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'Kill some, save some'

Shamil ShamsJune 16, 2014

The Pakistani air force has pounded militants’ sanctuaries in North Waziristan, killing scores of Islamists. But analysts say the military is targeting only foreign fighters whereas home-grown militants are being spared.

Pakistani troops walk on a hilltop post near Ladha, a town in the Pakistani troubled tribal region of South Waziristan along the Afghan border (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed, File)
Image: picture-alliance/AP

Many in Pakistan have heaved a sigh of relief as the country's powerful military began a "comprehensive operation" against militant Islamists in the country's restive northwest.

According to officials, military jets struck militants' safe havens in the tribal North Waziristan region on Monday, June 16, killing at least 10 insurgents and taking the tally to over 100 in the past three days. But most of those killed are fighters from Uzbekistan, claims the Pakistani army.

Pakistani media and rights activists have reported a number of civilian casualties and a mass exodus from the region which borders eastern Afghanistan. Both the Taliban and Pakistani security forces have been accused of committing grave human rights violations in these conflict-ridden areas.

The Taliban have been waging an insurgency in the Islamic republic for around a decade and want to impose a stricter Islamic law in Pakistan as well as in neighboring Afghanistan.

Map of Pakistan
North Waziristan is believed to be the safe haven of local and foreign militantsImage: copyright dw

The United States has for years complained to Islamabad about its failure to go after launch an offensive in the area which Washington considers to harbor the country's most dangerous militants. The US believes the region is being used by al Qaeda and Taliban operatives as a base to strike international troops in Afghanistan. Pakistan, however, had previously refused to comply, telling Washington that the time was not right to start a full-scale military operation against the militants.

Attacks and repercussions

Last week, on June 8, militants attacked Pakistan's biggest airport in the southern city of Karachi, besieging the Jinnah International airport for several hours. The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) - an umbrella organization of domestic Islamists - and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) claimed responsibility for the attack.

Observers say that Islamabad's decision to go after the Islamists is a reaction to the Karachi attack in which more than 30 people were killed, including soldiers and Islamist fighters.

"By using North Waziristan as a base, these terrorists have waged a war against the state of Pakistan and had been disrupting our national life in all its dimensions, stunting our economic growth and causing enormous loss of life and property," the military's Inter-Services Public Relations department said in a statement.

The nuclear-armed South Asian nation is on a high-alert following the military operation. The Taliban said they would avenge the Waziristan strikes.

"We hold Nawaz Sharif's government responsible for the loss of Muslims' lives and property as a result of this operation," Shahidullah Shahid, a TTP spokesman, said. "We also warn all foreign investors, airlines and multinational corporations that they should immediately suspend their ongoing dealings with Pakistan and prepare to leave the country otherwise they will be responsible for their own loss," he said in a statement.

Selective operation

Despite the recent airstrikes against extremists, some security experts doubt the Pakistani government intends to curb terrorism.

Nizamuddin Nizamani, a political analyst and researcher in Karachi, says the military operation in North Waziristan "should not be viewed as a proper military offensive and hence not be mistaken for a change in policy." The analyst told DW he believes Pakistani leaders are still not clear about how to counter terrorism.

Internally displaced Pakistanis, fleeing from military operations against Taliban militants in North Waziristan, arrive in Bannu, a town on the edge of Pakistan's lawless tribal belt of Waziristan, on June 11, 2014 (Photo: KARIM ULLAH/AFP/Getty Images)
Thousands of people have fled to other Pakistani cities and neighboring AfghanistanImage: AFP/Getty Images

But many in Pakistan are ready to give their security forces another chance. They hope the civilian government and the military mean business this time.

"I completely support the operation against terrorists," Mohsin Sayeed, a journalist, told DW. "We should be prepared to pay the price as militants will strike back in the cities. We are in a state of war now. This is our war of survival. We need to support our government and the army in these tough and testing times," he added.

However, Abdul Agha, an Islamabad-based analyst, is not as optimistic as Sayeed: "Islamabad is killing only the 'bad guys' - the ones that have turned against the state, or who don't agree with its long-term plans vis-à-vis Afghanistan. The government is also going after Central Asian warriors because they are creating problems for Pakistan's ally, China. They will eliminate some and will preserve some for the future."

The Pakistani establishment, analysts say, still considers the Taliban an important ally and representatives of the majority Pashtun Afghans who it thinks should be part of the Afghan government after the NATO pullout in the coming months. Observers say that the Pakistani military hopes to regain the influence in Kabul it once enjoyed before the United States and its allies toppled the pro-Pakistan Taliban government in 2001.

"In the past, the military launched several offensives against the, Taliban but we know that the terrorists are still active in the country," the analyst says, adding that until the Pakistani state abandons its pro-Islamist narrative, military actions won't yield positive results.