Many dead as Pakistani air force pounds militant hide-outs

Roadside bomb kills 20 Shiite pilgrims in Pakistan even as gunmen open fire on polio campaigners

People look at the wreckage of a passenger bus destroyed in a bomb blast in the Mastong district, near Quetta, on Tuesday. People look at the wreckage of a passenger bus destroyed in a bomb blast in the Mastong district, near Quetta, on Tuesday.
Islamabad | Published on:January 22, 2014 10:46 am

The Pakistani air force pounded militant hide-outs near the Afghan border on Tuesday, killing dozens of people following deadly bombings against security forces in recent days.

Elsewhere, a roadside bomb killed 20 Shiite pilgrims in a separatist province, and gunmen opened fire on workers administering polio vaccinations, killing three people.

The Pakistani government has come under heavy pressure to aggressively tackle a surge in militant violence instead of solely relying on efforts to start peace talks with the Taliban-led insurgents.

The airstrikes in North Waziristan came after the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for a bomb that killed 26 soldiers Sunday when it tore through a military convoy inside an army compound in the nearby Bannu area. A suicide bomber also killed 13 people, including eight security personnel, Monday in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, near the capital of Islamabad.

The Pakistani military in recent years has carried out several offensives against the Pakistani Taliban in the tribal regions bordering Afghanistan, but North Waziristan has largely been spared. The U.S. has repeatedly struck the area with drone strikes targeting militant commanders.

There were conflicting claims about who was killed in the airstrikes, which began late Monday and continued into early Tuesday. A military official speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media said they killed 40 insurgents, but two residents said civilians were among the dead.

Habib Dawar, who lives in Mir Ali, one of the towns that was struck, said many residents sleep in the open out of fear their homes might be hit.

“How would the jet fighters know who is living where and who is a militant and who is a civilian in the dark of the night,” he said.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has long supported a policy of negotiating with militants instead of using military force to subdue them, but so far the Pakistani Taliban have shown little desire to negotiate with his government. Most of the discussion about whether to hold peace talks or not has been centered around groups like the Pakistani Taliban that operate in the northwest. Little mention has been made of whether to talk with sectarian groups who operate in areas like Baluchistan. The government also has not outlined areas where it would be willing to compromise.

“The government does not have any strategy at all whether to talk or to fight,” said Zahid Hussain, a Pakistani security analyst. “The army is very, very frustrated at this point. They are under attack and the government has basically no clear strategy.”

Amid the criticism, Sharif cancelled a planned trip to Davos, Switzerland, this week to attend the World Economic Forum, and the prime minister visited a military hospital to talk …continued »

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