ISLAMABAD — Pakistan claims its “precision” air strikes against suspected militant bases in and around the volatile North Waziristan border region are “successfully” underway. It denies reports in the American media, however, that the country plans no action against the Haqqani network, a key ally of the Taliban in Afghanistan, which is entrenched in the tribal territory and known for staging attacks on Afghan and U.S. forces.
During the past week, Pakistani jets and helicopter gunships have repeatedly bombed hideouts of militants of the outlawed Terik-i-Taliban Pakistan, known as the TTP. The attacks focused on parts of tribal areas in the northwest, including the militant-dominated North Waziristan district.
Security officials say the action killed more than 100 Islamist militants, some of them belonging to the central Asian republic of Uzbekistan, and destroyed a number of their strongholds.
The government has in recent days tried to engage the militant network in peace talks to end years of deadly violence. Continued terrorist attacks on civilian and military targets, though, have provoked Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to halt the peace process and to link its resumption to unconditional cessation of TTP hostilities.
Foreign policy and national security advisor Sartaj Aziz told reporters in Islamabad the “punitive” military action in the Waziristan region is part of a new “internal security policy” that authorizes military action in response to each terrorist attack the TTP carries out in the country.
Aziz said “the air action in North Waziristan has been effective and is successfully underway", adding that the government has kept the option of dialogue open. But he said the TTP so far has not responded positively in terms of halting their terrorist activities. The Pakistani national security advisor said the prime minister will consult all political parties before deciding whether a full-scale military offensive is required to fully establish the authority of the government in the Waziristan border district.
“The present government under the leadership of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has come to power with a clear mandate to rid the Pakistani society of extremism, intolerance and all forms of violence. This is vital for our survival as a nation [and] a prerequisite for our progress and prosperity,” explained Aziz.
Unfocused security policy
Critics allege the new security policy lacks clarity about how Pakistan plans to deal with militant groups like the Haqqani network, which is an ally of the Afghan Taliban and is using the Waziristan territory for staging attacks on US-led international forces in Afghanistan.
Some reports in the U.S. media also suggest that Pakistan is unlikely to target the Haqqani network even in the event of a major offensive because of its alleged links to the military. Aziz dismissed the criticism.
“I do not think that story is correct. Generally, we will take action against anybody who is indulging in extremist or terrorist activities there. So, there is no distinction I think,” he said.
The presence of the Haqqani network in Pakistan has been a major source of diplomatic tensions between Washington and Islamabad. It is widely believed the Pakistani spy agency, ISI, is protecting the group to prevent rival India from increasing its influence in Afghanistan after NATO’s combat forces withdraw from the country.
Members of the Haqqanis so far have distanced themselves from the violent activities of the Pakistani Taliban, and say their main focus has been on the insurgency across the Afghan border.