Pakistani fighter planes have bombed suspected militant sanctuaries in the troubled North Waziristan border region for a second day as part of a long-demanded military offensive. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif says the operation, which started Sunday, will continue until all “terrorists” are eliminated.
The military says the counter-terrorism air strikes are targeting locations in North Waziristan where militants have established bases and there is no civilian population nearby.
Most of the militants killed are being described as members of the fugitive Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which is operating in the area under the umbrella of the Pakistani Taliban. Army officials say several ethnic Uighur fighters linked to the insurgency in China’s Xinjiang province are also among those killed.
Sharif defended the military action before Pakistan's parliament, saying Monday the Pakistani Taliban did not reciprocate to his peace initiatives to restore normalcy to the Waziristan territory and bring an end to years of deadly militancy in the country. Instead, he says, terrorists continued bloodshed and violence across the nation without sparing women and children.
He said a decisive operation has been launched to rid Pakistan of terrorism and that God willing it will continue until all its objectives are realized. Sharif vowed “not to allow Pakistan become a safe haven for terrorists again at any cost”.
With the approval of all the political parties, the parliament passed a resolution backing the army action, but lawmakers of the two main Islamic parties refused to put their signatures on the document.
“This house resolves to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the armed forces 'till final victory,” a ruling party member said.
A military statement issued Monday quoted Pakistani army chief General Raheel Sharif as emphasizing that “all terrorists along with their sanctuaries must be eliminated without discrimination."
But Pakistani newspaper editorials and independent analysts remain skeptical about whether the military establishment has abandoned its alleged “dualist policy of good Taliban and bad Taliban."
Islamabad has long been under fire for battling anti-state Islamist militants and their associates, but tolerating the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network of insurgents who are using North Waziristan for staging cross-border attacks on NATO and Afghan forces.
Pakistan’s reluctance to deny sanctuaries to these extremists has remained a major irritant in its ties with the United States.
The director of the Washington-based Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center, Shuja Nawaz, says it is too early to comment on how the Obama administration views the Pakistani counter-terrorism offensive, because Washington is heavily distracted by a number of crises in other parts of the world.
“North Waziristan was seen as the point of contention with Pakistan largely because of the Haqqani group, but I do not see any mention of the Haqqani group in any of the official statements coming out of Rawalpindi or Islamabad," he said. "So, if there has been some kind of arrangement made with the Haqqani group to allow them to exit the territory before the cordon and search operations began then that is something that has yet to be shared with the public.”
Critics, including Nawaz, are skeptical about whether the Waziristan military offensive alone can help end the militancy in Pakistan. They say there is a large number of Islamic seminaries around the country where religious and sectarian hatred is taught, while some mainstream Islamic parties are also fueling extremism.
“This is a war that Pakistan is involved in and North Waziristan is probably only the first battle, and we have to wait to see how that goes and whether there will be a will to fight the militancy and terrorism through the country as a whole,” he said.
Sharif’s controversial peace process remained under fire since it was launched nearly five months ago and demands continued to grow for a military offensive against militant bases in the tribal region in the wake of rising terrorist attacks in the country.
The pressure on his administration intensified after a militant raid killed about 40 people last week at the Karachi airport. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility, saying Uzbek fighters carried out the raid.