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Taliban peace deal is over as Pakistan gets tough

TALIBAN militants declared their peace deal with the Pakistani government "worthless" yesterday after authorities deployed helicopters and artillery against hide-outs of Islamist guerrillas seeking to extend their grip along the Afghan border.

The regions that straddle that frontier form a "crucible of terrorism," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said during a visit to Afghanistan, where his country and the United States have thousands of troops trying to stamp out the militant threat. Brown arrived in Pakistan yesterday.

The Obama administration is pressing Islamabad hard for more robust action against extremists, who are threatening Pakistan's stability and the security of troops across the border. President Asif Ali Zardari called for foreign support for cash-strapped Pakistan to prevent any danger of its nuclear arsenal falling into the hands of al-Qaida and its allies.

The government agreed in February to impose Islamic law in Swat and surrounding districts that make up Malakand Division if the Taliban there would end their violent campaign in the one-time tourist haven.

In recent days, Taliban forces from Swat began entering Buner, a neighboring district just 100 kilometers from the Pakistani capital.

Pressure on the creaking peace deal grew on Sunday when authorities sent troops backed by artillery and helicopter gunships to attack Taliban militants in Lower Dir, part of the region covered by the pact.

Troops killed 20 suspected militants yesterday, and a total of 46 have died since the operation began, an army statement said.

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said, on the sidelines of meetings with his Afghan and Iranian counterparts yesterday, "We mean business, and if we have to use force we will use force. We will not hesitate."


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