MOHAMAD GAT, Pakistan: A leading Pakistani commander on Wednesday sought to play down “media hype” over the prospect of an imminent military offensive to meet US interests in North Waziristan.
Lieutenant General Asif Yasin Malik, the corps commander supervising all military operations in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, told reporters: “We will undertake operation in North Waziristan when we want to.”
“There has been a lot of media hype about the operation,” said Malik in the Mohamad Gat area of tribal district Mohmand, where the military flew reporters to show off apparent progress in battles against home-grown Taliban.
“We will undertake such an operation when it is in our national interest militarily,” the general said, describing North Waziristan as “calm and peaceful as it was weeks ago”.
Asked whether there was a need for such an operation, he said only: “Maybe ultimately we will go to North Waziristan”.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last Friday urged Pakistan to take decisive steps to defeat al Qaeda, when she became the most senior US official to visit the country since US Navy SEALs found and killed bin Laden in the country on May 2.
The fact that the al Qaeda terror chief had been living in a garrison city just a stone's throw from Pakistan's top military academy raised disturbing questions about incompetence or complicity within the armed forces.
Under US pressure to crack down on militant havens on the Afghan border, Pakistan has already committed troops against home-grown militants in much of the tribal belt, dubbed a global headquarters of al-Qaeda.
Pakistan has always maintained that any North Waziristan operation would be of its own time and choosing, arguing that its 140,000 troops committed to the northwest are already too overstretched fighting elsewhere.