Security across Islamabad is tighter than ever. Armed police and paramilitaries are carrying out stringent checks at checkpoints around the capital’s "red zone", which covers all the important government buildings

Pakistan braced for terror attacks in the wake of a troops advance into the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan, which the Army described on Monday as the “centre” of all terrorist activities in the country.

On the third day of the offensive, Army Chief Ashfaq Pervez Kayani made the extraordinary move of writing an open letter to the Mehsud tribes of South Waziristan, from whom most of the militants in the area are drawn, reassuring them that the operation was not aimed at them, but only against terrorists. He requested their support for the offensive.

Military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas told journalists that 18 militants were killed in the last 24 hours, and two soldiers also lost their lives, while 12 soldiers were wounded as troops advanced further into South Waziristan and consolidated positions.

Upto 1,00,000 people have fled the fighting in the tribal region and taken refuge in Dera Ismail Khan, Tank and Bannu in the North-West Frontier Province.

A report said several schools run by the armed forces across the country have shut down for a week fearing reprisal terror attacks. Some private schools in the capital and in Rawalpindi have also shut down for the same reason.

Security across Islamabad is tighter than ever. Armed police and paramilitaries are carrying out stringent checks at checkpoints around the capital’s “red zone”, which covers all the important government buildings.

Late on Sunday, the government also cracked down on several madrassas in the capital, detaining dozens of suspects.

On Monday, Karachi police announced the arrest of a Taliban leader identified as Akhtar Zaman and three other suspected militants, and said the arrests had averted a major attack in the city.

Police chief Waseem Ahmed said suicide jackets, explosives and an anti-aircraft launcher and rocket were among the weapons seized from Zaman and the others.

The arrests came as the military announced that it had made good progress in the operation despite stiff resistance in some places, taking control of three areas, including Kotkai, an area to which the Taliban suicide bombing trainer Qari Hussain belongs.

The troops are advancing on three axes towards Makin, the main stronghold of the Taliban within South Waziristan.

Major-General Abbas said the total number of militants killed so far was 78, while Army casualties were nine soldiers killed and 35 wounded.

Journalists are not permitted to travel in South Waziristan, and independent reporting of the operation has been sketchy.

In the open letter, publicised on the Inter-Services Public Relations website, General Kayani solicited the support of the Mehsud tribes for the ground offensive in South Waziristan, telling them that the purpose of the operation was “to liberate them from cruel terrorists”.

He laid out three objectives of the operation, presumably in order of importance: to eliminate Uzbek terrorists; to eliminate “foreign” terrorists, possibly a reference to Arab fighters; and to eliminate local terrorists.

Meanwhile, two high-profile visitors from the U.S., Centcom chief General David Petraeus and Senator John Kerry, did their rounds in the capital meeting political and military leaders.

Senator Kerry met President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani to allay fears that the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act 2009, of which he is a co-sponsor, would impinge on Pakistan’s sovereignty. He also met General Kayani.

General Petraeus met Prime Minister Gilani and General Kayani. The Prime Minister told him to speed up payments to Pakistan from the Coalition Support Fund and Foreign Military Funds for the expenses incurred by it for its co-operation in the Afghan war. He also asked the U.S. for military supplies.

The U.S. military official also praised Pakistan’s “resolve” against terrorism and praised Mr. Gilani for his efforts at evolving a national consensus for this, according to a press release from the Prime Minister’s Office.

A brief statement from the military on General Petraeus’s meeting with the Army Chief said they discussed “matters of mutual interest”.

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