Miranshah/Islamabad: Four suspected terrorists were killed on Friday as the armed forces hit insurgent targets in a third day of action in a restive tribal area close to the Afghan border.
Meanwhile, in clear indication that the peace talks with Taliban would not be pursued until they mend their fences by announcing an unconditional ceasefire and pledge to give up violent activities, the government has reiterated that the use of force against the militants would remain high on the agenda. Ahead of leaving for Moscow on Thursday to participate in the 3rd Conference on International Security, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said that the targeted offensives, both aerial and ground, would be periodically continued in different parts of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, in response to the militant violence.
“When and where the surgical missions and targeted ground actions are to be launched is up to the Pakistan Army to decide. Our policy is to target the miscreants,” he told Daily Times by phone. On the disruption of peace talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the minister said the terrorist organisation needed to change its ways. “We have shown a lot of patience and generosity, but unfortunately the Taliban did not mend the fences and the militant violence kept on increasing. This shall not be tolerated.” Asif said the peace talks would only make progress if the militants give up arms and announce an unconditional ceasefire.
The military used mortars and helicopter gunships to pound suspected Taliban hideouts in North Waziristan. Friday’s operation comes after two days of fighting in the area which began on Wednesday with air strikes and ground clashes which left at least 71 suspected militants and four security personnel dead.
Officials said foreign fighters hiding out in the tribal areas were the main target of this week’s military operations. “Security forces fired mortar shells from Miranshah fort on the adjacent areas of Machis camp, Kharwani and Sukhail Wazir Friday morning, followed by pounding suspected militant hideouts with gunship helicopters,” an intelligence official based in Miranshah told AFP. Miranshah is the main town of North Waziristan and Machis camp a neighbourhood on its outskirts which was once a camp for Afghan refugees but is now thought to be used by militants.
The official said four suspected militants were killed and later security forces carried out a door-to-door search, arresting five others. The areas targeted in this week’s action were hubs for the Afghan mujahideen fighting the Soviets across the border in the 1980s. Local intelligence officials said foreign militants along with their families have taken refuge there in recent years, including Chechens, Uzbeks, Chinese, Turkmen, Tajiks and Uighurs.
One senior security official suggested the military was in particular targeting the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a separatist militant outfit blamed for numerous terror attacks in China’s restive western region of Xinjiang. He said the Chinese government had pressed Pakistan to take action against the Uighur separatists who are based in North Waziristan. “The Chinese authorities had conveyed their message separately to the prime minister and the army chief, the issue had been raised even with the president when he was on an official visit to China,” he said. The military action comes after more than three months of stop-start peace talks between the government and the TTP, which have made little progress since they began in February.
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