Pakistan has launched what it says is a “decisive” military offensive against foreign and local terrorist bases in its North Waziristan tribal territory.
The announcement that a “comprehensive” military operation has been unleashed came just hours after officials declared that a series of pre-dawn air strikes against suspected targets killed more than 100 of what they said were mostly foreign militants in the Waziristan district.
A Pakistan army spokesman said the government has ordered the troops to eliminate all “terrorists” from the area and deny space to “these enemies of the state anywhere across the country.”
Defense Minister Khawaja Asif said the government has resorted to the use of military power because its attempts to end the problem of militancy through peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban did not succeed.
Time to pay the price
Instead, he told a local television channel, insurgents have continued their terrorist attacks around the country.
The minister said a “decisive war” has started in North Waziristan. He added that if there are foreign fighters who have come from other parts of the world and settled there and have violated Pakistani law, the time has come for them to pay the price.
Officials say those killed in Sunday’s air strikes included planners of last week’s audacious commando-style raid on the country’s largest and busiest Karachi airport, in which about 50 people were killed, including the 10 attackers. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility, saying its affiliate Uzbek fighters carried out the attack.
The attack increased pressure on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to abandon a floundering peace process with the militants and launch a full-scale army operation against them.
An opposition member of Pakistan's parliament, Nafeesa Shah, said almost all the political parties supported the government’s peace initiative, but it was not working and instead terrorism increased in the country.
“So, we were waiting for the government to give an alternate plan, because this war is now no more about one particular area. It has spread and it has spread also in the cities of Pakistan. Indeed, it is a very serious situation in Pakistan and has been for some time, and it is escalating.”
Beefing up security
Security has been beefed up around the country, including Islamabad, to discourage militant reaction to the Waziristan army offensive.
Afrasiab Khattak, a member of the Pakistani Senate, said the country needs to be on alert.
“I think we can expect more attacks, terrorist attacks against civilian targets and against military targets, particularly spectacular attacks which will gain more publicity and attention. So, I think our society and state should be prepared for that,” said Khattak.
Military officials say that Afghan border security forces have also been requested to seal the border on their side to facilitate Pakistan’s anti-terrorism action and prevent militants from escaping across the border.
The United States has long demanded Pakistan undertake a full-scale army operation in North Waziristan, insisting al-Qaida and Afghan militants hiding there are fueling the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. Some American officials have condemned the region as an epicenter of international terrorism.
A number of ethnic Uighur militants, who operate alongside Uzbek fighters were also killed in Sunday’s air strikes. Chinese authorities believe the Uighur separatists based in the Pakistani tribal area are behind insurgent attacks in their restive Xinjiang province.