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Pakistan’s military ready to battle Taliban

Militants hiding in tribal regions will be targeted

Tribal families crossed through a military checkpoint Monday in North Waziristan. Air strikes had hit Taliban hideouts in the area.

Thir Khan/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Tribal families crossed through a military checkpoint Monday in North Waziristan. Air strikes had hit Taliban hideouts in the area.

WASHINGTON — The Pakistani government is on the verge of launching a major military offensive in the North Waziristan tribal region following a series of brutal Taliban attacks in recent weeks and the apparent failure of peace talks with the militants, according to a senior Pakistani official.

‘‘It could be any day,’’ said the official, who added that military plans have been shared with top US officials who have long urged an offensive.

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Planning for the operation comes amid a Pakistan-requested pause in US drone strikes now entering its third month — the longest period without an attack in more than two years — and a series of high-level US-Pakistan meetings.

Pakistan’s defense secretary, Asif Yasin Malik, is heading a delegation of security officials in Washington. CIA Director John Brennan quietly visited Pakistan last week, days after General Lloyd Austin III, head of the US Central Command, held meetings at military headquarters in Rawalpindi.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s national security adviser said Cabinet-level consultations on the military option would take place this week. ‘‘Dialogue with the Taliban has derailed and the writ of the state will be established in the region,’’ Sartaj Aziz told reporters Monday in Islamabad.

With 150,000 troops already based in the tribal regions, the Pakistani official said, the government is prepared to begin a full-fledged clearing operation. ‘‘We really don’t have to start from scratch,’’ the official said.

The official said that an official evacuation had not begun, but noted that tens of thousands of residents had left on their own.

US officials, while hailing the current level of cooperation and saying they are encouraged by Pakistan’s apparent determination, noted that they have been disappointed in the past. ‘‘We’ll believe it when we see it,’’ said one US official, who like other US and Pakistan officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic contacts and military plans.

‘‘We’re not doing it for their happiness,’’ said the senior Pakistani official of the United States’ urging. He said the execution last week of 23 soldiers held by the Pakistani Taliban since 2010, along with recent attacks, including one that killed 19 at a Karachi police station, have turned public opinion against the militants and the sputtering peace talks. That has opened political space for military action.

In statements Monday, both the Pakistan People’s Party, the official parliamentary opposition, and Imran Khan, the head of the opposition Movement for Justice party, said they supported a military offensive.

Khan, whose northwest power base borders the tribal regions and who has been harshly critical of Sharif and the United States, called for the government to begin evacuating civilians from North Waziristan before starting a bombardment of the area, as it did prior to military offensives in the Swat region in 2009, and in South Waziristan in 2010.

The Pakistani Taliban is allied with but separate from the Afghan Taliban fighting US forces in Afghanistan. Elements of both, along with the Afghan Haqqani network and remnants of Al Qaeda’s leadership, are located in North Waziristan.

The Pakistani Taliban’s stated goal is to overthrow the government and install an Islamic state based on religious law.

Peace talks were proposed last fall by Sharif, who took office in June after the first democratic transition in Pakistani history. Those talks were canceled when a US drone strike in November killed Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud. The action led to one of the frequent downturns in US- Pakistani relations, as Sharif’s government accused the Obama administration of trying to undermine negotiations.

In December, as it prepared to relaunch the talks, the government asked the administration to hold off on further drone attacks and made clear it was ready to begin an offensive if negotiations did not succeed.

The 2010 South Waziristan offensive began with air bombardment, followed by waves of ground troops, although the official cautioned that the terrain and militant locations in North Waziristan are somewhat different.

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