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Updated: September 11, 2009 22:50 IST

Top Swat Taliban leader held

Nirupama Subramanian
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In this image taken on April 17, 2009, spokesman of Pakistani Taliban Muslim Khan speaks to the Associated Press in the suburb of Pakistan's troubled Swat Valley.
In this image taken on April 17, 2009, spokesman of Pakistani Taliban Muslim Khan speaks to the Associated Press in the suburb of Pakistan's troubled Swat Valley.

The Pakistan Army notched up its first big catch of the anti-Taliban operations in Swat with the arrest of Muslim Khan, the spokesman for the militants in the district but already there are two versions about how he was caught.

Muslim Khan, an ageing Taliban with a flowing white beard, was arrested along with four others, including an important military commander Mahmud Khan, the military said on Friday.

The authorities had posted a reward of Rs.10 million each for both Muslim Khan and Mahmud Khan.

Besides being the spokesman, Muslim Khan was also a military commander and during the Army operations, had taken charge of a lot of the Swat Taliban's operations. Prior to throwing his lot with the Taliban, he had lived in the United States for many years, reportedly working as a house painter in the Boston area, and spoke English with an American accent.

He spoke for a group that seemed to revel in blowing up schools, especially girls' schools, but one of his sons studied at the co-ed Pehsawar University and a daughter was also said to be educated.

The other three men arrested were identified as Fazle Ghafar, Sartaj Ali and Abdur Rehman. A military spokesman described the three as "terrorist leaders".

He said all five had been arrested from the suburbs of Mingora, the main town in Swat district but said giving any more information about the arrests could endanger intelligence information that the arrested men were giving the Army.

A report in The News published on Friday gave a different version of the arrest, one that the Army has denied. The report said Muslim Khan had been in secret negotiations with the Pakistan Army and indicated the five arrested men were in Islamabad for talks, when they had suddenly been arrested.

Quoting the present spokesman of the Swat Taliban, identified as Salman, the report said they had been in contact with the military since June through a Major in Military Intelligence.

The five-member Taliban delegation had specifically been constituted for the purpose of the negotiations, after a shura of the Swat Taliban agreed to the talks. Salman told The News that the Taliban had made two demands: the enforcement of Shariah and the release of Taliban prisoners.

In a statement the military said it "categorically denied an impression in a section of the press that any kind of negotiations were being held with these terrorists. We have already declared that no talks will be held with any terrorist, if they want to surrender, they should lay down their arms and hand themselves to Civil Administration/Law Enforcement Agencies".

Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani visited Dir area, neighbouring Swat in the Malakand region, which also saw anti-Taliban operations. He interacted with the locals and declared that the Army had broken the back of the terrorists

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