Pakistan said Friday that Taliban militants have completely withdrawn from the Buner district outside Pakistan's capital, which they seized control of earlier this week raising international concerns.
The reported withdrawal -- which was disputed by a human rights group monitoring the area -- comes after a Taliban land grab sounded alarms worldwide about the possibility of terrorists taking control of the country.
Syed Mohammed Javed, commissioner of the Malakand Division which includes Buner, said the Taliban withdrew without any conditions. He said they had violated a peace agreement signed two months ago.
Earlier in the day, Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan told CNN that the militants would pull back from the district.
Pakistani Express TV showed live footage of armed and masked Taliban militants in Buner, loading pick-up trucks and driving away.
But Amnesty International's regional chief said people in the area were reporting a different scenario.
"What we're hearing from people in Buner ... is that the Taliban that have moved out are the non-local ones," Sam Zarifi, Amnesty's Asia Pacific director, told CNN. "So the local branch of the Taliban are still in place in Buner."
The human rights agency issued a report on Friday raising concerns about Taliban rule in Buner, which it says includes a ban on music and mandatory beards for all men.
Another concern is the swath of destruction to Buner's civilian infrastructure. Zarifi said schools, courts and medical facilities have been shut down under the Taliban's control. *
Zarifi said he thinks the test for Pakistan's government is not a military defeat over the Taliban, but "whether the schools will once again open, whether the health units will once again operate (in Buner)."
Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that nuclear-armed Pakistan was in danger of falling into terrorist hands.
Before the Taliban's apparent withdrawal Friday, a local Pakistani official expressed doubt about whether the militants would leave, as they pledged to local elders on Thursday.
"Nobody can trust them," Sardar Hussain Babik, the provincial education minister, said by phone from Buner.
The Taliban have broken promises before and probably would do so again, he said.
Sufi Muhammed, an Islamist fundamentalist leader who has been negotiating on behalf of the Taliban, was overseeing the withdrawal, police said.
Taliban militants surged into Buner this week. Takeover of the district brought the Taliban closer to the capital than they had been since they started the insurgency.
Militants subsequently locked up courthouses, seized court documents, and battled Pakistani troops who were sent to protect residents.
The militants said they took control of the district to ensure that Islamic law, or sharia, was properly imposed. The Pakistani government called the land grab a breach of a recent peace agreement.
Pakistan's Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani told the national assembly Friday that the military could stop the Taliban and that the country's nuclear weapons were safe.
"If anybody challenges the writ of the government, then we will react," Gilani said. "Yesterday, I heard that [the Taliban] had reached Buner and close to Islamabad. Do we not have any courage? Does this parliament not have moral courage to stop them? The defense of the country is in strong hands. Our nuclear program is in safe hands.
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