The Pakistan government has decided to take the battle to the Taliban in the restive tribal belt of North Waziristan and a military crackdown is “just a matter of time”, a media report said on Wednesday.
“More than one option is being considered for going into North Waziristan Agency (NWA); it’s just a matter of time now,” a government official privy to the development was quoted as saying by Dawn News.
The official said the military planning would take time but the ball had been set rolling by the PML-N government in meetings between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and army chief Gen Raheel Sharif over the past week or so.
Asked about the ambiguity that seemed to define PML-N’s stance vis-a-vis the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the official claimed that the government genuinely wanted talks with the militants but the back-to-back attacks on civilians and military personnel had forced a re-think.
“The government is left with no other option but to use force,” the unnamed official was quoted as saying.
The report said that Sharif gave a go-ahead for the use of force at a January 24 meeting which was attended by civilians as well as military officials.
The officials that attended the meeting included Chief of the Army Staff Gen Sharif, ISI DG Lt Gen Zaheer-ul-Islam, Chief of General Staff Lt Gen Ashfaq Nadeem, DGMO Maj Gen Amir Riaz, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan among others.
Information Minister Pervez Rashid, while talking to journalists on Monday, had dropped some hints about the government’s strategy.
“How come we allow such forces of extremism who want to impose not their ideology but also their lifestyle on us?”, he asked.
Prime Minister Sharif was expected to outline his government’s strategy against terrorism in the National Assembly.
Expectations over a long-delayed military push against the TTP and other al-Qaeda-linked groups operating from North Waziristan, a semi-autonomous tribal area on the Afghan border, were growing, the report said.
Meanwhile, Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam (S) cleric Maulana Samiul Haq, known as the “Father of the Taliban”, said any military operation against the TTP will be a suicide mission for Pakistan.
“If you wage a war against the Taliban, they will either go to the mountains or spread to the cities and you will find nothing but destruction,” he said.
Former interim chief of the Pakistani Taliban was reportedly among 50 militants, including 36 foreign fighters, killed last week in heavy air strikes in North Waziristan.
The Pakistan Air Force jets had bombed suspected militant hideouts in North Waziristan which was backed by army gunship helicopters. The operation by Air Force jets last week took many by surprise.
This was the first time the Air Force resorted to air strikes in North Waziristan since a ceasefire was finalised with local Taliban chiefs in 2007.