Taliban fighters will withdraw from the Buner district, just 96 kilometers (60 miles) from the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, a spokesman says.
The move came soon after Pakistan’s Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani told the national assembly that the military could stop the Taliban and that the country’s nuclear weapons were safe. “If anybody challenges the writ of the government, then we will react,” Gilani said. “Yesterday, I heard that [the Taliban] had reached Buner and close to Islamabad. Do we not have any courage Does this parliament not have moral courage to stop them The defense of the country is in strong hands. Our nuclear program is in safe hands.” Taliban militants this week surged into the district of Buner — about 96 kilometers (60 miles) from the capital, Islamabad — in a land grab that has raised international concerns. iReport: Should the U.S. intercede in Pakistan Militants subsequently locked up courthouses, seized court documents and battled Pakistani troops who were sent to the area to protect residents.
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The militants said they took control of the district to ensure that Islamic law, or sharia, is properly imposed. The Pakistani government called the land grab a breach of a recent peace agreement. The takeover of Buner brought the Taliban closer to the capital than it has been since it mounted its insurgency. This week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that Pakistan is in danger of falling into terrorist hands because of failed government policies, and called on Pakistani citizens and expatriates to voice more concern. “I think that we cannot underscore the seriousness of the existential threat posed to the state of Pakistan by continuing advances, now within hours of Islamabad, that are being made by a loosely confederated group of terrorists and others who are seeking the overthrow of the Pakistani state, a nuclear-armed state,” Clinton said. On Friday, Gilani said Pakistani troops could handle the situation. Watch residents react to news of the Taliban approach » “Our armed forces are extremely efficient and highly professional,” he said. “Our armed forces are the best in the world. Wherever action is required, they will do it.”
The militant group’s leaders met with community elders and the civilian administration Thursday and agreed that its members will not move about openly with guns, nor will they disturb police, courts, schools, hospitals or non-government organizations. Speaking by telephone from Buner on Friday, Sardar Hussain Babik, education minister for the North West Frontier Province regional government, said the Taliban had high-level weapons and may be difficult to remove.