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Pakistani Military Denies Plans for Offensive in North Waziristan

Pakistan army soldiers patrol in the Pakistani tribal area of Ditta Kheil in North Waziristan where the Pakistan army are fighting against militants and al-Qaida activists along the Afghanistan border (File Photo - March 8, 2011)

A top Pakistani military commander is ruling out an imminent offensive against Taliban and al-Qaida-linked militants in the North Waziristan tribal region. The United States has long urged Pakistan to conduct a military operation to uproot militants who launch cross-border attacks on U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Recent media reports suggested that the United States has finally persuaded Pakistan to launch an offensive in the North Waziristan tribal district to dislodge sanctuaries of the Haqqani network, which allegedly has ties to Pakistan's spy agency.

U.S. President Barack Obama plans to begin phased withdrawal of some of his forces from Afghanistan next month. However, American officials say deadly cross-border raids by the Haqqani militants are fueling the Taliban insurgency and threatening efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.

But Lieutenant-General Asif Yasin Malik, who is in charge of military operations in Pakistan's tribal region and other northwestern areas bordering Afghanistan, dismisses those concerns, describing the situation in North Waziristan as “calm, peaceful and stable." He spoke Wednesday to a group of reporters flown to the Mohamand Agency, another tribal district near the Afghan border where Pakistani troops are engaged in counter-insurgency operations.

The Pakistani military commander said he has more than 30,000 troops stationed in North Waziristan and that there has been no change in the posture of those forces in recent days.

“I have no such plans as far as I am concerned," said Malik. "We will undertake operations when we want to and when it is militarily and otherwise in the national interest to undertake such operations."

General Malik also rejected assertions that his troops are reluctant to go after the Haqqani network because of its past links to the Pakistani army.

“Anybody who is hostile to Pakistan, who is hostile to my troops in the area, who is destabilizing the area, I have to tackle with him, Haqqani or no Haqqani," he said. "So we are fighting everybody and anybody who is challenging the writ of the state."

It is widely believed that militants linked to the Haqqani network are hostile to U.S and NATO forces in Afghanistan but not to the Pakistani military.

Wednesday's trip to Mohmand was meant to showcase Pakistani military gains against Taliban militants in the border district. Area commanders told reporters that 80 percent of the district is now cleared of militants and that work to restore social and economic activites is under way, with the help of the local population.

Speaking to the visiting reporters, Pakistani army spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas urged NATO and Afghan forces to strengthen security on their side of the porous border. He alleged that militants fleeing counter-insurgency operations in the Mohmand Agency and surrounding tribal districts have taken refuge on the Afghan side of the border iin eastern Kunar province, and use those sanctuaries to attack civilian and government targets on the Pakistani side.

“If we are helping the other side by enhancing our control over this lawless or lost territory, this means that we also expect there should be more control over the territory across the border," he said. "That would help each other."

General Abbas says that in a cross-border raid early Wednesday, hundreds of militants entered Pakistan’s northwestern Upper Dir district and attacked a border post, killing several members of the security forces. There has been no response from NATO or Afghan officials to the Pakistani allegations.