, a town in the Swat Valley, have taken up arms against Taliban and driven them away. Hundreds of armed people confronted about 50 Taliban fighters who tried to take control of the mountain town.
CA Online and wire service
ISLAMABAD — In a sign of growing public support for the Pakistani army’s latest offensive against militants, the residents of Kalam, a town in the Swat Valley, have taken up arms against Taliban and driven them away.
Hundreds of armed people confronted about 50 Taliban fighters who tried to take control of the mountain town. A local official said yesterday that several militants were killed or captured after a battle lasting several hours.
50,000 residents of the town, once an idyllic tourist mountain resort, are fiercely opposed to the Islamists, who have seized a large portion of the Swat Valley and invaded neighbouring provinces in recent weeks.
Kalam has repulsed several Taliban attacks in the past but residents say the latest clashes are the most serious. Buoyed by the success of the military offensive against the militants in the surrounding areas, they vowed to resist the invaders. “We will not allow Taliban to come here”, Shamshad Haqq, the deputy mayor of Kalam, declared.
Residents in many other areas in Swat have started forming militias to resist the Taliban.
On May 20, government forces seized control of the town of Matta, a former Taliban stronghold in Swat and the focus of the campaign against the insurgency. About 15,000 troops have been fighting an estimated 5,000 militants in what is described by Pakistani leaders as a battle for the country’s survival.
After clearing many strongholds and supply depots in the mountains, government troops have started closing in on the main towns, where many thousands of civilians are still trapped without food and medical aid.
Human Rights Watch has accused Taliban of laying mines in Mingora, the main town of Swat, preventing people from leaving and effectively using them as human shields.
Pakistan’s allies pledged US$224 million in aid. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani told a donors’ conference in Islamabad on May 20 that Pakistan was issuing a call for help from “all those who are committed to fighting terrorism”.