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US gives deadline for N Waziristan op

Islamabad: The US has given Pakistan a deadline till July to launch a military offensive in the restive North Waziristan tribal region for capturing five most wanted al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorists, including Ayman al-Zawahiri, Mullah Omar and Ilyas Kashmiri.

Pakistani security forces have been asked to capture al-Zawahiri, Omar, Kashmiri, Sirajuddin Haqqani and Atia Abdur Rehman either in a unilateral or joint military action within the deadline till July — the month when NATO and allied forces will begin withdrawing from neighbouring Afghanistan.

The US demand has set alarm bells ringing in Pakistani civil and military circles, The News daily reported on Wednesday quoting unnamed sources.

Pakistan`s security forces had so far shown reluctance in launching a military offensive in North Waziristan despite sustained pressure from the US to do so.

The Haqqani militant network, based in North Waziristan, "had not been any threat to Pakistan" and has served as "a vital contact between the Pakistani intelligence agencies and the Afghan Taliban," the report said.

Another factor for the Pakistani military`s reluctance to move into North Waziristan is the presence of "some very important pro-government" militant factions, including those led by Mullah Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadar.

These groups have "helped the Pakistani security forces keep the anti-government tribal fighters, including the Wazirs, at bay", the report said.

In the past few years, slain Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan chief Baitullah Mehsud and his successor Hakimullah Mehsud launched a "war against the Pakistani security forces with the help of the Mehsud tribe, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and some other sectarian groups".

The killing of Osama bin Laden in a US raid in Abbottabad on May 2 strengthened American decision to pull out its troops from Afghanistan and political advisers like US Vice President Joe Biden have advised President Barack Obama "not to go against the withdrawal roadmap" announced in 2009 if he wants to save the US economy from disastrous effects, the report said.

The deadline and increased pressure on Pakistan for a military operation in North Waziristan before starting the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan will serve several purposes, the report claimed.

The killing or arrest of some of the most wanted terrorists by Pakistani and US security forces will "boost the morale of the American people".

Such a move will also shut up critics who "might say the withdrawal decision was taken by an exhausted nation and a defeated military".

"On the other hand, the Haqqani network and the al-Qaeda and Taliban commanders, allegedly based in Pakistan, and guiding the Afghan Taliban to fight the foreign forces, would not claim the US withdrawal their success," the report said.

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