PESHAWAR, Pakistan – Pakistani fighter jets bombed suspected militant hideouts in the tribal areas of North Waziristan and Khyber Agency early Thursday, killing at least 35 people, news agencies reported.
The raids occurred after a government bid to open peace talks with the banned Pakistani Taliban insurgent group collapsed following a series of militant attacks, including the reported killing of 23 paramilitary soldiers in insurgent custody Sunday.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the killings. Thursday’s airstrikes suggested that Sharif’s government, which has resisted pressure from Pakistan’s powerful military for more decisive action against the insurgents, could be ready to take a harder line.
Pakistani media quoted unnamed security officials as saying that at least 35 militants were killed after the bombings, but the reports couldn’t be verified independently because access to the tribal areas in Pakistan’s northeast is severely restricted.
Residents in Miram Shah, the administrative capital of North Waziristan, said the strikes began about 12:30 a.m. and continued for an hour. Zamir Gul, a resident, told The Times by telephone that Pakistani warplanes bombed the areas of Mir Ali, Datakhel and Shawal, adding that residents had fled their homes in fear.
Five people were reportedly killed and three injured in an air attack on a compound in Shawal, a mountainous area along the Afghanistan border.
The raids came a day after the Pakistani Taliban’s chief spokesman said it would agree to a cease-fire if the Pakistani government stopped the alleged killing of militants in its custody. The group said in a statement that the execution of the paramilitary soldiers Sunday was in retaliation for the killings of 23 insurgents in official custody in Karachi and Nowshera.
The insurgent group “is ready for a cease-fire if the government stops custodial and extrajudicial killings and arrests of our workers,” spokesman Shahid Ullah Shahid told reporters from an undisclosed location Wednesday.
The Pakistani government has denied killing militants in its custody.
Ali is a Times special correspondent. Times staff writer Bengali reported from Washington.