Pakistan army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani in unity plea

Gen Kayani (right) with US commander in Afghanistan Gen John Allen (Aug 2012) Gen Kayani (right) and his US counterpart Gen John Allen have held several meetings

Pakistani army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has called for national unity "in the battle against terrorism".

In an Independence Day speech, he said no state could afford a parallel system of government.

On Monday, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said that Pakistan had assured US officials that it would attack militants in North Waziristan.

There have been long-standing US demands for a Pakistani ground offensive in the area.

The frontier tribal region - close to the Afghan border - is considered a hub of Taliban and al-Qaeda activity and has long been a source of tension between the two countries.

"We realise 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," Gen Kayani said.

"No state can afford a parallel system or a militant force.

Analysis

The fact that the US Defence Secretary should make the public comments he did about a likely Pakistani offensive in the country's tribal areas is striking.

Gen Kayani's remarks may be a further hint that a plan is afoot.

The issue of Pakistani military activity against militants in this region, or lack of it, has long been a bone of contention between the two sides.

Security relations have also gone through an exceptionally difficult period.

And it has taken longer and proved harder to rebuild the relationship probably than either side would have hoped.

But the signs are that that improvement has been taking place, with hints of movement on both sides.

The new Pakistani intelligence chief has just visited Washington, at the same time as the US Gen John Allen was in Islamabad.

Clearly, tensions remain. What, if anything, might actually materialise in terms of any Pakistani action, and when, is still far from certain.

But, in some ways, the issue of what to do in the tribal areas is becoming more critical as the clock ticks down towards the end of the US and Nato combat mission in Afghanistan.

The same is also likely to be true of the US/Pakistani security relationship.

"The fight against extremism and terrorism is our own war and we are right in fighting it. Let there be no doubt about it, otherwise we'll be divided and taken towards civil war."

The general made his address at the military academy in Kakul, close to where US special forces killed al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden last year.

He said that "the war against extremism and terrorism" was not one that should be fought by the army alone.

"It is imperative that the entire nation is united in this context because the army can only be successful with the co-operation of the people."

On Monday Mr Panetta said that Gen Kayani had discussed the planned operation in North Waziristan during recent conversations with Gen John Allen, the top US commander in Afghanistan.

He said that while he did not know when the Pakistani operation would start, he understood it would be in the "near future" - and that the main target would be the Pakistani Taliban, rather than the al-Qaeda linked Haqqani network whose focus is the fight against Nato forces in Afghanistan.

"They've talked about it for a long time. Frankly, I'd lost hope that they were going do anything about it. But it does appear that they in fact are going to take that step," Mr Panetta said.

He said that relations with the Pakistani military had improved "a great deal" after the two sides fell out over a US air strike in November that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border.

More on This Story

More Asia stories

RSS

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.