ISLAMABAD: Pakistan agreed in principle on Wednesday to launch a full-fledged military operation against the Taliban in North Waziristan, but candidly told the United States that the timing of the offensive would be decided by it.
“Pakistan is sincere and committed in combating terrorism and is ready to expand its anti-militancy operations to North Waziristan.
“However, for that we will require time to do the necessary shaping up. The operation will be started according to our own judgment,” a senior official told Dawn after US National Security Adviser Gen James Jones and CIA chief Leon Panetta held a meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Chief of the Army Staff Gen Parvez Kayani.
The US has been pressing Pakistan for some time to act decisively against militant sanctuaries in North Waziristan, but the pressure has increased since the recent botched attack on New York’s Times Square. The US alleged that the bombing accused, Faisal Shahzad, had received training in North Waziristan and said it was necessary to clear the region of Taliban, Al Qaeda and other jihadi groups.
Pakistan agreeing to move into North Waziristan is also evident from a joint statement issued after the meeting. It said: “Discussions focused on measures that both the countries (the US and Pakistan) are, and will be, taking to confront the common threat we face from extremists and prevent such potential attacks from occurring again. Both sides pledged to do everything possible to protect our citizens.”
After the meeting, senior Pakistani officials appeared reconciled to allegations that the Times Square bombing conspiracy had been hatched in the lawless tribal belt.
Pakistan has hitherto been reluctant to take on the militants in North Waziristan, but it appears that it was forced to change its tack after a blunt message from President Obama, delivered by the visiting US officials to the Pakistani leadership, warning that any future attack on the US soil originating from here would have serious consequences.
The message called for increased intelligence sharing between the two countries for thwarting terrorist plots. In an apparent balancing act, Mr Obama said that strategic relations between the US and Pakistan would not be allowed to be derailed under any situation.
Diplomatic sources said the US emissaries, notwithstanding the tough message they carried, looked conciliatory in the discussions, adding that they were cognizant of the importance of Pakistan for the US military campaign in Afghanistan, particularly the looming decisive encounter in the Taliban citadel of Kandahar.
Pakistan’s civil and military leaders categorically told the US officials that the army was not in a position to move immediately into North Waziristan because of a number of limitations, including efforts being made to consolidate gains made in the areas cleared of the Taliban and capacity and resource issues. Besides, an environment conducive to the operation needs to be developed.
Pakistan sought an increase in financial and development assistance. It told the US officials that the American aid should go simultaneously to different sectors, but the latter were non-committal to the demand.
Last year the US tripled the non-military aid to $1.5 billion a year under the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act, but Pakistan said that it should be increased to change the divisive public opinion in its favour.
APP adds: President Zardari said militancy and terrorism were the common enemies of the US and Pakistan and it was important to continue the cooperation between the two countries in combating the menace.
US Ambassador Anne Patterson also attended the meeting.
A statement issued by the President House said: “The discussions covered US-Pakistan relations, security situation in the region, shared terrorist threat and fight against extremists and the strategic dialogue.”
General Jones reiterated his country’s long-term commitment to the strategic partnership with Pakistan, including support for creating economic opportunities for the people of Pakistan.
Both sides expressed their commitment to strengthening ties across the broad spectrum of issues, including trade, economic growth and development.
Gen Jones and Leon Panetta also provided an update on investigations into the Times Square terrorist attempt. Gen Jones praised Pakistan for its cooperation in the investigation and its efforts to combat extremists.
Mr Zardari said Pakistan wanted a long-term, multifaceted and durable relationship with the US which no incident should be able to adversely impact.