Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif pledged to continue a military operation against Taliban insurgents in their stronghold of North Waziristan until peace returns to the country.
“I am confident this operation will be a harbinger of peace and stability,” Sharif said in a speech in Parliament yesterday, his first comments since the military took action. “The decision on a decisive operation was taken with full consensus.”
The army said June 15 it would target local and foreign terrorists in North Waziristan, a tribal region near the Afghan border the U.S. has called the “epicenter” of terrorism. The operation, long sought by the U.S., comes a week after militants attacked the country’s biggest international airport.
As Islamic militants capture cities in Iraq and the U.S. draws up plans to withdraw from Afghanistan, public opinion in Pakistan is shifting in favor of stronger action against fighters who were previously seen locally as more of a threat to America’s interests. The Taliban wants to impose its version of Islamic Shariah law in Pakistan, which includes a ban on music and stricter rules for women.
“At stake is the future of Pakistan,” Mahmud Ali Durrani, a former national security chief and ex-ambassador to the U.S., said by phone. “Do we want a Talibanized Pakistan or do we want to live according to the constitution, democracy? If we want to live according to our constitution and democracy then we have to fight for it, because they are the kind of people who don’t believe in these things.”
The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, yesterday warned foreign investors to leave the country.
“We’re in a state of war,” Shahidullah Shahid, a spokesman for the group, said in a statement. “Foreign investors, airlines, and multinational companies should cut off business with Pakistan immediately and leave the country or else they will be responsible for their damage themselves.”
Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. will cease operations in Karachi on June 28 because of “commercial reasons,” the company said in a statement on its website today. It will operate 14 more flights to and from Karachi, according to the statement.
Pakistan’s foreign direct investment rose 2.5 percent to $1.36 billion in the 11 months to May 31, the central bank said in an e-mailed statement today.
“Militants are under pressure now and trying to scare foreign investors,” M. Abdul Aleem, secretary general of the Karachi-based Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said by phone. The chamber says it has about 200 members, including Barclays Plc and Akzonobel Pakistan Ltd., which pay 30 percent of the country’s total taxes.
Sharif’s party won an election last year after pledging peace talks with the TTP, the group at the forefront of an insurgency that has killed 50,000 people since 2001. Negotiations that began in March collapsed over the TTP’s demands for prisoner releases even before progressing on issues such as Shariah law.
After Taliban and Uzbek militants attacked Karachi’s international airport, killing 28 security officials and workers, U.S. drone strikes resumed in North Waziristan following a six-month pause.
Pakistani jets yesterday destroyed six hideouts and killed 27 militants in the area, taking the toll to 167 in two days of air strikes, the military said in a statement. Another 10 insurgents were shot dead in a separate battle, it said. Six soldiers were killed and three were injured when an explosion hit the area, the military said.
Troops have cordoned off all militant strongholds, including the two main towns of Mir Ali and Miranshah, and have been deployed along the border with Afghanistan to prevent combatants from fleeing the country, the military said. Pakistan has also sought help of the Afghan security forces to seal the border, according to the statement.
More than 61,000 people have fled North Waziristan through the town of Bannu since a military air strike that killed more than 60 militants on May 21, according to the local government in Bannu. Another 6,500 people from the area, including 1,500 children, fled to Afghanistan, Mobarez Mohammad Zadran, a spokesman for the border province of Khost, said by phone.
North Waziristan is an area roughly the size of Connecticut with about 700,000 residents that sits near the Afghan border in a semi-autonomous tribal region. Michael Mullen, the U.S.’s former top military official, in 2010 called it the “epicenter of terrorism” and “where al-Qaeda lives.”
After the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001, North Waziristan became a safe haven for foreign militants like Uzbeks and Turks who fought alongside the fallen Taliban regime. In 2007, militant groups in the area united to form the TTP, which went on an offensive toward Islamabad.
After Pakistan’s army flushed them out of the Swat valley and most tribal regions, it resisted U.S. pressure to follow through with a push into North Waziristan. The area was also home to the Haqqani network and Gul Bahadur, groups that were fighting American troops in Afghanistan.
The Obama administration then intensified its campaign of drone attacks that President George W. Bush started in 2004. About 70 percent of all drone strikes have been in the North Waziristan region, according to Washington-based The New America Foundation.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said yesterday the operation was “entirely Pakistan-led and executed.”
“We have long supported any Pakistani efforts to extend stability and sovereignty in their own country,” she told reporters in Washington.