Islamists fighting the Pakistani government have pledged to avoid combat in the Swat Valley city of Mingora in order to reduce civilian casualties.
The army immediately hailed the announcement as a sign that the outnumbered militants were ‘staring defeat in the face.’ It said that it had secured at least eight major road junctions in Mingora and was arresting and killing Islamist guerillas.
But Swat Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan said that the insurgents were not withdrawing and denied that his announcement was a call for a ceasefire.
‘This is a long war and we will fight it strategically,’ he said. ‘We will continue fighting until an Islamic system is enforced.’
He added that Islamist guerillas would not engage the army in Mingora because ‘we have seen when the army retaliate for our attacks they always kill civilians. Their attacks always damage public property. We do not want that.’
Army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said that the Islamists ‘have started using ploys to escape. They are now remembering the civilians whom they used to behead and decapitate.’
He added that the operations in the city would go on as planned.
The army began the offensive last month after the militants had allegedly breached the terms of a ceasefire agreement and commanders have said that they aim to continue until they eliminate the militants.
The United States has backed the operation.
Close to 1.9 million people have fled the valley and surrounding districts since the offensive began, but up to 20,000 remain in Mingora, which the military entered on Saturday after encircling it.
Many of the estimated 4,000 guerillas in the valley are believed to be there, raising the prospect of bloody urban fighting.
A resident on the outskirts of the city said that 3,000 people had been stranded in his neighbourhood and were suffering from lack of food, water and medical care.
Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said that Pakistan will need £630 million to reconstruct damaged areas and help refugees resettle once the fighting ends.