51 reported killed in Pakistan fighting

/ Source: The Associated Press

Clashes between Taliban militants and security forces killed 51 people, including 47 militants in a volatile region on the border with Afghanistan, officials said.

Fighting is spreading across Pakistan's northwest as the government tries to crack down on Taliban and al-Qaida fighters blamed for attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The army media center in the restive Swat valley said Monday that security forces traded fire with Taliban fighters all day in Khwajakhela, with 25 militants and two military personnel killed. Three other security personnel were wounded. Pakistan's military has been fighting Taliban militants in the valley.

Security forces fired mortar and artillery rounds at militants in the Charmang area of the Bajur region overnight, killing nine insurgents, government official Jamil Khan said.

On Monday, pro-government tribesmen exchanged fire with militants in the Nawa and Kotkai areas of Bajur, tribal elder Nazi Jan said. Thirteen militants and two pro-government tribesmen were killed, he and Khan said.

In another part of northwest, a local leader of a pro-government secular political party and four aides were wounded in a roadside bombing in Upper Dir, said police official Shah Faisal. All were in stable condition, he added.

Pakistan's military operations have drawn praise from U.S. officials worried about the escalating insurgency in Afghanistan.

However, the violence threatens to further destabilize nuclear-armed Pakistan and deter badly needed foreign investment just as it wrestles with mounting economic problems.

Pakistan's secular, pro-Western government says it is trying to forge a national consensus on how to combat terrorism. However, many Pakistanis blame the violence on their country's support for U.S. policy in its pursuit of al-Qaida and the Taliban.

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the country's most powerful opposition leader, called Sunday for dialogue with militants, citing the example of the Northern Ireland peace process.

The government says it will negotiate only with groups who renounce violence.