Thursday, Mar 18, 2004
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By B. Muralidhar Reddy
ISLAMABAD, MARCH 17. The toll in the Pakistani operation in search of the Al-Qaeda fugitives in the tribal area bordering Afghanistan has risen to 39.
The Inter-Services Public Relations Directorate chief, Shaukat Sultan, conceded that 15 personnel of para-military forces died in the pitched battle with suspected foreign militants in the Waziristan Tribal Agency on Tuesday. He claimed that the operation ended in the evening and the situation was returning to normal.
This is the bloodiest operation conducted by Pakistan in any part of the country as part of the U.S. led war against terrorism. The hunt coincided with the 10-day old offensive by the U.S. troops in southeast Afghanistan. Operation "Mountain Storm" is targeting Al-Qaeda and Taliban remnants in the hope of capturing Osama bin Laden and the Taliban supremo, Mullah Mohammad Omar.
Though Pakistan denies that its operations have anything to do with the U.S., Islamabad has been under tremendous pressure from Washington to step up its offensive.
The Musharraf regime is faced with a delicate situation especially in the Pasthun dominated tribal areas. These areas have enjoyed total autonomy where the State writ virtually did not run. Just a day before the latest operation, Gen. Musharraf flew down to Peshawar, capital of North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), and appealed to the tribal elders to ensure peaceful surrender of 600-odd militants hiding there. The plea was perhaps too late.
Political and religious parties of Pakistan are worried about the adverse impact of the military operations. They have accused Gen. Musharraf of working on the American agenda.
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