Peshawar, Feb. 20 (AP): Pakistani air force jets bombed militant hideouts in the country’s volatile northwest today, officials said, after government efforts to negotiate a peace deal with the Pakistani Taliban broke down earlier this week.
A Pakistani military official and two intelligence officers said today that 15 suspected militants were believed to have been killed in the air strikes. All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has favoured peace talks over military action to end the bloodshed in the northwest. Those efforts made limited progress this month when a government-appointed committee met with representatives nominated by the militants to represent them.
But the negotiations were troubled from the start as militant attacks continued during the process, including a deadly bombing claimed by the Pakistan Taliban last week that killed 12 police officers in the port city of Karachi.
Then, following an announcement by a faction of the Taliban that they had killed 23 soldiers on Sunday in reprisal for the killing of some their members, the government committee told the Prime Minister on Tuesday that they were unable to continue the talks unless the militants renounced violence.
The Pakistani Taliban yesterday countered that they would agree to a ceasefire only if the government negotiating committee could assure them there would be no more killings of their members.
The air strikes hit villages in the North Waziristan tribal region late yesterday, a hotbed of militant activity that borders Afghanistan to the west, as well as the Khyber tribal region this morning. The 15 dead were killed in North Waziristan. A security official said there were reports of militants also killed in Khyber but no detailed information.
The military official said a huge cache of arms and ammunition were also destroyed in the air strikes in North Waziristan and explosives and a factory for making homemade bombs was hit in Khyber. Another official said militant hideouts of foreign Uzbek and Tajik fighters were among the locations targeted in North Waziristan.
A local resident, Akhtar Khan, in North Waziristan near where the strikes took place said they woke to the booming sound of jets dropping bombs but he had no information about any casualties.
Sharif has not said specifically whether he will stop pursuing the negotiations, and pursuing military operations comes with its own risks. Any large-scale operation in North Waziristan would likely cause a backlash and attacks in other parts of Pakistan.