Pakistan said military strikes that killed 37 insurgents won’t derail talks with the Taliban to end the decade-long violence that has dented the nation’s $225 billion economy.
Warplanes targeted hideouts of the militants yesterday in the tribal region of Khyber on the Afghan border in retaliation for an April 9 blast at a vegetable market in Islamabad that killed at least 23 people. The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, had denied involvement and condemned the bomb attack.
“The dialog process is intact as they also realize that we have to respond,” Irfan Siddiqui, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s special assistant on national issues, said in a telephone interview. “From day one, we made it clear to the Taliban and their negotiators that we would respond to each action and these strikes were in line” with the government’s position.
Sharif, who won a record third term after the general elections held in May, is seeking to reach a deal with the militants operating near Afghanistan to bring peace and boost an economy supported by a $6.6 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. Any further attacks risk jeopardizing efforts to revive growth and end the violence that has claimed more than 50,000 lives since 2001.
The TTP is a loose alliance of militant and sectarian organizations that oppose Pakistan’s security alliance with the U.S. and want to impose their own interpretation of Islamic law.
Ahrar-ul-Hind, a breakaway Taliban militant faction that threatened to disrupt the peace process, had claimed responsibility for a March 3 attack in Islamabad that killed 11 people. It came two days after the TTP had declared a monthlong cease-fire to facilitate talks.
The pounding by jets yesterday was carried out after confirmation the insurgents were involved in recent terror attacks, a senior military official, who requested not to be identified because he’s not authorized to speak to the media, said in a text message. As many as 18 militants were injured in the strikes, according to the military official.
The attacks marked the first state offensive since the homegrown insurgents called off their self-declared truce on April 16, accusing officials of failing to act on their demands to release prisoners and establish a military free-zone for them.
“This attack doesn’t mean it is the complete end of peace talks,” said Talat Masood, an Islamabad-based defense analyst. “But it also shows the talks aren’t going anywhere. It’s more of a posturing.”
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