ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has said its ongoing military offensive to eliminate insurgents’ hideouts in North Waziristan will target all militants, including the Haqqanis.
The Haqqani network has been blamed for some of the deadliest and most sophisticated attacks on Nato and Afghan troops across the border in Afghanistan.
At a briefing for foreign media on the military operation Zarb-i-Azb here on Tuesday, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Maj Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa said all civilian residents of North Waziristan had left and the military would target anyone still there. “They cannot escape. It’s very clear that those who left inside are only terrorists.”
The briefing was attended by Minister for States and Frontier Regions Abdul Qadir Baloch and Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid.
Nervous laughter rippled around the room as Maj Gen Bajwa faced aggressive questioning about whether the military was pursuing the Haqqanis or allied Taliban commanders who stage attacks inside Afghanistan but leave Pakistani forces alone.
Although the ISPR chief did not refer specifically to the Haqqanis, he promised that the military would go after “terrorists of all hue and colour” and there would be no discrimination between Taliban factions.
Qadir Baloch was more blunt. “Haqqani or no Haqqani ... no one who tries to terrorise in Pakistan will be allowed. Our government has been saying time and again that the soil of Pakistan will not be allowed to be used against anyone,” he said.
Two Taliban commanders said TTP chief Maulana Fazlullah had met militant leaders to offer them refuge at his base across the Afghan border before the operation started.
“The prime purpose of his visit was to assure his people in North Waziristan of full support and accommodation in Afghanistan in case of a military operation,” one commander said.
But when Fazlullah met members of the Haqqani network, they politely declined his offer, the commander said, noting they had “burnt their bridges” in Afghanistan. The Haqqanis moved elsewhere, he said.
Maj Gen Bajwa acknowledged it was possible that some militants had fled North Waziristan but said 376 had been killed so far. Many were foreigners, he said, especially Uzbeks, widely hated in Pakistan for their ferocious reputation.
Qadir Baloch said internally displaced persons (IDPs) of North Waziristan had given supreme sacrifices for the country by leaving their homes and they were national heroes. He praised the army for providing support to the civilian administration to cope with the IDPs crisis.
The ISPR chief said the army would eliminate Mullah Fazlullah whenever he came to Pakistan. He asked the Afghan government to play its role and either eliminate Fazlullah or extradite him to Pakistan.
Answering a question, he said Zarb-i-Azb was Pakistan’s own operation and it only requested Afghanistan and Isaf to seal border so that terrorists could not hide across the Durand line. He said drone attacks were not part of the plan as Pakistan was using its own air force effectively and with precision.
The ISPR chief said Pakistan had the estimated figure of terrorists in North Waziristan and not a single terrorist would be spared during the operation. About the success of the operation, he said the target was to re-establish writ of the state in the agency, eliminate all terrorists and make the region ready for development works like in South Waziristan.
In reply to a question about the delay in the operation, Mr Baloch said there was a popular demand that peace should be given a chance and the government was extremely sincere in talks but the TTP broke the dialogue process and started terrorist activities.
He regretted that the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) was neglected in the past and because of this it could not be brought on a par with other developed areas. But the present government is fully committed to bringing about changes in Fata and introduce large-scale reforms.
Pakistan, the minister said, had given great sacrifices in the war against terrorism and terrorist sanctuaries in Fata were not made by the country. He said Pakistan would not ask for any financial support from the international community but the world community should realise its responsibility and do what it was supposed to do.
He said the target of the operation was to break the TTP and there were clear signs that it was breaking.
Maj Gen Bajwa said the army would chase and hunt the terrorists to finish their capability to hit back. He said North Waziristan had become a hub of all terrorist activities so elimination of this sanctuary had become vital.
Replying to a question, Information Minister Rashid reiterated Pakistan’s stance that drone attacks were counter-productive and said the Foreign Office had already protested against recent drone strikes.
The ISPR chief claimed that 376 terrorists had been killed since the operation was launched on June 15. Nineteen militants have surrendered to security forces. Nineteen soldiers have lost their lives. Troops have recovered underground tunnels and IEDs preparation factories inside the cleared area.
He said integrated fire of artillery, tanks and other heavy weapons was being carried out on terrorists’ concentrations in the agency and effective cordon was in place in areas housing terrorists.
Maj Gen Bajwa said 61 terrorist hideouts had been destroyed in the operation. He said distribution of relief items for IDPs continued in Bannu, D.I. Khan and Tank.
Published in Dawn, July 2nd, 2014