Pakistani army plans to enlist pro-government tribesmen in a fresh campaign to flush out "hard-core" al-Qaeda elements and their affiliates from North Waziristan tribal region, but the Haqqani militant network would be spared "for the time being."
The move is aimed at deflecting growing US pressure for a full-scale offensive against the Haqqani network – the deadliest of all Afghan Taliban factions – that is believed to be based in the lawless tribal region, a media report said today.
Under the plan, tribesmen have been urged to form 'laskhars' or militias to take out "hard-core al-Qaeda elements and their affiliates" who have challenged the writ of the state by mounting terrorist attacks inside Pakistan, The Express Tribune newspaper quoted its sources as saying.
The idea was discussed in the June 9 meeting of the army's Corps Commanders and taken up during army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani's talks with CIA chief Leon Panetta the following day, an unnamed military official told the daily.
"This strategy has achieved significant results in South Waziristan agency and now it's time to apply it in the North," said the official.
"We are encouraging pro-Pakistan tribesmen to take on al-Qaeda operatives. Tajik, Uzbek and Chechen fighters have found sanctuaries in North Waziristan. We will facilitate them (tribesmen) to form tribal lashkars to achieve that goal."
The official confirmed that the Haqqani network would be spared, "at least for the time being".
He said: "Our objective and priority at this point in time is to eliminate anti-Pakistan groups from the area." This implied that the influential Haqqani network does not pose a direct threat to Pakistan's interests, the report said.
During the Corps Commanders' conference on June 9, Kayani had called on the people of North Waziristan to "evict all foreigners from their soil and take charge of their land and destiny once again".
He said "it was wrong, in principle, to allow others to use our land for fighting their battles. This must not be allowed."
Troops in North Waziristan are "committed to supporting the people...in this effort", Kayani said.
Another unnamed official told the daily: "We want to follow traditions of the area...we want peaceful local tribesmen to take the lead in clearing the region of terrorists.
"Once the tribesmen are on board, it will be easier for the military to drive out the militants from North Waziristan."
The military is trying to convince the US to embrace this new strategy as an alternative to a full-scale operation in the region.
The policy of raising anti-Taliban militias was successful in parts of Upper Dir district in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province and Mohmand and Bajaur tribal regions, where the lashkars successfully confronted militants.
However, militants struck back by targeting Lashkars, killing and injuring hundreds of volunteers and tribal elders, especially in Salarzai sub-division of Bajaur tribal agency, Adezai area near Peshawar and in Lakki Marwat district.
The army has ruled out any immediate move to open a new front in North Waziristan, despite repeated US demands for a decisive push against the Haqqani network and other militant elements.
Kayani said during the Corps Commanders' conference that the army is following a "well thought out campaign plan and is under no pressure to carry out operations at a particular time" in North Waziristan.