Thousands Flee Mingora in Panic; Army advances toward Kalam; 9 Soldiers Killed, 27 militants

A bomb at a bus station in Kohat, northern Pakistan, detonated on Sunday, killing one and wounding 8. It is suspected that this bombing is another in a series aimed by the predominantly rural Taliban at taking revenge on urban people for the campaign launched against them by Islamabad.

As the Pakistani military claimed to have cleared the small city of Mingora of Taliban, its officers turned their attention next to Kalam to the north, where Taliban were said to be gathering.

If you look carefully you can see Mingora, Bahrein and Kalam on the map below:

and this is what it looked like in better days:

Once the military relaxed the curfew at Mingora, a city of 300,000 until recently, thousands of residents began fleeing, unconvinced that peace will soon return despite the Pakistani military’s claims of victory. This according to Dawn (Karachi). The people of Mingora who had been trapped in the city by the battle had gone for some time without proper food, and many may be fleeing because they fear starvation if they stay.

The Dawn report of an exodus from Mingora is supported by Aljazeera English, which has exclusive views of Mingora on Sunday, including video of the Pushtun civilian population still fleeing south for Peshawar,

Pakistani authorities urged displaced persons from Buner, including cities such as Mardan, to return home, saying that Buner District has been cleared of militants.

I was struck by the casualties announced Sunday. Nine Pakistani military personnel were killed in the fighting, including an officer, a lieutenant. And between Swat and Waziristan, Islamabad claimed to have killed 27 Taliban. If 9 US soldiers were killed in a single day in Iraq or Afghanistan, that would be headline news here. Just to say that the Pakistani military is making substantial sacrifices for this campaign if their numbers are accurate.

Nevertheless, the Pakistani media I follow in Urdu, including satellite t.v., suggests to me that the Taliban are increasingly unpopular and that there is substantial middle class public support for the Swat campaign. The major anxiety among Punjabis and Sindhis is that they will have to host large numbers of Pushtun refugees, draining resources at a time when the worlwide deep recession has already hit the country.

Iran has closed its border with Pakistan near Zahidan, as a security measure after a mosque bombing allegedly carried out by a Sunni radical group of Baluch that operates from the Pakistani side. An open border is important to the livelihood of the people who live along it.

For its part, the Pakistani Ministry of the Interior pledged to wipe out the Jundullah terrorist group on its side of the border.

Meanwhile, Haroon Siddiqui of the Toronto Star writes on “Muslims wait for Obama to deliver: Key week for president to change the dynamic of U.S.-Muslim relations.” I am quoted.

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