ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistani military jets pounded militant hideouts in the northwestern tribal region bordering Afghanistan early Sunday morning, officials said, killing as many as 100 militants in the second strike on the region since a deadly attack on the Karachi airport a week ago.
The Pakistani government has been under pressure to combat the resilient insurgency that has plagued the country for years after the shocking attack of the country's busiest airport that left 36 people dead, including 10 assailants. Government efforts that started months ago to negotiate with the militants appeared to be going nowhere and the airport violence has made negotiations even less likely to succeed.
Pakistani air force jets targeted eight militant hideouts in the North Waziristan tribal area, two intelligence officials said. Many of the dead were believed to be Uzbeks and other foreign fighters, they said.
One of those killed was Abu Abdul Rehman al-Maani, who is believed to have helped orchestrate the five-hour airport siege last Sunday, said two other officials. Uzbek fighters and the Pakistani Taliban both claimed responsibility for the attack on Jinnah International Airport, and the Pakistani Taliban said the two had worked together to carry it out, marking a disturbing increase of militant groups working together.
When the jets struck, the militants had been gathered to discuss a deadline given by authorities for militants to leave the area, said two of the Pakistani officials.
All the officials did not want to be identified because they were not authorized to speak to the media. The information could not be independently verified. The tribal areas are remote, dangerous and difficult for journalists to access.
Sunday's airstrike was the second against militants in the northwest. On Tuesday, Pakistani military jets targeted nine hideouts in the Tirah Valley, where the military said 25 suspected militants were killed, but the information could not be independently verified. The area is part of a lawless terrain along the Afghan border that is home to a mix of local militants and al-Qaida-linked foreign fighters.
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan's claim of responsibility for the airport attack on the airport marked a rare instance of the group striking within Pakistan. The militant group was formed in 1991 to overthrow the Uzbek government and install an Islamic caliphate there but later expanded that goal to include all of Central Asia. The organization is believed to be based in North Waziristan and from there have attacked U.S. and NATO targets in Afghanistan.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was elected last year in part for promising to end the years of militant violence through negotiations instead of military operations. But only one round of direct talks between the government and the Pakistani Taliban has taken place and efforts have floundered in recent weeks. Now the question is whether Sharif will authorize a much more aggressive military operation against the militants.
In another act of violence this weekend, a guard for a provincial Christian lawmaker shot and killed the legislator Saturday, police said. Lawmaker Handery Masieh was meeting with supporters from the ruling National Party outside his home in the southwestern city of Quetta when the guard opened fire, police officer Abdul Razzaq Cheema said.
One of the Masieh's nephews was wounded in the attack, he said. Cheema said it was not clear why the guard opened fire.
Government spokesman Jan Mohammad Buledi said the guard fled after the attack and police were trying to arrest him.
Quetta is the capital of Baluchistan, where nationalists groups have waged a low-scale insurgency to get a greater share of money earned from resources there, like natural gas. Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaida-linked militants also hide in Baluchistan.