Islamabad (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Pakistan's Army carried out an early morning air strike Tuesday on a militant-infested tribal district, killing at least 15 people, the military said, a day after a brazen Taliban assault on Karachi airport. A military statement said "nine terrorist hideouts were destroyed" in the raids, which came after the Taliban stormed Pakistan's biggest airport, killing at least 30 people in an all-night battle on Monday. The death toll from Tuesday's strikes, in the restive Tirah Valley area of Khyber tribal district, could not be independently verified.
Pressure has built on the military to act after Monday's attack by at least 10 militants, which left a nascent peace process in tatters and raised questions about how they were able to penetrate the airport in Pakistan's economic hub. Many observers believe that following the attack on Karachi the process is all but dead and the government is under pressure to react, raising questions about security in the country.
The air strikes are the latest in a succession of such attacks carried out by the Pakistani military in the tribal belt this year after talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) broke down. The last were carried out in North Waziristan in late May, killing at least 75 people and causing some 58,000 people to flee from the district in fear of a fuller ground offensive that has been widely expected .
An offensive in North Waziristan has been rumoured for years but analysts remain cautious about whether the military has the capacity to attempt such a move without assistance from the Afghan side of the border where militants are likely to flee in the event of an attack.
The government launched peace talks with the Taliban in January, followed by the presentation last month of the first Code of Conduct on national security. The truce between the government and Taliban expired on April 16 , but the Islamists have confirmed their intention to continue negotiations. Moreover, in the context of the talks, the Taliban demand the release of hundreds of prisoners, the army's withdrawal from the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and the introduction of Islamic law (sharia).
With a population of more than 180 million people (97 per cent Muslim), Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world, the second largest Muslim nation after Indonesia. About 80 per cent of Muslims are Sunni, whilst Shias are 20 per cent. Hindus are 1.85 per cent, followed by Christians (1.6 per cent) and Sikhs (0.04 per cent). Violence against ethnic and religious minorities is commonplace across the country, with Shia Muslims and Christians as the main target, with things getting worse. Violence against ethnic or religious minorities is commonplace across the country, from the province of Punjab in the north to Karachi in the southern province of Sindh, where more than 2,200 people were killed in the first eight months of 2012.