SWAT, Pakistan, (AP) – Militants said Saturday they captured two police stations in a mountainous region of northwest Pakistan that has increasingly fallen under the control of Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked extremists, bringing further embarrassment to President Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s government.
A flag was hoisted over one of the buildings after it was abandoned by officers in the scenic Swat valley, once a popular tourist destination now plagued by fighting between paramilitary forces and Islamic militants, said Sirajuddin, speaking on behalf of the insurgents.
Hours later, militants took control of another police post six miles to the north, said Mian Rasool Shah, a Taliban commander, claiming his men had convinced 60 officers to leave and then locked the doors to prevent the looting of weapons.
No government official was immediately available to comment on the claims, which came a day after extremists paraded 48 men described as government troops who had decided to surrender. The men, who told journalists they no longer wanted to fight their Muslim brothers, were later released.
The rising violence and political turmoil have fueled fears that Musharraf might extend his military rule by imposing a state of emergency or martial law, jeopardizing a promised transition to democracy. The Bush administration and European allies have urged against such moves, a Western diplomat in Islamabad said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Elements in Pakistan’s ruling party were pushing the U.S.-backed leader to impose emergency measures in case the Supreme Court disqualifies his Oct. 6 presidential victory because he did not first give up his position as army chief, the diplomat said. A verdict is due before his current term expires Nov. 15, after which Pakistan is due to hold parliamentary elections.
Adm. William Fallon, the chief of the U.S. Central Command, met with Musharraf and other top generals on Friday to discuss the security situation in the northwest, where Islamic militants have expanded their reach beyond traditional tribal regions. Washington backs Musharraf as a bulwark in its war on terrorism.
But a spokesman for Pakistan’s army angrily denied newspaper reports suggesting Fallon had offered to provide U.S. troops to help tackle the insurgency in Swat, where a hard-line cleric is trying to enforce Taliban-style rule. Several policemen have been decapitated in the region in recent weeks, their heads later displayed to the public.
Some residents in Swat, which up until recently drew tourists from all over the country because of its sweeping scenic views and snowcapped mountains, said while they supported efforts to impose Islamic law in the valley, they abhorred the bloodshed.
“We don’t know what will happen here,” said Abdul Majeed, a local shopkeeper, adding vendors in his bustling market were worried about the future of their businesses. “The bazar is open and people are buying goods, but we are constantly worried about the fighting.”