Pakistan’s army called on the people of the troubled North Waziristan tribal region on Thursday to turf out all foreign militants enjoying sanctuary there.
Washington has called the semi-autonomous region the most dangerous place on Earth and the global headquarters of Al-Qaeda, where Taliban and other Al-Qaeda-linked networks have carved out strongholds.
Speaking at a meeting of top military commanders, army chief General Ashfaq Kayani called on the people of North Waziristan “to evict all foreigners from their soil and take charge of their land and destiny once again”.
Pakistan has come under mounting American pressure to open a ground offensive against insurgents there since Navy SEALs killed Al-Qaeda kingpin Osama bin Laden on May 2.
Kayani told the meeting that the army was following “a well thought out campaign plan and is under no pressure to carry out operations at a particular time”, according to a statement released by the military.
The rugged terrain bordering Afghanistan has witnessed a surge in missile attacks by unmanned drone aircraft. Many analysts see the strikes as compounding pressure on Pakistan to take action into its own hands.
Kayani emphasised that “it was wrong, in principle, to allow others to use our land for fighting their battles. This must not be allowed,” he said.
The army in North Waziristan Agency (NWA) is “committed to supporting the people of NWA in this effort”, he added.
“As far as drone attacks are concerned, the army has repeatedly conveyed to all concerned that these are not acceptable under any circumstances. There is no room for ambiguity in this regard. Government is making necessary efforts in this direction,” the statement said, alluding to Islamabad’s demand for transfer of drone technology to Pakistan.
The drone strikes are hugely unpopular among the general public, who are deeply opposed to the government’s alliance with Washington, but US officials say the missile strikes have severely weakened Al-Qaeda’s leadership.
The United States does not officially confirm Predator drone attacks, but its military and the CIA operating in Afghanistan are the only forces that deploy the armed, unmanned aircraft in the region.