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Pakistan air strikes target Taliban in restive northwest

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-02-25

Pakistani fighter jets and helicopter gunships bombarded Taliban hideouts in the country's lawless northwest on Tuesday, killing at least 30 in what some analysts say is an operation designed to reassert the dominance of Pakistan's military.

The morning attacks on hideouts in the tribal districts of North and South Waziristan were the latest in a series of air strikes launched by the Pakistan Air Force since February 20.

So far more than 100 alleged militants have been killed in the renewed offensive, but independent verification of death tolls is not possible since it is difficult for journalists to enter the area and regional administrators are reluctant to comment.

Some experts say the strikes are designed to give the military the upper hand if peace talks with the Taliban, which were suspended last week, resume. But they say they do not believe the army is prepared to launch a full-fledged counter-terrorism operation in the largely lawless regions bordering Afghanistan.

Officials said the focus of Tuesday's attacks was mostly the mountainous Shawal Valley and Datta Khel in North Waziristan, and Sararogha in neighbouring South Waziristan.

Earlier this month Pakistan had entered into talks with the Taliban aimed at ending their seven-year insurgency. But the militant group continued to carry out attacks on a near-daily basis, with dialogue suspended after the insurgents claimed last week they had executed 23 kidnapped Afghan soldiers in a northwestern tribal region near the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai slammed Pakistan for failing to eliminate "terror nests" in the wake of the attack.

Since then the Pakistan Air Force has conducted a number of airstrikes in the volatile tribal regions.

Residents said hundreds of families have fled their homes since the peace talks failed and are taking shelter with relatives in Peshawar and other cities further away from the border.

"People are leaving the area after a deadlock in peace talks," a resident of Miranshah told AFP by telephone.

Push for the upper hand

Retired general and security analyst Talat Masood said the military may be attempting to strengthen its position in case talks eventually resume.

"The peace process, if at all it continues now, would be from a position of strength and not from a position of weakness. For some time it looked like [the Taliban] had the upper hand. These attacks change that," he said.

But despite the show of force, experts say the Pakistani military is not set to expand the operation with boots on the ground. Such a move would require planning with help from US and Afghan forces on the other side of the border, as well as a contingency plan for the massive upheaval of refugees, Masood said.

"In all probability they will engage in limited but forceful or targeted strikes for some time, to weaken and push the militants," he said.

"Targeted strikes will continue in the near future also; they will neither end nor expand," agreed Imtiaz Gul, another security analyst.

Negotiators for both the government and the Taliban said the door for further dialogue remains open.

"We will keep appealing both the government and the Taliban to stop following the path of violence and resume the stalled dialogue," said professor Muhammad Ibrahim, a member of the Taliban negotiating team.

Rahimullah Yusufzai, a member of the government delegation, said the process could resume if the Taliban agreed to a ceasefire without preconditions and explained the deaths of the soldiers abducted last week.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

 

Date created : 2014-02-25

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