A renewed wave of deadly insurgent attacks in Pakistan has prompted the military to launch rare airstrikes against suspected militant hideouts in a remote tribal district that critics have long condemned as a center of local and international terrorists.
Army officials say an overnight offensive in the mountainous North Waziristan region uprooted a number of terrorists from their hideouts. The volatile region borders Afghanistan.
Warplanes and artillery are said to have fired on suspected strongholds of the Pakistani Taliban into the morning and the raids concentrated on Mir Ali, the second largest town in the tribal territory.
Military sources say senior commanders of the Pakistani Taliban are among the 40 killed in the fighting. Residents have reported civilian casualties, but independent confirmation is not possible because the war zone is considered extremely dangerous for reporters and aid workers to travel to.
The fighting follows two major attacks this week against the Pakistani military that killed about three dozen people, mostly soldiers.
Military sources claim the anti-militancy “surgical” operation was undertaken after intelligence agencies were able to trace links between recent deadly terrorist attacks and militants hiding in North Waziristan.
The military has previously conducted “limited' anti-insurgency activity in the region, which consists of treacherous mountains, but for the first time in many years it involved the Pakistani air force to bomb suspected targets.
“The reason is that you cannot send your ground troops there and most of these hideouts were at higher positions and the rule of military engagement states that whichever side has got the height has the advantage, explained Maria Sultan, director general of South Asian Strategic Stability Institute, about the use of airpower in the Waziristan army action.
American officials allege that North Waziristan is also being used by the Haqqani network of Afghan militants for staging cross-border raids on NATO forces to fuel the Taliban insurgency there.
The recent spike in extremist violence in Pakistan has increased pressure on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to deal with Islamist insurgents. But the Sharif government insists it wants to exhaust all peaceful means to solve the problem before ordering a full scale military operation.
Official efforts to open talks with the Pakistani Taliban have made no headway. Critics like international law expert Ahmer Bilal Sofi encourage the government to come up with a clear policy on how it wants to counter-militancy.
“People of Pakistan are expecting action people of Pakistan are expecting some sort of decisive move forward, either through a dialogue resolve this issue or go to the alternative means," Sofi said. " I mean the country, I am sure, will back them on this.”
Most critics are skeptical about the success of any peace talks between the government and the Pakistani Taliban because the militant outfit condemns the nation’s political system as un-Islamic and demands withdrawal of troops from all parts of the tribal territory on the Afghan border before it announces a ceasefire.