Pakistan says 910 militants killed as mass protests plague Sharif government

Pakistan said Wednesday it has killed 910 suspected militants and lost 82 soldiers in a major offensive launched in June in a restive tribal region near Afghanistan.

Military said its operation 'progressing as per plan' after destroying bomb-making factories

Anti-government demonstrators led by opposition politician Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri are demanding Prime Minister Sharif's ouster over alleged fraud in last year's election. Their protests turned violent this past weekend, when clashes between demonstrators and security forces killed many and wounded hundreds. (Anjum Naveed/Associated Press)

Pakistan said Wednesday it has killed 910 suspected militants and lost 82 soldiers in a major offensive launched in June in a restive tribal region near Afghanistan.

The military said it has cleared the main towns of Miran Shah, Mir Ali, Datta Khel, Boya and Degan, all former Taliban strongholds in North Waziristan, since June 15, when it launched a major operation there to eliminate local and foreign insurgents accused of orchestrating attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

It said authorities also carried out 2,274 intelligence-led operations across the country since June, killing 42 militants and capturing 114 others.

The offensive has displaced some 800,000 people, who are now living in rented homes or camps miles away from their towns and villages. The military said it was providing food aid and that its medical staff had treated thousands of displaced people.

The United States has long pressed Pakistan to act against Islamic militants in the tribal regions as Washington has launched drone strikes targeting suspected militant commanders and massed fighters. Pakistan has denied it is providing safe havens for the militants and has condemned the drone strikes, saying they often kill or wound civilians.

On Wednesday, the military said its operation was "progressing as per plan" and that it had destroyed dozens of bomb-making factories in the region.

The latest announcement by the military comes as famed cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan and fiery anti-Taliban cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri are leading mass rallies in Islamabad in a bid to force Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to step down. The two have accused Sharif of widespread voting fraud in the election that brought him to power last year.

A 'revolt against Pakistan'

The protests turned violent over the weekend, with three people killed and some 400 wounded in running clashes between demonstrators and police. The government still enjoys wide support in Parliament, however, and Sharif has refused to step down. 

Even in the face of thousands of protesters, Pakistan's lawmakers continue to rally behind the country's embattled prime minister.

Speaking for the government in the joint session of Pakistan's National Assembly and the Senate, the country's interior minister slammed the protesters demanding Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's resignation, describing them as "terrorists."

"This is a revolt against Pakistan," Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said. "They are fake revolutionaries, and they are terrorists."

Sharif called the session amid the biggest threat to his tenure since he took office a little more than a year ago in Pakistan's first democratic transfer of power since its independence in 1947.

The leader of the main opposition party, the Pakistan People's Party, also threw his support behind Sharif.

Party leader Aitzaz Ahsan did criticize Sharif at times, saying that he should have shown better judgment in dealing with the protesters' concerns earlier. He also made his own allegations of vote-rigging in the May 2013 election, though international observers did not find any indication of such while monitoring the vote.

However, Ahsan gave Sharif his assurances that his party backed the government.

Protests spark concerns of coup

"No one can force you to resign as all of us are fully backing you," he said. "It is illegal and unconstitutional to demand the prime minister's resignation like this."

One of Khan's former top allies raised the spectre of military involvement in the protests, alleging that Khan's demonstration was scripted ahead of time and that Imran believed he had the support of the military. The military has denied it is backing the protesters.

But in a country where the army has taken control in three coups, the protests have sparked concerns the military is trying to weaken Sharif.

Sharif was ousted in a 1999 coup, and years later relations between him and the military are just as tense. Sharif has pursued a treason case against the former army chief and sided with a private television channel that accused the country's spy chief of trying to kill its top anchor. The prime minister also wants to open up relations with rival India and negotiated for months with Taliban militants who have repeatedly killed military troops.