As US troops begin drawdown in Afghanistan, violence threatens Pakistan border
Pakistan has responded to US demands to rout militants from the mountainous border with Afghanistan. Now Pakistan's gains are now being undermined by Taliban attacks.
Ghakey Pass, Pakistan-Afghanistan border
Six months after NATO forces began a troop reduction from the Kunar Province in eastern Afghanistan, a series of cross-border raids by Taliban from the Afghan territory threaten tentative Pakistan Army gains.Skip to next paragraph
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Earlier this month, two people were killed and five others injured following a mortar shelling and incursion that originated from Afghanistan. Also, dozens of militants, mainly Pakistani, entered Bajaur from Kunar in a predawn attack, killing one paramilitary and injuring another.
In Bajaur, where a Pakistan Army operation that began in 2009 has cleared most militants from the area, the raids are threatening a tentative peace, say residents and officials. As US troops undergo a phased withdrawal from the region ahead of 2014, analysts expect violence to once more grip the volatile border regions.
“The governments of the two countries must find a way to stop these incursions. Then the dead bodies will stop appearing,” says Shahabuddin Khan, leader of the Salarzai Lashkar, a group of minutemen, who have lost more than 140 of their elders at the hands of Taliban attacks.
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At the Ghakey Pass, 7,000 ft. above sea-level, Taliban insurgents now use the lush green cover of the mountains to conduct “fire raids” every week – rapid firing from a distance designed to create panic and damage, without occupying new ground, says Subhadar Major Javaid of the Bajaur Levis, a paramilitary force under the command of Pakistan’s civil administration.
The Afghan border province of Kunar, offers thick forest providing cover for the invading militants, say soldiers. The closest Afghan town, Chagasrey, is some three hours up the road from the border. Meanwhile, just over the border on the Pakistan side, sits a village full of people who fled the Taliban. People who now find themselves on the receiving end of the cross-border raids.
The incursions into Pakistan have sparked a fresh war-of-words between the two neighbors, who have long distrusted each other.
No locals, aside from the border guards, have any business on the Afghan side of the border. So soldiers at the command post on the Pakistan side are instructed to push potential invaders back, which means some of the rockets they fire end up in Afghan territory.
A senior Pakistan Army commander who was not authorized to speak to the media told the Monitor that the invaders are well-trained, equipped, and at times can fire off 4,000 rounds of ammunition in a raid lasting one to two hours.
“Who is funding them? Where do they get their supplies from?” he asks.
It's a foreign hand, he says, repeating a claim often made by Pakistani officials when fighting Talban militants. The commander furnishes Afghan ID cards of captured Taliban fighters as proof of that the Afghan government supports them – though the cards’ authenticity could not be verified, nor are they necessarily concrete proof of Afghan government support.
Independent analysts say such claims of foreign funding, especially by the US or India, help spur on Pakistani troops in battles where they are pitted against co-religionists.
The militants also plant IEDs in the mountain villages and carry out suicide bomb attacks, causing villagers to be alert for any strangers or unfamiliar faces. One such incident stopped the convoy the Monitor was traveling on to the Ghakey Pass for around half an hour while Pakistani troops carried out a search operation.