Islamabad: The number of internally displaced Persons (IDPs) from North Waziristan’s tribal region — where a military operation is underway to root out militants — is likely to go up to 700,000, Pakistan’s Defence Minister Khwaja Asif said on Wednesday.

Already more than 450,000 people have been registered as displaced since the operation started on June 15, he said in an interview aired by a local private television channel.

The minister said when the operation was completed — by clearing the region of all foreign and local terrorists — the IDPs would be resettled in their native areas.

He did not give a time frame as to how long the offensive would continue, but said “we are determined” to finish the job.

Asif said Islamabad was in contact with Kabul regarding the presence of fugitive militants on the Afghan side of the border.

“We hope they will not now allow militants to take refuge on Afghanistan’s territory,” the minister said, stressing that elimination of militant sanctuaries in the ongoing operation by Pakistani armed forces would also help establish regional peace.

He said in the post-operation period it would be necessary to give a regular status to the entire tribal belt comprising seven federally administered tribal areas known as FATA to make them part of the national mainstream.

According to military figures, more than 300 terrorists including many Uzbeks have been killed so far in the operation, mostly in air strikes by military jets on militants’ hideouts in which, Asif said, no collateral civilian casualties had occurred.

The army, which has suffered loss of eight soldiers so far, is said to be awaiting the evacuation of civilians before undertaking a full-scale ground sweep. The areas with militants remained cordoned off by troops.

The defence minister, while answering a question about the tension between the government and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (people’s movement) of Islamic scholar Dr Tahirul Qadri, accused the latter of pursuing “a conspiracy to destabilise Pakistan.”

Asif said it would be investigated from what foreign sources the PAT leader, who also holds a Canadian nationality, was receiving “huge” funds for his campaign.

Qadri, who returned to Pakistan on Monday from Canada, has accused the federal and Punjab governments of “state terrorism” and vowed to avenge the killing of about a dozen party workers including two women in an alleged police firing on June 17 in Lahore.

He says his mission is to wage a peaceful struggle to change what he calls “the totally corrupt system” in the country which according to him serves only the interests of the elite.