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Pakistan Off.: Taliban Withdraw From Buner

A senior Pakistani officials said Saturday that Taliban militants have completed their pullback from a district just 60 miles from the Pakistani capital, and that government troops have fanned out in their wake.

The Taliban's retreat to their stronghold in the Swat Valley brings some relief for Pakistani officials trying to salvage a controversial peace deal that halted nearly two years of bloody fighting in the northwestern region.

But U.S. officials kept up their pressure for more forceful action against Islamist groups that pose a growing threat to nuclear-armed Pakistan's stability as well as to American troops battling in neighboring Afghanistan.

Militants from Swat seized Buner, a jumble of mountains and farmsteads on the west bank of the Indus River, after President Asif Ali Zardari earlier this month signed the peace pact, which provides for the introduction of Islamic Shariah law in the region.

They began pulling out on Friday as officials issued increasingly loud threats of military action and a hard-line cleric who mediated the peace deal intervened to defuse the tension.

Syed Mohammad Javed, the top government official in Malakand Division, which includes Swat and Buner, said Saturday that all the militants had crossed the mountain passes into Swat.

"They all have gone back," Javed told The Associated Press. "No one is left in Buner."

He also said that six platoons of paramilitary troops had deployed to police stations across Buner.

"If police need their help, they will assistant them in maintaining law and order," Javed said.

Javed said the cleric, Sufi Muhammad, had also given his assurance that Swat militants would soon retreat to Swat from another adjoining area, Shangla.

The Taliban's push into Buner raised alarm in Pakistan and the West that militants increasingly threaten key cities such as Islamabad and the vital northwestern hub of Peshawar.

Reporting from Islamabad, CBS News chief foreign affairs correspondent Lara Logan said the presence of militants in Buner near the capital is important "mostly because of what it represents: that the peace deal the government made with militants in neighboring Swat is a mockery, [that] instead of putting down their guns, the militants are expanding their reign."

It also showed how militants are seizing on the peace accord to demand the imposition of a harsh version of Islamic law across more and more of the country.

During their time in the area, the Taliban issued orders that prohibited women from going to the market alone and barbers from shaving beards. But commanders insisted their fighters were preaching peacefully for Shariah.

Western officials worry that Swat could turn into an expanding haven for allies of al Qaeda. The trouble there also diverts Pakistan from tackling more established militant sanctuaries closer to the Afghan border.

The advance into Buner triggered unusually strong condemnation from the United States, where lawmakers are considering a bill granting Pakistan $1.5 billion in aid each year to help it battle extremism.

The Obama administration is trying to persuade Pakistan and its large army to focus more on militants inside its borders than the nation's longtime enemy, India.

"We're certainly moving closer to the tipping point" where Pakistan could be overtaken by Islamic extremists, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in an interview broadcast Friday.

Pakistan's army, accused by some U.S. officials of secretly helping some insurgent groups, is bristling at the criticism and on Friday issued an unusually tough-worded statement.

Apparently referring to the Swat deal, army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani said it was meant "to give the reconciliatory forces a chance (but) must not be taken for a concession to the militants."

Kayani said the army was "determined to root out the menace of terrorism" and would "not allow the militants to dictate terms to the government or impose their way of life."

Logan said the Pakistani government disputes that they aren't doing enough to battle militants despite receiving huge support from the U.S. government. "They say [the militants] would be stronger if they weren't fighting against them. They arrested more al Qaeda leaders than anyone else."

But of the financial support Pakistan receives from the U.S., Logan said, "There is an argument that some of the money is going toward the Pakistani government's efforts to confront India, but the Pakistanis are about to get even more money because U.S. General David Petraeus yesterday requested $3 billion from Congress."

Is it possible for Pakistan to redirect its focus away from confronting India?

"Well, it's certainly possible," Logan told CBS Early Show host Chris Wragge, but really to understand the India problem you have to understand the mindset of the Pakistanis. They are obsessed with their age-old enemy of India. As the top Pakistani general said to me, 'You don't make military strategy on what's impossible, you make it on what's possible. It's possible for India to attack and destroy us. We have to be ready to meet that threat should it arise.'

"There's no real indication at the moment that the Pakistanis will downgrade the importance they attach to India."

Logan said the Pakistani Army - which has been accused of aiding militants - has to decide on which side it stands. "It has a history with many extremist groups," she said. The situation is compounded by the fact that many younger Pakistanis support the Taliban.

"So there's a real conflict here. The Pakistani army has to decide where it stands … With these groups or with the civilian government of Pakistan? That's a very big question."

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