Islamabad: Saying they can go "wherever" they want, the Taliban have advanced to just 100 km north of the Pakistani capital even as Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani warned that the Swat peace accord could be revisited by the government.
"We can go wherever we want. There are no rules for us," Taliban spokesperson Muslim Khan told a TV news channel.
After consolidating their position in Swat, in North West Frontier Province (NWFP), the Taliban have extended their control to almost all tehsils of Buner district to the south and law-enforcement personnel remain confined to police stations and camps, Dawn reported Wednesday.
Taliban growing stronger in Pak's Punjab
Buner is just 100 km from Islamabad.
Asked to comment on the increased belligerence of the Taliban in the wake of the Swat accord signed February 16 Gilani said: "Parliament had unanimously approved it (the peace accord. The president gave his assent to it. It is meant to restore peace. If peace does not return, we can think otherwise,"
Equipped with advanced weapons, the Taliban are now reported to be eyeing the Swabi district further south, as also Mardan to the west, the home district of NWFP Chief Minister Haider Khan Hoti.
Led by local Taliban commander Fateh Mohammad, the militants in Buner have been asking local people, particularly youngsters, to join them in their campaign to enforce Sharia, or Islamic religious law.
According to reports from the area, the militants have set up checkposts along the borders of the two districts.
The militants have started digging trenches and setting up bunkers on the heights in strategic towns of Gadezi, Salarzai and Osherai.
They have also started patrolling bazaars, villages and towns in the district.
"They have robbed government and NGO offices of vehicles, computers, printers, generators, edible oil containers, and food and nutrition packets," Dawn said.
Sources said leading political figures, businessmen, NGO officials and tribal elders, who had played a role in establishing a peace council earlier this month to stop the Taliban from entering Buner had been forced to move to other areas.
Taliban-backed radical cleric Sufi Mohammad had signed the controversial peace deal with the NWFP government to impose Sharia laws in Swat and six other districts of the province, collectively known as the Malakand division, in return for the militants laying down their arms.
At that time, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari had said he would ratify the accord only after peace returned to the area. He, however, backtracked in the face of strident international protests against the deal and tossed it to the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament.
The National Assembly passed the Sharia Nizam-e Adil Regulation by a majority April 13 after the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), a junior partner of the ruling coalition, walked out in protest. Zardari ratified it the same night and the Sharia laws came into force two days later.
Significantly, when the Regulation was presented before the National Assembly, it was preceded by a warning from the Taliban that any legislator who did not endorse it would be deemed a "non-Muslim" - meaning that he or she would be considered an apostate and deemed worthy of being killed.
The Nizam-e Adl Regulation was Monday challenged in the Supreme Court on the ground that it was out of sync with Pakistan's laws.
As is now apparent, the Swat accord is being observed more in its breach than in practice.
On Tuesday, armed groups entered the Rural Health Centre at Jure in the Salarzai area and took away a Land Cruiser being used by the Expanded Programme of Immunisation (EPI).
Earlier, the militants on April 17 raided a basic health unit in Chamla tehsil and looted 480 cans of edible oil. They took away from the house of a lady health visitor a large number of food and nutrition packets supplied by USAID and sewing machines from an Action Aid sponsored vocational centre in the Korea village of tehsil Chamla.