Islamabad — The Pakistani army Sunday launched a long-awaited operation against foreign and local militants in a tribal region near the Afghan border, hours after jets pounded insurgent hideouts in the country’s northwest, the army said.
The move effectively ends the government’s policy of trying to negotiate with Pakistani Taliban militants instead of using force to end the years of fighting that has killed tens of thousands of civilians and security forces. It comes a week after the militants laid siege to the country’s largest airport in an attack that shocked the country.
The North Waziristan tribal area, where the operation is targeted, is one of the last areas in the tribal regions where the military has not launched a large operation.
Militant groups including the Pakistani Taliban, al-Qaida and the Haqqani network have long used the region as a base from which to attack both Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan.
“Using North Waziristan as a base, these terrorists had waged a war against the state of Pakistan,” military spokesman Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa said in a press release announcing the operation.
The U.S. has pushed Pakistan to clear out militants in North Waziristan because they often use it as a sanctuary from which to attack NATO and Afghan troops. But Pakistan has said its troops were already too spread out across the northwest, and the military has also wanted political support from the civilian government to carry out an operation which will likely spark a bloody backlash across the country.
On Sunday night, the defense minister aggressively supported the operation, but there were no comments from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
“Now we have to fight this do or die war,” Defense Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif told Pakistan’s Dunya Television. “We will fight it till the end.”