Pakistan suspends military operations for Ramadan
ISLAMABAD, Aug 30: Pakistan announced on Saturday a suspension of military operations against Islamist militants for the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, but a senior official said security forces would respond if attacked.
Violence has intensified in Pakistan in recent weeks with the military battling militants in three different parts of the northwest – Kurram, Bajaur, and Swat. The militants have responded with bomb attacks on the security forces.
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* Delusional squeamishness:
Philippines: Military vows to “respect Ramadan”
*Â Watch the MILF’s Â return the favor in kind:
The military’s Joint Task Force Comet based in Sulu assured Saturday that it will respect the observance of Ramadan that will begin next week.
“We respect the traditions and faith of our Muslim brothers and sisters. We have Muslim soldiers, who along with others have brought honor and prestige to the military organization,” Maj. Gen. Juancho Sabban, task force commander, said.
Sabban said the task force will continue its security operations in the province to ensure a peaceful and orderly observance of Ramadan, which will start on September 1.
The official said the military leadership is in constant dialogue with the Imams and Ulamas and has been explaining how the military security operations work.
He said this is to assure Muslim leaders that the operations are not meant to disrupt the holy month.
A member of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines on Friday urged MalacaÃ±ang to call off military offensives against some Moro Islamic Liberation Front commands in Lanao del Norte and Maguindanao provinces.
“I would press the government not to continue the fighting even, especial at the Ramadan time,” Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo said in a statement.
Quevedo said the military must be sensitive to the religious implications of its campaign against some Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) commanders in Mindanao provinces.
If the government would refuse to declare ceasefire, he said he is hoping an “informal ceasefire” will be observed by security forces pursuing the MILF fighters led by Ameril Umbra Kato and Abdulrahman Macapaar alias Commander Bravo.
Quevedo also urged the government to end the hostilities in Mindanao the soonest possible time. He said bishops have become “uneasy” with the current situation in the Muslim region and the hostilities have created terror among civilians.
MalacaÃ±ang officials on Thursday said the pursuit operations against MILF commanders Ameril Umbra Kato and Abdulrahman Macapaar alias Bravo will continue during the month of Ramadan.
Press Secretary Jesus Dureza assured that the military will conduct the operations with “great sensitivity” to the observation of Ramadan.
The government’s top Interior Ministry official, Rehman Malik, said security forces would suspend operations from Sunday night for the month of Ramadan, which ends at the beginning of October, but would retaliate if attacked.Â
“If militants take any action the security forces will respond with full force,” Malik told reporters in the eastern city of Lahore. An Inter-Services Public Relations official told Dawn that there was no ceasefire in effect. The cessation of hostilities was only in deferrence to the holy month of Ramadan and action would resume once Ramadan ended.Â
Pakistani Taliban spokesmen were not immediately available for comment. The United States and other allies have been concerned the government led by the Pakistan Peoples Party might be less committed to the unpopular war against militancy after the resignation of firm ally Musharraf.Â
Washington says al Qaeda and Taliban militants are based in sanctuaries in northwest Pakistan’s ethnic Pashtun tribal areas on the Afghan border, where they orchestrate attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan and plot violence in the West.Â
In a separate incident on Saturday, a missile hit a house in Wana, the main town in South Waziristan, killing five people, said a resident who saw the bodies taken out of the rubble.Â
The house was owned by a man known to have militant links, residents said. A security official said two of the dead were foreigners. It was not immediately clear who fired the missile but US-operated pilotless drones have attacked in Pakistani border regions several times this year, killing dozens of militants.Â
The fighting in the northwest has displaced about 250,000 people, most of whom are staying with friends and relatives.Â
But nearly 100,000 are staying in camps, some set up in schools or in open areas with little or no sanitation, raising fear of disease and concern the government might soon face a humanitarian crisis on top of its many other problems.