Posts Tagged ‘Bajaur’

Pakistan refugee camps swell after battles

October 21, 2008

Refugees may be forced to spend the winter in tents

BY SAEED SHAH • MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS • October 21, 2008

TIMERGARA, Pakistan — A Pakistani military assault on Taliban and Al Qaeda extremists near the Afghan border has unleashed a flood of at least 190,000 displaced people who may be forced to spend the approaching winter in tents and could be marooned for years.

Pakistani authorities claim to have killed more than 1,000 militants in Bajaur, with 17 more reported killed in the last two days, but what was supposed to be a quick military assault against the Islamic extremists along the border with Afghanistan is now in its third month and could be Pakistan’s biggest offensive since 9/11.

Washington has criticized Pakistan for appeasing the extremists, but on Monday, Richard Boucher, a visiting U.S. assistant secretary of state, said: “I think it is good that Pakistan is taking serious action against terrorists.”

However, if the military extends the action to other areas, the streams of displaced people and the resentment of Pakistan’s cooperation with the United States in the war on terrorism are likely to grow.

Many of the newly displaced people are living in squalid, makeshift camps in the adjoining North West Frontier Province, where they have no running water, no electricity, no toilets and no heat. Aid workers and officials fear that they may be trapped for years. Others have fled to Afghanistan, according to the United Nations.

Bajaur has been virtually emptied of its inhabitants, officials said. At least 10 camps run by the government now house tens of thousands from Bajaur; others have taken shelter with family and friends, and as many as 100,000 have fled hundreds of miles to the southern port city of Karachi.

A grim settlement has taken shape on a hillside outside the town of Timergara, which borders Bajaur. The month-old camp there has just started a rudimentary open-air school for younger children, taught by the older kids, and a clinic has been established.

There now are 880 families at the Timergara camp, or about 6,260 individuals, most of them children, according to the official in charge. Most families are allotted one tent each, which means that eight or more people must share it.

“We don’t have enough water to drink, let alone the chance to bathe,” said Gul Mohammad, 25, who arrived with seven family members. “We brought nothing. We just came here to save our lives.”

Toilet facilities, so far, are a communal ditch or a trip to the nearby river. There’s no electricity, and water is trucked in. Food is distributed by the government and aid agencies, but the refugees said it was inadequate and that they had to scavenge or buy wood to cook it.

“First we thought this would be for a month. It looks like years to me now,” said Abdul Hameed, the Pakistani official who runs the facility. “We have stopped more coming in. There is no space left.”

Winter, now setting in, is bitterly cold in Timergara, but the refugees said they didn’t even have blankets. Their anger is directed mostly at the Pakistani authorities, not at the Taliban, for launching the operation and for the miserable conditions they now endure. They charge that Bajaur is being pounded indiscriminately by jet fighters and helicopter gunships and that most of the casualties are innocent civilians.

“Even when a 2-year-old dies in a strike,” the army says in the media that “he was Taliban or Al Qaeda,” said Rahim Gul, who had come from a village close to Damadola, an alleged hotbed of Islamic militancy.

Tribesmen rarely criticize the Taliban, probably out of fear, but the refugees report large-scale destruction of homes and civilian deaths from the army bombardment. The chief spokesman for the Pakistan army said he had no figures for civilian casualties.

“A missile struck my house.” The army even “hit the village mosque,” said Mohammed Jan. “They are willing to hit mosques, so what chance is there that they will spare poor people?”

“Houses are being used by the militants as bunkers. They’re firing from there. Therefore, all houses from where the firing is coming are being engaged by the security forces,” Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said. “To our knowledge, the civilians of this area have left.”

A man who gave his name only as Sherpao said: “It is the fault of both sides. The army throws bombs on us from above. The Taliban terrorize us on the ground. We just want peace. We don’t care who wins.”

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Pakistani Opposition Figure: 1,500 Civilians Killed in Bajaur Operation

October 21, 2008

Jason Ditz | Antiwar.com, October 19, 2008

Sahibzada Haroonur Rashid, a high ranking official in the Jamaat-e Islami (JI) party from Bajaur Agency, claimed today that 1,500 civilians have been killed since Pakistan’s military offensive in Bajaur began in August. He also condemned the operation for displacing hundreds of thousands of Bajauris, and accused the government of killing people in the tribal areas to ‘appease the United States.’

The military has claimed 1,000 militants killed and another 2,000 wounded in the heavy fighting of the past months, they have not provided any figures on the number of civilians killed. Relief agencies have reported that more than 400,000 people have been displaced in the tiny agency, whose entire population as of the most recent census was less than 600,000.

The Pakistani government has rejected calls by the militants for a ceasefire in the past, and has remained officially silent since last week’s offer by a TTP spokesman to lay down arms in return for an end to the offensives. Confusingly, the government announced a ceasefire of its own at the beginning of Ramadan, but continued to launch attacks throughout the Muslim holy month.

The Jamaat-e Islami is a religious political party in Pakistan. They have no MPs in the current Pakistani legislature, having boycotted the most recent elections over then-President Pervez Musharraf’s declaration of a state of emergency. They have long been outspoken critics of military offensives and supporters of peace talks with the various militant groups in Pakistan’s restive tribal areas. They have also been accused of links with al-Qaeda in the past.

UN: Nearly 190,000 flee Pakistan battles

October 15, 2008

UN says nearly 190,000 flee Pakistan offensive against Islamic militants

ASIF SHAHZAD | AP News, Oct 14, 2008 11:13 EST

Nearly 190,000 people are reported to have fled fighting between Pakistani troops and militants near the border with Afghanistan, the United Nations said Tuesday as fresh clashes in the area killed 17 militants.

Meanwhile, police in the frontier region released a man of dual American-Pakistani citizenship they had arrested Monday in the volatile border region.

