Headline and abridgment by Rawlinsview
Pakistan tells agencies to prepare for North Waziristan evacuation
Mon May 30, 2011 4:15pm GMT
By Zeeshan Haider
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Humanitarian agencies active in Pakistan’s northwest have been quietly told to prepare for up to 365,000 displaced people in advance of a military offensive against North Waziristan, a senior official with an international humanitarian agency said Monday.
The official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, was responding to a media report in a local newspaper that Pakistan will launch a military offensive against al Qaeda and Taliban safe havens in the Afghan border regions.
“Humanitarian agencies operating in FATA and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa were given the heads up two weeks ago by the authorities of a possible displacement of up to 50,000 families,” he said, referring to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the northwest province.
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The report In Pakistan’s the News newspaper comes just days after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated a U.S. demand to tackle sanctuaries for al Qaeda and the Taliban on the Afghan border.
An understanding for an offensive in North Waziristan, the main sanctuary in Pakistan for militants fighting in Afghanistan, was reached when Clinton and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen visited Pakistan last week, the News reported.
The United States has long demanded that Pakistan attack the region to eliminate the Haqqani network, one of the deadliest Afghan militant factions fighting U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Pakistan has been reluctant to do so, but it has come under more pressure and its performance in fighting militancy is under scrutiny again after it was discovered that Osama bin Laden had been living in the country.
The News quoted unidentified “highly placed sources” as saying Pakistan’s air force would soften up militant targets under the “targeted military offensive” before ground operations were launched.
The newspaper cited the sources as saying that a strategy for action in North Waziristan had been drawn up some time ago and an “understanding for carrying out the operation was developed” during the Clinton visit.
The target of any North Waziristan operation would be the most violent factions of the Pakistani Taliban, which has strong ties to al Qaeda, the report said.
But the United States would almost certainly push for a move against Haqqani, too.
Pakistani officials were not immediately available for comment. A U.S. embassy official had no immediate comment.
The newspaper said a “joint operation” with allies had been discussed but no decision had been taken because of sensitivities.
“In case the two sides agreed to go for a joint action, it would be the first time in the present war (on militancy) that foreign boots will get a chance to be on Pakistani soil with the consent of the host country.”
That could be highly risky for Pakistan’s generals.
SENSITIVITIES OF U.S.-PAKISTAN COOPERATION
The military, long regarded as the most effective institution in a country with a history of corrupt, inept civilian governments, suffered a major blow to its image when U.S. special forces killed bin Laden deep inside Pakistan.
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Aside from strategic concerns, an attack on the Haqqani network could further threaten Pakistan’s security as it faces a new wave of attacks by the Pakistani Taliban to avenge the killing of bin Laden by U.S. special forces on May 2.
Highlighting the dangers in North Waziristan, a blast at a restaurant in its main town Miranshah wounded 12 people on Monday, government officials and residents said.
(Additional reporting by Chris Allbritton, Rebecca Conway, Haji Mujtaba and Augustine Anthony; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Chris Allbritton and Sanjeev Miglani)
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