The probable death of Baitullah Mehsud, a militant leader with thousands of followers, could reduce terrorist attacks in Pakistan. The impact on the war in Afghanistan is less certain.
US and Pakistani forces have been homing in on Baitullah Mehsud with missile attacks on his stronghold in South Waziristan.
US envoy Richard Holbrooke Thursday defended the military, which has been launching 'softening up' operations in South Waziristan for more than a month.
The step is a blow to the military as it battles a Taliban leader in a neighboring province. The two Taliban movements could now join forces.
As the government prepares for a major operation in South Waziristan, it's eyeing lessons learned from previous campaigns that were cut short in the face of weak public support.
Qari Zainuddin, who had been challenging militant chief and fellow tribesman Baitullah Mehsud, was shot dead Tuesday.
As the Army begins attacking South Waziristan, it has targeted hideouts of Baitullah Mehsud. Killing or even dislodging the militant chief could deal a severe blow to the movement, analysts say.
As many as 50 died Saturday as the military prepares to officially launch an offensive in the Taliban stronghold.