• Monday, May 20, 2024

Pakistan News

Afghan forces attack Pakistan military outposts in retaliation to airstrikes

Pakistan chief of army staff General Asim Munir, and General Sahir Shamshad Mirza, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee, at the funeral of Lieutenant Colonel Syed Kashif Ali and Captain Muhammad Ahmed Badar in Pakistan

By: Eastern Eye

EIGHT civilians were killed on Monday (18) in “reckless” airstrikes by Pakistan’s military in the border regions of Afghanistan, prompting Afghan forces to retaliate against Pakistani military outposts, Taliban officials said.

Border tensions between the two countries have steadily escalated since the Taliban government seized power in 2021, with Islamabad claiming militant groups are carrying out regular attacks from Afghanistan.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Pakistani aircraft “bombed civilian homes” in Khost and Paktika provinces near the border with Pakistan at around 3am (2230 GMT last Sunday), adding that all of the dead were women and children.

Afghanistan’s defence ministry said its border forces retaliated in response to the airstrikes, targeting Pakistan’s military posts along the disputed border with “heavy weapons”. Cross-border skirmishes in the region were reported by both sides on Monday, the latest in a string of incidents on the disputed frontier.

The Taliban government “strongly condemns these attacks and calls this reckless action a violation of Afghanistan’s sovereignty”, Mujahid said.

The Pakistani foreign ministry confirmed on Monday evening it had carried out “antiterrorist operations in the border regions inside Afghanistan”.

In its statement, the ministry said it was targeting the Hafiz Gul Bahadur group, one of several factions of the homegrown Pakistani Taliban, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), responsible for a surge in border violence against police and security officials.

Malak Noor Khan, a tribal leader in Khost’s Sperah district, witnessed a drone and jet airstrike that hit multiple houses. He claimed one house had a woman and her children inside when it was struck.

“When the drone came first, we all, including women and children, left our homes and went into the trees on the mountainside, it was very cold as there was snow on the ground,” he said.

A local government official in Pakistan’s border regions, who asked not to be identified, told residents had been instructed to evacuate the area during the skirmishes.

Islamabad has accused Kabul’s Taliban government of harbouring militant fighters, allowing them to strike on Pakistani soil with impunity. Kabul has denied the claims.

In the first half of 2023, attacks rose by 80 per cent, with 112 people killed in August, according to the Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies. “Over the past two years, Pakistan has repeatedly conveyed its serious concerns to the interim Afghan government over the presence of terror outfits,” Pakistan’s foreign office said.

A senior government official based in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, who asked not to be identified, said despite repeated complaints, “Afghanistan does not seem to be taking the matter seriously”.

Regional analyst Saira Aqil said while increased attacks in Pakistan are “prompting inevitable retaliation”, the country “cannot afford to lose Afghanistan as an ally”.

“Pakistan must bear this in mind, as maintaining a friendly relationship with Afghanistan presents greater opportunities than having them as an adversary,” said Aqil, a professor at the defense and strategic studies department of Quaid I Azam University in Islamabad.

The Afghan foreign ministry said in a statement posted on X it had summoned the head of the Pakistani embassy in Kabul to protest against Monday’s strikes. It called on Pakistan’s new government to “not allow some circles to complicate the relationship between two neighboring Muslim countries” – an apparent reference to certain Pakistani military leaders.

“Pakistan shouldn’t blame Afghanistan for the lack of control, incompetence and problems in its own territory,” Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, said in the statement. “Such incidents can have very bad consequences which will not be in Pakistan’s control,” he added.

The Pakistan foreign ministry, in turn, said that “certain elements among those in power in Afghanistan are actively patronising TTP and using them as a proxy against Pakistan”, urging them “to make a clear choice to stand with the people of Pakistan”.

Monday’s strikes came after seven Pakistani troops were killed in an attack by an armed group inside Pakistan’s territory last Saturday (16), for which president Asif Ali Zardari vowed retaliation.

“Pakistan has decided that whoever will enter our borders, homes or country and commit terror, we will respond to them strongly, regardless of who it is or from which country,” he said while attending the funeral prayers of the soldiers, which included that of a lieutenant colonel.

A Pakistani military statement said security forces also carried out an operation overnight last Sunday (17) in North Waziristan district, killing eight militants accused in last Saturday’s attack. (Agencies) .

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