ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani army expects Taliban and al-Qaida fighters in the South Waziristan tribal region to put up “tough resistance” against a military offensive, the army’s chief spokesman said.
Major General Athar Abbas also confirmed earlier reports that the military has completed preparations for what could be one of the most important operations against militants in Pakistan since 2001.
South Waziristan is considered al-Qaida and the Taliban’s major stronghold in the lawless northwest region bordering Afghanistan. Abbas did not give a start date, but the way he referred to the operation suggested a decision had been made to launch one. “God willing, peace will again be restored in the area through a successful operation,” he told the ARY news channel in an interview that was aired yesterday and today. Abbas did not say what kind of operation may be in the works - a limited one relying mostly on air power or a fully fledged offensive with thousands of ground troops aimed at clearing, then holding the whole region. The army abandoned early offensives and signed peace deals with militants in Waziristan after they put up a fierce fight. Moving forcefully into South Waziristan is likely to gain praise from the United States. US officials have long pressed Pakistan to eliminate safe havens on its soil used by militants to plan attacks on American and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
The preparations come amid intense debate within Pakistan about a pending U.S. aid bill that would give Pakistan $1.5 billion annually over the next five years for democratic, economic and social development programs. It also allows “such sums as may be necessary” for military aid.