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Pakistan General Dismisses North Waziristan ‘Hype’

Pakistan General Dismisses North Waziristan ‘Hype’

Corps Commander Peshawar Lt Gen Asif Yasin Malik

 

MOHAMAD GAT, Pakistan — A leading Pakistani commander on Wednesday sought to play down “media hype” over the prospect of an imminent military offensive to meet US interests in North Waziristan.

 

In the fallout from Osama bin Laden’s killing, US officials are said to have increased pressure on Pakistan to mount a major offensive in the district, considered the premier Taliban and Al-Qaeda fortress along the Afghan border.

 

Local newspaper The News reported this week that Pakistan had decided to launch a “careful and meticulous” military offensive in North Waziristan after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent visit to Islamabad.

 

But Lieutenant General Asif Yasin Malik, the corps commander supervising all military operations in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, told reporters: “We will undertake operation in North Waziristan when we want to.”

 

“There has been a lot of media hype about the operation,” said Malik in the Mohamad Gat area of tribal district Mohmand, where the military flew reporters to show off apparent progress in battles against homegrown Taliban.

 

“I do not operate on press reports. I get orders from my high command,” he said in response to a question.

 

“We will undertake such an operation when it is in our national interest militarily,” the general said, describing North Waziristan as “calm and peaceful as it was weeks ago”.

 

The remote, mountainous region has attracted major interest in the United States as a fiefdom of the Haqqani network, one of its most potent enemies across the border in Afghanistan and thought to have a core of 4,000 fighters.

 

The Al-Qaeda-linked group attacks only across the border in Afghanistan, and is said to have long-standing ties to Pakistan’s intelligence services.

 

Pakistani officials are said to believe they cannot win if they take on its leaders, who command considerable tribal support and are well-armed.

 

Set up by Afghan warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani, the group is loyal to the Taliban and has been blamed for some of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan, including a suicide bombing in 2009 that killed seven CIA operatives.

 

But asked about the Haqqanis, Malik hit back: “We are misusing the word ‘network’. It does not become a network if four people sit together somewhere.”

 

Instead he said the military was focused on maintaining an already “stable” environment to undertake “developmental activity” in North Waziristan, and confirmed reports that a cadet college in the area had been reopened.

 

The army had closed the college at Razmak after Taliban militants briefly kidnapped 46 students and two staff in June 2009 as they were going home at the start of the summer holidays.

 

In the absence of a Pakistani military offensive, a covert CIA drone war on Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked fighters has been concentrated in North Waziristan, and Western officials say it has dealt a major blow to militant capabilities.

 

But Pakistan is publicly opposed to the drones as a violation of sovereignty and parliament demanded an end to the attacks in the fallout over the May 2 killing of Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad by US troops.

 

Malik called the programme a “negative thing” that “creates instability and infringes” his relationships with local tribes, and rejected any question of a joint operation with US forces in North Waziristan or anywhere else.

 

Clinton last Friday urged Pakistan to take decisive steps to defeat Al-Qaeda, as she became the most senior US official to visit since US Navy SEALs found and killed bin Laden in the country on May 2.

 

The fact that the Al-Qaeda terror chief had been living in a garrison city just a stone’s throw from Pakistan’s top military academy raised disturbing questions about incompetence or complicity within the armed forces.

 

Under US pressure to crack down on Islamist havens on the Afghan border, Pakistan has been fighting for years against homegrown militants in much of the tribal belt, dubbed a global headquarters of Al-Qaeda.

 

Pakistan has always maintained that any North Waziristan operation would be of its own time and choosing, arguing that its 140,000 troops committed to the northwest are already too overstretched fighting elsewhere.