Pakistan issued a sharp diplomatic rebuke to Afghanistan on Thursday after hundreds of Afghan Taliban militants crossed over into its territory, attacked Shaltalu checkpoint in the northwestern district of Upper Dir and sparked a long and fierce gun battle. At least 27 security personnel and three civilians were killed in a battle with the intruding militants, officials said.
Some 45 militants were also killed in a joint operation of the paramilitary troops and police, said Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa’s Inspector General of Police Fayaz Toru.
The battle lasted more than 36 hours and was concentrated around the Shaltalu police checkpoint, surrounded by mountains and forest of Upper Dir, about six kilometres from the border with Afghanistan’s Kunar province.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, Toru, who visited Upper Dir, said that there were initial reports of around 200 militants whose movement was reported from Kunar, Afghanistan. “Our men were well equipped, but the number of militants turned out to be over a thousand. They fired rockets at an explosives dump, causing chaos.”
“Some of the police personnel took refuge in a mosque after engaging the militants for more than two hours till they ran out of ammunition. The imam of the mosque was killed by the militants, after which, the security personnel were tied up in the mosque and tortured. Their nails were pulled out and they were inhumanly killed,” he added. FC sources said that the mosque was also later destroyed and several copies of the Holy Quran were also desecrated.
Eleven levies, twelve police and four FC personnel were killed during the operation, according to government officials. Three of the civilian casualties, included a woman and two men. Two constables identified as Liaquat Muhammad and Khayal Muhammad were taken to a hospital in Upper Dir with severe injuries.
“Several militants were targeted by shelling through helicopter gunships, however, they managed to escape to a location on a mountain where the operation is still being carried out” said Toru.
Local police officials confirmed that two schools, a primary and middle school, were totally destroyed. “The Shaltalu checkpoint was also destroyed along with several other houses whose rooftops were razed to the ground by the heavy fighting that took place, said an official , who monitored the security of the area with the help of a helicopter. “Although the area was under the control of the security forces, it was still not totally cleared.” he added.
The attack was carried out by Hafizullah, the leader of the Taliban in Dir. A spokesperson for the Malakand Taliban, calling himself al Ahrabi, claimed responsibility for the attack. Speaking to reporters from an unknown location in Afghanistan, he said: “We will continue such attacks in the future. Most of our men have successfully retreated. However, some are still in the area and fighting.”
The areas of Upper Dir, particularly Bin Shahi, have been a bone of contention for the Pakistani authorities, who have long believed that the route from Kunar towards Pakistan has often been used for cross border terrorism.
The Pakistan government has conveyed its concern to Afghanistan over the cross-border attack. “The foreign secretary has conveyed concern to the ambassador of Afghanistan over the cross-border attack launched from the territory of Afghanistan in Dir by some 300 to 400 militants who attacked villages and burnt schools,” said a Foreign Office statement. However, the statement did not say if the Afghan envoy was summoned to the Foreign Office.
The foreign secretary stressed the need for stern action by the Afghan army, US and Nato/Isaf forces in the area against militants and their hideouts in Afghanistan and against organisational support for the militants. “Pakistan’s concerns are also being brought to the attention of the US and Nato,” it added.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 3rd, 2011.