President Pervez Musharraf continues to consolidate his power in Pakistan as the Taliban consolidates its power in the Northwest Frontier Province.
The government is cracking down on the political opposition after overturning the constitution last weekend. In the latest move against opposing political parties, Pakistani police surrounded Benazir Bhutto’s home. Bhutto has placed under house arrest. Meanwhile, Musharraf has promised to conduct elections by February 15.
Musharraf also stated he would step down as chief of staff of the armed forces after his ascendancy to president is secured. “Whenever the court would allow for the notification of results that would be the time when I could take oath as president and remove the uniform,” Musharraf told the Pakistani media. Musharraf overturned the constitution after the previous court was preparing to rule against his recent election as president while serving as the top military officer.
In Swat in the Northwest, the Taliban have taken more territory as soldiers are abandoning their posts or surrendering. Sixty Frontier Constabulary paramilitary soldiers surrendered to the Taliban after a police station was overrun in the town of Matta. In Kabal, two police were killed and five were wounded in an IED attack.
The Taliban overran a police outpost in the Shangla hills and took over the Pakistan-Austria Training Institute for Hotel Management in Charbagh. The Taliban torched a police station in Khwazakhel and “announced a punishment of 15 lashes for anyone not offering prayers in Matta tehsil.”
The Taliban have overrun much of Swat. “Out of the eight tehsils [an equivalent to a township] in Swat district, the militants are now in control of six – Kabal, Matta, Khawazakhela, Charbagh, Maydan and Kalam,” the Daily Times reported. “According to Online, the militants have appointed officials in the towns they control and seized government and NGO vehicles.”
The Taliban have also destroyed the statue of Buddha in the Jihan Abad region. “This is second attack on the seventh century statue of Buddha. The fresh attack caused irreparable loss to its head and also damaged its shoulders,” said the Deputy Curator of the Swat Museum.
In Peshawar, the provincial capital of the Northwest Frontier Province, a suicide bomber killed four police in an attack on the home of Amir Muqam, the federal minister for political affairs.