Pakistan’s military claimed that around 80 per cent of Miramshah, the administrative headquarters of North Waziristan Agency, has been purged of militants as the country’s top military and civilian leadership agreed on Wednesday to wrap up Operation Zarb-e-Azb in the shortest possible time in order to allow tens of thousands of displaced tribesmen to return to their homes.
“Eighty per cent of Miramshah has been cleared of terrorists. More than 400 terrorists have been killed and 130 injured in the operation thus far,” Maj-Gen Zafarullah Khan, who is leading Operation Zarb-e-Azb, told local and foreign media persons at a briefing on Wednesday. The journalists were specially flown to the region for the briefing, according to the ISPR, the media wing of Pakistan Army. ISPR chief Maj-Gen Asim Salim Bajwa also briefed the journalists.
Maj-Gen Zafarullah said that up to 100 hideouts of terrorists and their command and control centre have been decimated in the operation that started on June 15 with precision air strikes against the bases of terrorists followed by a ground offensive. “Eleven IED-making factories and 23 tons of explosives have also been seized,” he added. “Similarly, 8,000 cylinders filled with explosives and 234 suicide vests have been recovered.”
In Miramshah, a two-kilometre-long tunnel was discovered and a weapons shop belonging to al Qaeda was also seized, he added. The military has set up 250 new checkpoints in the region.
Maj-Gen Bajwa said that all terrorists would be targeted without any discrimination. He warned that even Hafiz Gul Bahadur, the emir of the Shura-e-Mujahideen North Waziristan, would not be spared. Gul Bahadur had a peace agreement with the government since 2007 that he broke days before the launch of Operation Zarb-e-Azb.
The chief military spokesman also said that the civilian population has not been targeted in the ongoing operation. He added that the civilian population would not be allowed to enter the region until durable peace was restored. He said that the government should take action against the terrorists who might have fled the region before the start of the operation.
According to the BBC, Maj-Gen Zafarullah said it wasn’t possible to seal the entire agency, but held out an assurance that the terrorists who might have fled would not be allowed to return to the region.
There has been no let-up in air raids against hideouts of terrorists and warplanes levelled three bases of militants in pre-dawn strikes in Shawal tehsil of North Waziristan on Wednesday. Military sources said that 11 terrorists, mostly foreigners, were killed in fresh raids.
Maj Gen Zafarullah told the BBC that it would be premature to set a timeframe for the completion of the operation. However, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and army chief Gen Raheel Sharif agreed that it would be completed within the shortest possible time.
The army chief briefed the premier on the progress of the operation at a meeting at the Prime Minister House. Official sources said the premier and the army chief agreed that the battle should not be a prolonged one. During the meeting, Gen Raheel said the offensive has been carried out successfully thus far. He added that the armed forces would achieve their objectives as per the prime minister’s directives.
Premier Nawaz lauded the bravery and courage of the army troops, saying their contribution enabled the operation’s success with minimal collateral damage. The prime minister said he was hopeful that “this operation will be instrumental in bringing peace and security to Pakistan”. Nawaz lauded the role of the army chief in making the operation successful in the shortest possible time.
He expressed satisfaction that all institutions were coordinating to support the IDPs. “We are devising a comprehensive rehabilitation plan for them so they can return home with honour and dignity,” the prime minister said.
Officials announced that the number of IDPs has crossed the 800,000-figure. “Some 833,274 people or 66,726 migrating families from North Waziristan were registered in cities of Bannu and Peshawar until Tuesday evening,” Arshad Khan, the FDMA director general, told AFP.
Khan said 361,459 of the displaced were children and 248,633 women. Officials from the Fata Disaster Management Authority (FDMA) said they were checking registrations for duplicates, suggesting that the figure may come down. The Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA), however, recorded a total of 852,495 individuals at the authority’s checkpoints.
(With additional input from news wires)
Published in The Express Tribune, July 10th, 2014.
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