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Pakistani troops have captured a pro-Taliban commander among 66 alleged militants
Pakistani troops have captured a pro-Taliban commander among 66 alleged militants in the northern Swat valley during an offensive against followers of a radical cleric, an Afghan news agency said Monday.

"Security forces early Sunday morning conducted a search operation in Matta City, Sambat and Bodigram and apprehended 66 militants, including Sher Zaman, a local commander," the agency said.

Sher Zaman is an aide to Maulana Fazlullah, a radical cleric known for attempts to establish Islamic Sharia law in the region.

The security forces have intensified efforts to capture the most wanted pro-Taliban leader and his aides in the run-up to February 18 parliamentary elections, which Pakistan's Western allies hope will help restore stability after months of turmoil fueled by President Pervez Musharaff's efforts to retain power and curb militancy.

The army has been conducting operations in the restive valley of the North West Frontier Province since last fall, when Fazlullah's followers took control of the territory. Hundreds of militants have been killed and captured.

Fazlullah, who runs an illegal radio station and is suspected of being involved in a string of suicide attacks in the country in recent months, is believed to command a force of around 4,000 armed men.

Tribesmen have protested against the military's attacks saying they are meant to appease the U.S. and Britain, and demanded the central government end operations in the scenic valley, once a popular tourist destination.

Another Afghan agency, Pajhwok, said Monday Pashtun fighters have beheaded a Swat resident allegedly for "spying for the Pakistani military and the U.S."


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