TOPICS: Border strikes hit Pakistani civilians hard

Civilians are fleeing Pakistan’s lawless border areas abutting Afghanistan following heavy artillery fire and air strikes by the military against militant targets. The spurt in military activity comes in the wake of a spike in attacks on the Pakistan army and supply convoys in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) after the breakdown of truce accords between the government and pro-Taliban tribal groups.

Nearly 300 troops including nine officers were kidnapped in South Waziristan, one of the FATA’s seven agencies, in end-August, and are yet to be set free. The soldiers are believed to have surrendered without firing a shot. Early October, 50 soldiers were reported missing when a supply convoy was ambushed. Local reports say all 50 were killed and their bodies set on fire. The army claims only half the number were killed. The military has retaliated with massive firepower killing scores of civilians and forcing thousands to flee to safer locations in FATA and neighbouring North West Frontier Province (NWFP). “About 150 civilians, mostly, women, children and elderly people died and as many received burn injuries,” confirmed a doctor who did not want to be identified, at the Agency Headquarters Hospital, Miramshah.

He said that the battles which began on Oct. 6 and continued for four days, were the deadliest attacks he has seen in his 20 years in Miramshah, the headquarters of the North Waziristan agency, on the porous Pakistan-Afghanistan border. People in the thousands — from Ippi, Mir Ali, Haiderkhel and Iramshah villages of North Waziristan — have left for safer places. They have fled on foot, in tractor trailers, cars and other vehicles.

“They didn’t even let us bury our dead,” a resident of Mir Ali, who had brought his wounded son to Peshawar, complained. “Our villages are under siege and our tribes

scattered. All roads between Bannu and Mir Ali are closed. We had to trudge for hours on roads with the wounded and elderly, moving them in wheel-barrows.” A local journalist said that 80% of families have fled the troubled areas, leaving behind one or two members to guard their properties.

In adjacent South Waziristan, massive displacements have taken place in Barwand, Fareeday, Shamkay, Gur Gurray, Garday Raghza, Spinkai and Spinkai Raghzai areas. Here, a similar exodus was seen in October 2006 after massive air strikes by the army. Some 5,000 uprooted families returned home only two or three months later. For some the displacement is permanent this year. “We cannot return to North Waziristan because I have sold my house at a throwaway price after the death of my two sons in bombing in the Mir Ali and Miramshah areas on Oct. 6,” wept an aggrieved father, Rahim Gul.

The leader of the Pashtun-dominated Awami National Party, Asfandyar Wali Khan said that about 400 women and children were killed during the fighting. “We will resist the killing of innocent people in the name of United States-led war on terrorism,” he declared. — IPS