By Iftikhar A. Khan
Tuesday, 20 Oct, 2009
ISLAMABAD: Chief of the Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has sought support of Mehsud tribes in the operation against militants in South Waziristan.
In an open letter to the Mehsud tribes, the copies of which were distributed among reporters at a press briefing jointly addressed by Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira and military spokesman Maj-Gen Athar Abbas, the army chief expressed the hope that the tribes would fully back the army in the operation and collectively rise against oppressive elements for a decisive action.
He made it clear that the operation in South Waziristan was not meant to target the ‘valiant and patriotic’ Mehsud tribes, but aimed at ridding them of the elements who had destroyed peace in the region. He said the target of the operation were Uzbek terrorists, foreign elements and local militants.
Gen Kayani said the army wanted to provide an opportunity to the Mehsud tribes to once again live in their area in peace.
He acknowledged that all tribes, including Mehsud, were loyal to Pakistan and had been working for the ‘defence of the country as an army without salary’.
The letter has a colour photograph of the army chief on the top, the national flag on one side and insignia of the Pakistan Army on the other. Urdu and Pushto versions of the message are reported to have been dropped in South Waziristan by helicopters.
Maj-Gen Abbas said Operation Rah-i-Nijat was progressing well, with troops making advances and achieving their targets before the stipulated timeline.
He said that security forces had made an ‘envelopment manoeuvre’ around Kotkai, the home town of Qari Hussain, who is known as mentor of suicide bombers.
He said that foot-soldiers had advanced miles into the area and reached Kaskai feature, to the north of Kund and west of Kotkai.
The military spokesman said that troops had also secured Tor Ghundai feature in east of Kotkai and Shishwarm in northeast of Kotkai, overlooking the town of Kotkai.
He said that two ammunition caches had been blown up in Jandola-Sararogha axis.
In Shakai-Laddah axis, positions were being consolidated after securing Sherwangi, where troops faced stiff resistance. Perimeter of security was being enhanced around Wuzi Sar and Boya Narai areas, he added.
A number of militants were killed and their positions captured. Terrorists left a post of 12.7mm anti-aircraft gun without fighting.
Maj-Gen Abbas said that troops were consolidating their positions to the south and south-west of Razmak. Rockets were fired from the direction of Makin. Arms and ammunition dumps in caves between Laddah and Makin were destroyed by warplanes.
The spokesman said that 78 militants had been killed since the start of the operation. Nine soldiers have laid down their lives. He said that 18 militants had been killed and two soldiers lost their lives on Sunday and Monday.
He refused to give a timeframe for the operation. ‘We have a timeline in our mind, but its announcement will raise expectations.’
About the deployment of around 30,000 troops to fight about 10,000 militants, he said the ratio was sometimes very misleading. Various factors had to be kept in mind while quantifying a conflict, he added.
The spokesman cited instances where the ratio was 30:1 in the army’s favour, but said the number of troops deployed was sufficient and adequate weaponry was available. ‘We are not alien to the area and security forces also have massive public support,’ he added.
Maj-Gen Abbas said the operation had become inevitable because splinter groups of banned militant outfits were getting space for training, freedom of action as well as material and financial support in South Waziristan.
In reply to a question, he said he had no information about the involvement of US security agency Blackwater in the recent attack on the General Headquarters.
He did not rule out the possibility of people coming from across the border to South Waziristan to help militants, adding that the Waziri tribe occupied a territory between the Afghan border and the area where the operation was under way.
He said there was sufficient deployment of troops at the border with Afghanistan as well as in the Waziri area.
Information Minister Kaira said paucity of funds would never be a problem and all resources required for the operation would be provided.
He expressed the hope that drone attacks would not be carried out during the operation.
‘The government has been telling the United States that drone attacks are counter-productive and that drone technology should be transferred to Pakistan.’
Mr Kaira said that a negotiated settlement with militants had never been ruled out, but they must lay down their arms, surrender and accept the writ of the government.