Thousands of people have fled North Waziristan in recent days, fearing a military offensive against militants, locals and officials said.
Panicked residents have hastily left the agency despite officials repeatedly insisting that Pakistan has no immediate plan to launch an offensive in the volatile region, they added.
“Thousands of people have so far left the area, they are fleeing their homes due to the fear and rumours of a military operation,” Saifur Rehman, a government official in the main town of Miramshah, told AFP.
Mian Iftikhar Hussain, information minister for Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, which borders North Waziristan, told AFP that thousands of people have reached several districts in his area.
Rumours started early this week after a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) told local media that it had received “an exclusive intelligence report” about an offensive in North Waziristan.
In an email sent to media, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said the campaign was to be launched on August 26 and would last one month.
Government and military officials have taken to local radio, asking people to remain calm.
“This is a peaceful area with a peaceful atmosphere. The government has no plan to launch any military operation here,” a radio announcement heard by local residents said.
On Saturday, some 2,000 tribal elders and religious leaders warned the government to not to launch any offensive and threatened to move to Afghanistan “in case of any military operation”.
“We will migrate to Afghanistan, if Pakistan launches any military operation,” Maulvi Abdur Rehman, a religious leader who presided over the tribal Jirga said.
The jirga held in Mirali Town of North Waziristan also requested residents to stay at home. An AFP reporter in the area witnessed people fleeing their homes in vehicles.
‘No information on military operation’
Meanwhile, Tasleem Khan, the Assistant Political Agent (APA) of Miramshah said no information has been released about a military operation in North Waziristan Agency against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Speaking to journalists, Tasleem said security forces would be deployed in the agency only for defence purposes. The assistant political agent insisted that no military operation was possible without informing the tribal people.
“We have told the members of the peace committee to inform the tribesmen that we have not received any information about the operation in the agency,” Tasleem added.
An announcement from the local radio station through a press release said that the tribesmen of the agency were loyal to the country and had offered great support in the establishment of this country. It said that the tribesmen imposed a curfew in the agency only when security forces moved from one place to another, adding that forces have been deployed along the Afghan border to repel any militant attack from Afghanistan.
North Waziristan, one of seven tribal districts riddled with militancy, is considered a stronghold of the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda operatives. Although Pakistan has fought Taliban militants across much of the region it has so far withstood American pressure to move against the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network in North Waziristan. AFP (WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT IN MIRAMSHAH)
Published in The Express Tribune, August 27th, 2012.