WASHINGTON — Pakistan is poised to launch a full-scale offensive in its lawless tribal region North Waziristan if talks with Taliban insurgents fail, a senior Pakistan government official said Tuesday.
The Pakistani government recently opened negotiations with the Pakistani Taliban to end years of fighting in the northwest that has cost thousands of lives and forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes.
Peace efforts suffered a setback, however, when a bombing claimed by the Pakistan Taliban last week killed 12 police officers in the port city of Karachi, and a few days later a Taliban faction also claimed it killed 23 soldiers.
The official, who briefed reporters in Washington on condition that he not be identified, said Pakistan’s government prefers a negotiated settlement but that preparations have been made for military action if negotiations do not yield the “right dividend.”
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was elected in May, long has favored peace talks over military action to end the bloodshed in the northwest, but he is also under pressure from critics to retaliate for any Taliban violence. Local media reported that Sharif’s Cabinet was scheduled to meet Tuesday to discuss options for operations in the tribal region.
The official said Pakistani troops would not have to be sent into the area because they already are deployed there and only would have to be repositioned for what he said would be a “very visible operation.”
The U.S. has repeatedly demanded that Pakistan carry out an operation in North Waziristan to target members of the Haqqani network and other militants based there who attack American troops across the border in Afghanistan. The Haqqani group is blamed for some of the most high-profile attacks in Afghanistan, especially in the capital, Kabul.
The official said members of the Haqqani network would be among those militants targeted, but he said most Haqqanis live in Afghanistan.
Associated Press writers Ijaz Mohammad in Bannu, Pakistan, Asif Shahzad in Islamabad and Riaz Khan in Peshawar contributed to this report.