By Raza Khan, The Washington Times
ISLAMABAD | Pakistani forces are preparing to launch a long-awaited military offensive in remote North Waziristan against al Qaeda and Taliban militants, but several key changes in the region could affect the nature and outcome of the operation.
Pakistan’s government and military have not disclosed a time frame, stating only that the offensive will be carried out in line with national interests.
But delays in launching the offensive have triggered important developments in North Waziristan, notably efforts by the main local Pakistani Taliban commander, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, to blunt the offensive by calling for nonviolence and avoiding any challenges to security forces. Militants linked to Mr. Bahadur are viewed as pro-government.
Pakistani authorities signed a peace agreement with Mr. Bahadur in September 2006 in which both sides pledged not to attack, but militants were left free to maintain local control.
Late last month, White House National Security Adviser James L. Jones and CIA Director Leon E. Panetta visited Pakistan amid signs that Pakistan had agreed to launch military operations inside North Waziristan.
In Washington, White House National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer confirmed that the U.S. has been pressing Islamabad to step up military action.
“In the wake of the failed Times Square terrorist attack and its direct links to extremist groups based in Pakistan, we have delivered a clear message to Pakistani authorities of the need to step up our counterterrorism cooperation to prevent an attack on the homeland and to address a common terrorist threat,” he said.
Shortly after the visit, however, a Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman denied that any decision had been made about the offensive.
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