Preparations for a military push against hard-line militants in North Waziristan became more explicit on Thursday as a top American general arrived in Islamabad to hold talks with his counterpart.
Gen James N Mattis, Commander of United States’ Central Command (Centcom), arrived in Islamabad late Thursday evening and was expected to meet army chief General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani. Senior officials told The Express Tribune that the two generals would discuss how to eliminate their “common enemy” — Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Hakimullah Mehsud.
In Waziristan, locals said, there was abnormal movement of military convoys in the area, spreading fears of another bloody showdown between the army and tribal militants affiliated with al Qaeda. Meanwhile, the top military leadership also cancelled Eidul Fitr holidays for troops deployed in the restive region and directed them to stay alert.
An operation in North Waziristan for eliminating the Haqqani network’s sanctuaries has been a longstanding demand of the US and is one of the major issues which have been weighing down the ties. However, Pakistani and American officials have agreed to eliminate Hakimullah and his hardline followers in the TTP before targeting the Haqqani network.
“The idea is not to go against Haqqani straight … we have suggested taking on Hakimullah and his group first and the Americans have endorsed the idea,” said a senior military official requesting anonymity.
On Monday, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta told AP news agency that Pakistan had decided to launch a military operation against the Pakistani Taliban in North Waziristan but the campaign was not against the Haqqani network.
However, Hakimullah Mehsud and his followers will provide an equally daunting challenge for both the US mission in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He was the mastermind behind a deadly suicide attack on a forward operating base of the US Central Intelligence Agency at Chapman in Khost province of Afghanistan on Dec 30, 2009. As many as seven CIA operatives were killed in that attack.
TTP and its Punjabi affiliates were also behind some of the most audacious attacks against military installations in Pakistan, including a commando-style raid on the army’s General Headquarters (GHQ) in 2009.
According to military officials and TTP associates, Mehsud has been in deep hiding in Shawal Valley — a rugged forest region sprawling across North and South Waziristan— and might have lost control over his group. Mehsud is labelled as target number one in drone strikes being carried out by the CIA in the tribal regions.
There have been reports over the past year that his deputy, Waliur Rehman Mehsud, was forthcoming in peace talks with the Pakistani military.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 17th, 2012.