WANA: The residents of South Waziristan know hard times are coming. Troops are massing on their doorstep, they say, food is in short supply, and tens of thousands of civilians are already on the move. Military and government officials have vowed a full-scale operation into the semi-autonomous, fiercely independent tribal belt along the Afghan border to hunt down Pakistan Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud and his fighters.

There has been no indication of when a ground offensive may begin, but Pakistani fighter jets have been pummelling Taliban positions in the area for weeks, and nervous residents are now just waiting for the worst to come.

“We can see a large-scale movement by ground troops, they are equipped with small and heavy weapons,” said Noor Yaseen.

“The army are targeting the militants through air strikes or shelling by helicopters. The Taliban are not allowing technicians to repair the electricity towers damaged during the crossfire,” he said. “I saw people bringing water on donkeys from miles away (to Wana and nearby villages). There is no water in mosques, in houses and in madrassas,” he added.

The main Wana bazaar remains open, but people complain about food shortages, while most electricity has been disconnected because of outbursts of fighting between security forces and militants active in the area.

“There has been no electricity for 20 days, we are already facing shortages of fuel, food and water,” said farmer Umar Gul. Roads in and out of the main district hub have been closed for about a month. It could be a tactic to impose an economic blockade on militants ahead of the assault.