Thousands of troops were deployed to Pakistan's northwestern frontier to try to dissuade outlawed Islamic militants from launching a holy war against the government for its bloody attack on a radical mosque, military officials said yesterday.
Troops were sent on Friday to at least five areas of North West Frontier Province, which borders Afghanistan and where militant groups are increasingly active, a military officer said.
"With help from local tribal elders, we are trying to ensure that militants lay down their arms, and stop issuing calls for jihad against the government," said a senior military official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
He said there were no immediate plans for combat operations against Maulana Fazlullah, a radical cleric who has pressed for the imposition of Taliban-style rule in Pakistan, much like the leaders of the Red Mosque.
Pakistan troops overran the Islamabad mosque on Wednesday following an eight-day siege with a hard-line cleric and his militant supporters, leaving than 100 dead.
Fazlullah, who has close links to the outlawed Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law, told supporters to prepare for jihad, or holy war, against President General Pervez Musharaff for the assault, the official said.
The local Dawn newspaper quoted Interior Ministry secretary Syed Kamal Shah as saying on Friday some women and children may have been among the 75 killed in the raid.
Earlier the government said the only casualties were among the defending militants and attacking troops.
After nearly two weeks of tension and violence, life was returning to normal in Islamabad with authorities lifting a curfew imposed on areas near the Red Mosque.
Anti-Musharraf protests had erupted across Pakistan on Friday. One of the largest was in the eastern city of Lahore, where some 10,000 offered prayers for Abdul Rashid Ghazi, a radical cleric killed at the mosque.
But the rallies were smaller than expected, and there was no violent backlash from militant groups.
In the northwest, an army brigade was heading up the Swat Valley, 150km northeast of Peshawar, where a suicide car bomber killed three policeman at a checkpoint on Thursday, said Mohammed Javed, the valley's top administrator.
That attack raised to 35 the number of people killed in bombings and shootings in the northwest since the Red Mosque crisis began on July 3.
Television footage showed army trucks, some pulling heavy artillery, lined up on a road in the area.
Asif Iqbal Daudzai, spokesman for the provincial government, said Fazlullah had broken an agreement to stop using FM radio broadcasts for anti-government agitation. If he does so again, security forces "will react," Daudzai told Dawn News television.
Troops were also sent to Dera Ismail Khan, a town near the tribally governed Waziristan border region, a Taliban stronghold where Washington says al-Qaeda is regrouping.
Police said they raided a house in Dera Ismail Khan on Friday, arresting three suspected suicide bombers and seizing five explosives vests.
The military said it also deployed soldiers near Battagram, a northern town badly affected by a 2005 earthquake.
According to aid workers and media reports, mobs broke off from a Thursday protest against the Red Mosque raid to loot and set fire to the offices of several international aid groups.