South Asia

Pakistan army says Taliban not back in South Waziristan

Taliban militant in Swat
Image caption Most Pakistani militancy has been in the north-west

Pakistan's army has denied Taliban claims that they have returned to their strongholds in South Waziristan.

Army spokesman Gen Athar Abbas said the army was "firmly in control" in South Waziristan.

He, however, admitted the militants were expanding their power in the Punjab province and regrouping in the Orakzai tribal region.

A Taliban spokesman had earlier told the BBC that the militants had returned to safe havens in South Waziristan.

In December, the Pakistani military claimed victory over the Taliban in South Waziristan.

But subsequent reports suggested the militants remained active in the region.

'No substance'

"There have been attacks on the army on the fringes of the region [South Waziristan]," Gen Abbas told the BBC.

"But there is no substances in reports that the militants have returned to South Waziristan," he said.

On Monday, Azam Tariq, spokesman for the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan told the BBC that the militants had returned to several areas around Ladha.

"This is absolutely rubbish - there is no question of the militants returning," Gen Abbas said.

He, however, added that certain areas like Shawal and Sararogha continued to be a source of trouble.

"We are carrying out search operations there to flush out the miscreants," he said.

Gen Abbas also admitted that the militants were regrouping elsewhere.

On Wednesday, intelligence reports obtained by the BBC said the Taliban was openly raising funds in Punjab.

"There needs to be a strong intelligence-led law enforcement action in Punjab," Gen Abbas said.

Image caption Militancy seems to be gaining ground in Punjab

"The militants are definitely growing in strength in the region."

However, he ruled out a Waziristan style military operation in Punjab saying it was not needed.

"There are no no-go areas in the province," he said.

"The police and paramilitary forces have a strong presence there.

"There needs to be a political decision to crack down on the jihadi organisations."

Gen Abbas said there was "a growing presence" of militants in the Upper Orakzai area.

"This is why we are carrying out operations there."

Gen Abbas said that the region was also becoming a hideout for what he called "Punjabi jihadi organisations".

"We have found signatures of Ilyas Kashmiri's organisation as well as the Ghazi force," he said.

Ilyas Kashmiri is a former senior leader of the Harkat-ul Jihad Islami group.

He now operates his own jihadi organisation and is said to be very close to the al-Qaeda leadership in the region.

In recent times, he was said to have been acting as a conduit for Punjabi militants with the Taliban.

Not much is known about the Ghazi force, which has also gained strength in Khyber Pakhtoonwa province and Punjab.

It is said to have been founded by former students of Islamabad's Red mosque in honour of their leader Ghazi Abdul Rashid.

Ghazi Abdul Rashid was killed during a siege of the mosque by security forces in 2007.

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