|Rezaul H Laskar,
Islamabad, Aug 17 - Preparations for a military push against militants in North Waziristan appeared to be underway, as a top US Army commander held talks with Pakistani military officials on better cooperation along the border with Afghanistan.
Residents of the lawless Waziristan tribal region said they had noticed "abnormal movement of military convoys in the area" and this had caused fears of another showdown between the army and tribal militants affiliated with al Qaeda, The Express Tribune reported.
The top military leadership cancelled holidays for the festival of Eid-ul-Fitr for troops deployed in the restive region and directed them to stay alert, the report said.
The preparations for a possible campaign against militants emerged as Gen James Mattis, commander of the US Central Command, held talks in Islamabad yesterday with Pakistan Army chief Gen Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani and other top military officials.
Senior officials were quoted by the Tribune as saying that Mattis and Kayani would discuss how to eliminate their "common enemy" ? Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan chief Hakimullah Mehsud.
A statement issued today by the US Embassy said the two commanders had discussed common security issues, including steps to improve cross-border cooperation.
An operation in North Waziristan to eliminate the sanctuaries of the Haqqani network has been a longstanding demand of the US and is a key irritant in bilateral ties. However, US officials have said that any drive in North Waziristan is expected to target the TTP and not the Haqqani network.
"The idea is not to go against Haqqani straight... we have suggested taking on Hakimullah and his group first and the Americans have endorsed the idea," an unnamed senior Pakistani military official was quoted as saying by the Tribune.
According to Pakistani military officials, Mehsud is hiding in Shawal Valley, a rugged forest region sprawling across North and South Waziristan. Mehsud is labelled as target number one for the US drone campaign.
There have been reports over the past year that his deputy, Wali-ur-Rehman Mehsud, was forthcoming in peace talks with the Pakistani military.
In a related development, the top Pakistan Army commander in the country's northwest yesterday dismissed as speculative, reports of an impending military operation in the North Waziristan and said no decision had been made so far.
"No such decision is in front of me," said Lt Gen Khalid Rabbani, commander of the Peshawar Corps, when he was asked at a dinner he hosted for journalists if a military operation in North Waziristan was imminent.
Rabbani said the government and the political leadership would decide any operation in North Waziristan and dismissed all speculations in this regard. Political ownership and national consensus are pre- requisites for any decision to launch an operation, he said.
Reacting to comments by American officials that an offensive would be launched soon, Rabbani, whose area of military jurisdiction includes North Waziristan, said any decision on "when to launch an operation, why to launch an operation and against who to launch the operation would be made in Pakistan and not outside".
"Whenever there is an operation, if there is an operation, it will be done by the Pakistan Army. There will be no foreign signature or footprints," he was quoted as saying by the media. "We are ready to launch an operation but the decision will have to come from the government," he added. PTI