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Taleban ‘warns’ foreign firms as Pakistan sends in the tanks 37 militants killed in offensive: Islamabad

MIRANSHAH, Pakistan, June 16, (Agencies): The Pakistani Taleban on Monday warned foreign firms to leave the country and vowed to hit back against the government after tanks, troops and jets were deployed in a long-awaited offensive on their stronghold. Pakistan’s major cities braced for revenge attacks by tightening security at key installations and ordering soldiers to patrol the streets, while hospitals in the northwest prepared for casualties.

The offensive in the North Waziristan tribal area, the main bastion of Taleban and al-Qaeda militants, was launched a week after a brazen insurgent attack on the country’s main airport in Karachi left dozens dead and marked the end of a troubled peace process. Pakistan’s allies, particular the United States, have called for an operation in the mountainous tribal territory to flush out groups like the Haqqani network, which use the area to target NATO troops in neighbouring Afghanistan. But authorities had previously held back from a final push — possibly fearful of angering warlords who attack only Afghanistan and of opening too many fronts in their decade-long battle against homegrown Islamist insurgents. The Tehreek-e-Taleban Pakistan (TTP) warned foreign countries to stop doing business with the government and supporting its “apostate army”. “We warn all foreign investors, airlines and multinational corporations that they should immediately suspend their ongoing matters with Pakistan... otherwise they will be responsible for their own loss,” main TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said in a statement. “We hold Nawaz Sharif’s government and the Punjabi establishment responsible for the loss of tribal Muslims’ life and property as a result of this operation,” he added, vowing to “burn your palaces” in Islamabad and Lahore. Large numbers of troops were seen patrolling the streets of Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi.

In the northwestern Khyber- Pakhtunkhwa province which borders the tribal zone, the government has declared a state of emergency in all hospitals and told them to prepare for casualties, said provincial health minister Shahram Khan Tarakai. Pakistani jets pounded targets in the country’s northwest on Monday as the military waged an offensive against militant safe havens that killed 37 fighters, while insurgents fought back with a roadside bomb that killed six soldiers, the first army casualties of the operation, the military said. The airstrikes are part of a long-awaited operation against foreign and local militants in North Waziristan, an essentially lawless tribal region which has served as a training base for militants and a staging point for insurgents who attack Pakistan and NATO and Afghan troops across the border. The operation started Sunday. The United States has for years complained to Pakistan about its failure to impose order in a region harboring what Washington considers the country’s most dangerous militants, and has carried out hundreds of drone strikes in the area. The offensive marks the end of the government’s policy of trying to negotiate with Pakistani Taleban militants instead of using force to end years of fighting which has killed tens of thousands of civilians and security forces.

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