Pakistani Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani appealed Wednesday for unity in fighting terrorism amid speculation about a military operation in North Waziristan.
In a speech at Pakistan's military academy to observe the country's 65th Independence Day anniversary, the general said the war against terrorism and extremism was not only that of the army but the entire nation, the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan reported.
Kayani warned the army can be successful in the fight against terrorism only if the nation remains united -- otherwise Pakistan could be led into a civil war.
"The fight against extremism and terrorism is our own war and we are right in fighting it," The Nation newspaper quoted him as saying. "Let there be no doubt about it, otherwise we will be divided and taken towards civil war. Our minds should be clear on this.
"We realize that the most difficult task for any army is to fight against its own people. But this happens as a last resort. Our real objective is to restore peace in these areas so that people can lead normal lives ...No state can afford a parallel system or a militant force."
Kayani's remarks come at a time when the United States has been pressing Pakistan to go after the Haqqani network in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal region, which U.S. officials see as a haven used by various terror groups to launch attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan has been reluctant to take such steps against the Haqqani network
In an editorial, Pakistan's News international said with the speculation "about an impending military operation to clear North Waziristan of terrorist sanctuaries, General Kayani used his Independence Day message to pre-empt possible criticism against any such offensive and to build the national mood for what will probably be the toughest phase of the counter-militancy operations in the country."
The editorial, while noting some areas of Pakistan's tribal regions are held by militants mostly loyal to the Taliban, said the state has act to prevent extremists from setting up a parallel system.
An Express Tribune editorial praised Kayani's speech: "He has indicated Pakistan is determined to go after militants with all the force it can muster and to end insurgency in the country. Till now there has, of course, been much debate over how fully the Pakistan military is committed to dealing with the Taliban and other forces based primarily in the tribal areas. The nexus with them for strategic purposes has existed for a long time. It would be a huge positive change if this relationship was ended.
"General Kayani's strong words indicate this will indeed happen," the editorial said. "Following improved relations with Washington, there have been consistent rumors that a huge operation is to be conducted in North Waziristan and other areas."