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By Hasan Khan
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistan’s chief military spokesman and Director General of Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said that more than 80 percent of South Waziristan has been cleared of militants.
The army launched ground and air offensives against militants of Tehrik - i - Taliban in Pakistan last October.
“During the operation Rah-e-Nejat, the Pak army has successfully cleared more than eighty percent of the area (South Waziristan) from the militants. All road networks and major population centres are in full control of the army and (it) is now in the process of consolidating its positions and stabilizing the trouble tribal territory”, Abbas told Central Asia Online in an exclusive interview December 14.
Talking about the military operation in the South Waziristan tribal Agency, Abbas said that after clearing the area of TTP militants, the Pakistan military is consolidating its positions and stabilizing the affected areas. Simultaneously, he said, the military has also started air and ground offensives in neighbouring Orakzai and Kurram tribal agencies where most of the militants from Waziristan reportedly have taken refuge.
“There are still areas yet to be cleared from militants. … Militants have no place to settle and plan. They are dispersed and are on the run in search of safe places to hide as movement in the whole area is in the control of military. Militants are either killed or have deserted their hideouts and main population centres”, he said
Abbas added, “Now, the military is ready for conducting snap raids against their hideouts and is actively chasing them in the countryside and mountains. The main purpose of a snap operation is to stop guerrillas’ attacks on military and local population once they are back to their homes from IDPs centres”.
“Even after clearing and stabilizing the whole area, the army will stay in South Waziristan agency for security for the local tribes. It is impossible to eliminate militants and collaborators completely, so the army will stay ready for snap operations and giving people the confidence not to submit and succumb again to such elements”, Abbas said as he discussed the future strategy of the Pakistan Army in the region.
The army launched a full scale military operation against the hard-core militants, loosely united under the umbrella of Hakimullah Mehsud-led TTP, October 17. The military claims to have killed almost 600 militants, while more than eighty army personnel have died during the two months of fighting. More than 30,000 ground troops were backed by Pakistani Air Force jet fighters and helicopter gunships in locating and targeting the militants’ hideouts.
Discussing the defeat of the militants and the success of the security forces, Abbas said, “First, militants were not supported by the local tribes - either Mehsuds or Wazirs. The tribal people were made hostage by the militants, who include both locals and foreigners”.
The success of the military operation was due to several reasons, he said, “The first is the strong support of local people for the operation”.
“Besides, the Pakistan army used a very unconventional strategy; the military first occupied the ridges and mountaintops and then started using the normal roads for onward movement”.
“Additionally, Pakistan army night vision capability played a decisive role. Pakistan used its home-made small predators fitted with night vision cameras and communication systems for observing activities of militants at night time”.
As for the new military operations in Orakzai and Kurram, Abbas said: “Already the military has started air and ground offensives on militants’ hideouts in Kurram and Orakzai tribal agencies. In Kurram military and paramilitary forces have taken control of Sadda town and Daggar areas.
Likewise in Orakzai, the military has targeted several hideouts of militants with jet fighters. Even ground offensives have been started at the Ferozkhel locality of Orakzai. In Orakzai, people have vacated their homes and villages for safer places, from those areas where militants are reportedly gathering and taking refuge”.
Abbas is optimistic about the new operation.
“The good news is that local maliks and influential people are extending support to the government and military. Through telephonic intercepts, we have the information that some tribal elders have denied help to Hakimullah Mehsud and his colleagues in their territories.
“The military has cleared the Peshawar-Parachinar road for public transport. Likewise, a large-scale operation is going on simultaneously in the Khyber Agency against militants of Mangal Bagh”.
Abbas said that once the military fully stabilizes the South Waziristan agency, a targeted operation will be launched in Orakzai and Kurram.
Asked about when internally displaced people (IDP’s) can expect to return home, he said it will still take some time, and the displaced will be allowed to return home when the area is fully cleared of militants.
“The military is exactly replicating the Swat model in Waziristan. Once people are given confidence that the military is in total control of situation and will stay for long, they will not only point out the rogue elements among them but also fight against them. Hopefully, IDPs will be back in February next year”.
As for the future, Abbas said unequivocally: “The Pakistan government strategy is to bring the whole tribal area under its writ”.
The success of the military operations in Swat and Waziristan against the militants “will have a much bigger impact even across the border,” Abbas said. “Once the government establishes its writ and brings the whole tribal areas under control, then nobody could challenge its writ here”.