ISLAMABAD // Pakistan will suspend a military operation against insurgents along its border with Afghanistan in honour of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the country's top civilian security official said today. The Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik added that security forces would retaliate forcefully against any militant actions taken during the month. The US has pushed Pakistan to crack down on militants along its border, fearing Taliban and al Qa'eda-linked fighters there - particularly in the semi-autonomous tribal areas - are involved in attacks on American and Nato forces in Afghanistan.
An army spokesman said the military had not received any orders to end their strikes on insurgents in the Bajur tribal area, where hundreds of militants have reportedly died and tens of thousands have been forced to flee. "Officially, it has not been conveyed as yet, but if the government has ordered a stop to the operation security forces will act accordingly," Major Murad Khan said. The military has used helicopter gunships and fighter jets to support paramilitary forces on the ground in Bajur. Mr Malik said he spoke only for the Bajur operation because a decision on a separate offensive in the Swat Valley area required notices by the provincial government.
Pakistan's five-month-old federal government has been plagued by violence and political instability since Pervez Musharraf was forced to resign as president two weeks ago, adding to the many challenges ahead in the Muslim nation of 160 million people. *AP