Authorities originally described the 20-year-old as a U.S. citizen traveling without the permission foreigners need to enter the region, which has seen of months of fighting between militants and security forces and is considered a possible hiding place for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

“After interrogation we found out he holds dual nationality,” Charsadda district police chief Waqif Khan. “He was roaming in that area just due to his lack of knowledge about the sensitivity there.”

Fighting is spreading across Pakistan’s rugged northwest as the government tries to crack down on insurgents blamed for soaring attacks on U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan and a bloody campaign of suicide bombings against military and western targets within Pakistan.

Most of the clashes are taking place in Bajur, where the Pakistani military launched a major offensive in early August.

The U.N.’s refugee agency said at least 20,000 Pakistanis and Afghans have fled from Bajur into eastern Afghanistan’s Kunar province since the fighting began.

Citing Pakistani statistics, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said in a statement that 168,463 other people had fled to other parts of northwestern Pakistan during the offensive. The agency said it was not able to independently confirm the figure.

It said most refugees, on both sides of the border, were staying with host families. But the agency said it was helping those who are staying in several temporary camps in Pakistan.

In the latest violence in Bajur, Pakistani fighter jets pounded militant trenches on Tuesday, killing five suspected insurgents, while overnight artillery and mortar attacks left 12 extremists dead, said government official Muhammad Jamil Khan. Two pro-government tribesmen also died in the fighting, he said.

Pakistan’s secular, pro-Western government says it is trying to forge a national consensus on how to combat terrorism. However, many Pakistanis blame the violence on their country’s support for U.S. policy in its pursuit of al-Qaida and the Taliban.

On Tuesday, a small group of Islamic political parties announced that suicide bombings were not permitted under Islam, a declaration likely to please the government. Pakistan has been plagued by such attacks, including one that killed former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and 20 other people in December 2007 and a blast at the Marriott Hotel last month in which more than 50 died.

“We, the religious scholars, believe that the suicide bombings in Pakistan are illegitimate. Islam does not allow it,” said a leader of the alliance, Dr. Sarfraz Naeemi.

But Naeemi also called on the government to halt its military operations in the border region and allow a fact-finding mission of religious scholars to visit there.

Source: AP News

Pakistan to protest new U.S. missile strike

September 13, 2008


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Zeeshan Haider, Reuters, Sat Sep 13, 2008


ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Missiles fired by a U.S. drone aircraft killed 14 people in northwest Pakistan on Friday, security officials said, in a strike against suspected militants that drew condemnation from Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.

A U.S. commando operation inside Pakistan last week, followed by several attacks from drones, has sent tensions soaring between Islamabad and Washington over how to tackle the Taliban and al Qaeda on the Pakistani side of the border with Afghanistan.

Gilani said Pakistan would raise the issue with the United States at diplomatic level.

“We will try to convince the United States … to respect (the) sovereignty of Pakistan — and God willing, we will convince,” he told reporters.

Security officials said about 12 people were wounded in the attack near the town of Miranshah in North Waziristan. Residents said the pilotless aircraft fired two missiles at a former government school where militants and their families were living.

“We confirm a missile attack at around 5.30 in the morning (2330 GMT on Thursday) … We have informed the government,” said military spokesman Major Murad Khan.

The military, apparently reluctant to highlight infringements of sovereignty, has rarely confirmed such attacks.

An intensifying insurgency in Afghanistan has raised U.S. fears about its prospects, seven years after U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban. That worry has compounded pressure on Pakistan to go after militants operating from enclaves on its side of the border, including in North Waziristan.

Security forces stepped up offensives in two areas in August, the Bajaur region on the Afghan border and the Swat Valley in North West Frontier Province.

The security forces killed 40 militants, including foreigners, in clashes in Bajaur on Friday, raising the death toll to around 150 in fighting this week. Two soldiers were also killed and 16 wounded.

Hours after Friday’s missile strike, a roadside bomb hit a security convoy in a nearby village, seriously wounding two soldiers. Soldiers in the convoy opened fire after the blast, wounding four civilians, residents said.

REVISE STRATEGY

Fears about Afghanistan’s future and frustration with Pakistani efforts to tackle the militants have led to more U.S. missile attacks by drone aircraft in Pakistan.

About a dozen strikes this year have killed scores of militants and some civilians.

In addition, helicopter-borne U.S. commandos carried out a ground assault in South Waziristan last week, the first known incursion by U.S. troops into Pakistan since the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan.

Pakistan condemned the raid in which officials said 20 people, including women and children, were killed.

The U.S. military raised the prospect of more incursions on Wednesday, saying it was not winning in Afghanistan and would revise its strategy to combat militant havens in Pakistan.

Pakistani army chief General Ashfaq Kayani said in a strongly worded statement that Pakistan would not allow foreign troops onto its soil and Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be defended at all cost. Kayani also dismissed speculation of a secret deal allowing U.S. forces to attack.

The New York Times reported on Thursday that President George W. Bush had secretly approved orders in July that for the first time allowed U.S. special forces to carry out ground assaults inside Pakistan without the approval of the Islamabad government.

U.S. officials declined to comment on the report and Pakistan’s U.S. ambassador Husain Haqqani told Reuters Bush had issued no new orders.

Kayani ended a meeting with his top commanders on Friday saying the military, under government leadership, would protect Pakistan’s territory and there was “complete unanimity of views between the government and the army” on the issue.

Tension with the United States has added to the worries of investors who have seen Pakistan’s financial markets battered by political turmoil and economic problems.

At the same time, Pakistan is highly vulnerable to any reduction in U.S. financial support given the depletion of its foreign reserves, which has sparked talk it could default on a sovereign bond next year unless it gets foreign financing.

© Thomson Reuters 2008. All rights reserved