Pakistani air strikes in the country’s northern tribal regions killed 61 militants, including German fighters, damping prospects for peace with homegrown Taliban guerrillas.
As many as 47 militants were killed in the evening of Jan. 20 and early hours of Jan. 21 in North Waziristan following Taliban bomb attacks on security forces, according to a military official who asked not to be identified because he’s not authorized to speak publicly. Another 14 were killed yesterday in the northwestern Khyber region near the Afghan border.
Three Germans, 33 Uzbeks fighters and and a few Taliban commanders were killed in strikes on militant hideouts in North Waziristan, the official said. Many al-Qaeda linked foreign militants fled to Pakistan after the U.S. troops dislodged Afghanistan’s Taliban regime in 2001.
The deadliest military strikes in more than a year after a new wave of violence may add pressure on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to abort efforts to start peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban. Sharif won an election last year after pledging negotiations with the loose coalition of militant groups operating along the border with Afghanistan known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan.
Pakistan troops have carried out various operations in the country’s lawless northwestern region in the past few years that have failed to stop a campaign of suicide attacks and bombings of civilians and security forces by militants swearing allegiance to Afghan Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.
“From day one, peace talks had no chance to succeed, but the political leadership was unable to take a decision,” Mehmood Shah, a former security chief in the Pakistan tribal region bordering Afghanistan, said by phone from Peshawar city. “These circumstances will force them to take the decision to launch an operation now, very soon. The recent attacks have really shaken the government.”
Plans to start negotiations with the TTP have been stalled since September, when Sharif received backing from political and military leaders to approach militants for talks. Soon after, Taliban fighters assassinated a major-general and killed 81 Christians in a suicide bomb attack at a Peshawar church.
Any renewed drive for talks by civilian authorities will have to win the support of the military, which dominates security policy.
The Taliban insurgency has contributed to slowing economic growth in the country of 196 million people. In September, Pakistan secured a $6.6 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund to bolster the country’s finances.
This week’s air strikes came after the Taliban killed eight soldiers and five civilians in a suicide bombing near the military headquarters in Rawalpindi city on Jan. 20. Taliban fighters killed 20 troops in a bomb attack in the northwestern town of Bannu a day earlier, prompting Sharif to cancel a visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
While military operations have been carried out in six of the seven semi-autonomous tribal regions known as the Federally Administered Tribal areas, Pakistan has long ignored demands by the U.S., the country’s biggest aid donor, to extend offensives into North Waziristan where the Haqqani network is based.
Described by the U.S. as a major enemy, the Haqqani Network has been blamed for attacks on Afghanistan government buildings and U.S. and other coalition troops. Former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen has described the Haqqanis as a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence.
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