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Pakistani Troops Press Taliban on 3rd Day of Offensive

A Pakistani army convoy travels north toward the troubled Swat Valley. An army spokesman said insurgents had sealed off the town of Sultanwas.
A Pakistani army convoy travels north toward the troubled Swat Valley. An army spokesman said insurgents had sealed off the town of Sultanwas. (By Mohammad Sajjad -- Associated Press)
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By Munir Ahmad
Associated Press
Friday, May 1, 2009

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, April 30 -- Soldiers sent to halt a Taliban advance toward the Pakistani capital fought their way over a mountain pass Thursday, killed at least 14 insurgents and narrowly escaped a wave of suicide car bombers, the army said.

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As troops pursued an offensive praised by the United States, a burst of shooting attacks in the southern city of Karachi left dozens dead and added the specter of ethnic conflict to the Islamist violence threatening the nuclear-armed country's stability.

President Asif Ali Zardari urged ordinary Pakistanis to support the operation in the Buner region and demonstrate the Islamic nation's will to remain "a moderate, modern and democratic state."

Security forces backed by artillery and warplanes began pushing into Buner, a district 60 miles from Islamabad, on Tuesday after Taliban fighters from the neighboring Swat Valley infiltrated the area under cover of a peace pact.

On Thursday, troops ousted insurgents from the Ambela Pass leading over the mountains into Buner and were inching toward the north, said an army spokesman, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas.

Soldiers opened fire on four suspected suicide car bombers who drove toward them near the pass, Abbas said. Two vehicles exploded while the other two managed to drive away. No troops were hurt, he said.

Troops also destroyed four Taliban vehicles in Dir, a district to the west, Abbas said. In all, at least 14 insurgents had been killed and one soldier wounded in the previous 24 hours, he said.

Abbas also said insurgents had burned a police station farther north and sealed off the town of Sultanwas. "The people of Sultanwas are in great distress," he said at a news conference. "Nobody is being allowed to move out."

Pakistani society is complicated by deep ethnic and sectarian tensions that are likely to grow as a result of a marked slowdown in economic growth.

Competition for jobs and political power is sharpest in Karachi, the teeming southern port with a history of ethnic violence where shooting broke out late Wednesday.

Much of the tension has been between the Pashtun population, which dominates the country's violence-plagued northwest, and Urdu-speaking Mohajirs descended from migrants from India.

The main Mohajir political party that runs Karachi, the Muttahida Quami Movement, has been outspoken against the Pashtun-dominated Taliban, warning that the insurgents represent a growing threat in the commercial hub of 16 million.

The city was brought to a standstill Wednesday after two Muttahida Quami Movement activists were gunned down by unknown assailants, sparking street violence that abated by dawn.

Doctors and police said Thursday that the death toll had reached 34, with about 50 other people wounded.

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