Militants, families alike flee North Waziristan in fear of full-scale operation

Published: June 13, 2014
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Locals have seen foreign militants leaving camps and villages near Miramshah. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE

Locals have seen foreign militants leaving camps and villages near Miramshah. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE

KABUL / MIRAMSHAH: Hundreds of families have fled from a surge of fighting between government forces and militants into neighbouring Afghanistan, while foreign fighters are also quietly slipping away ahead of a long-rumoured full-scale military offensive in North Waziristan.

Pakistani government forces have been launching air strikes against Taliban fighters in North Waziristan near the Afghan border in recent days, after Taliban fighters raided the airport in Karachi late on Sunday.

Missile-firing US drone aircraft have also, for the first time in six months, attacked militants this week in North Waziristan.

Millions of Afghan civilians have for decades sought shelter in Pakistan to escape war in their homeland but the fighting in Pakistan this week has sparked a rare flow of civilians the other way.

“Around 300 Pakistani families have escaped because they are worried about fighting between Pakistani forces and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan,” said Jabar Nahimi, governor of eastern Afghanistan’s Khost province, over the border from northwest Pakistan.

“We have provided aid for 100 of these families and the rest will be helped soon … We have also provided vaccinations, as we are concerned about polio.”

Pakistan is considering a full-scale operation against Taliban fighters in its northwest, which would likely push more villagers across the largely unmarked border into Afghanistan.

Response to airport attack

The exodus from the district on the Afghan border began in late May following air strikes, locals told AFP, but it has been hastened by the Taliban’s all-night siege of Karachi airport, which all but destroyed a tentative peace process.

As pressure builds for a fuller response to the airport assault, which was joined by militants from Uzbekistan, residents and officials in the district’s main town of Miramshah said the majority of foreign and local fighters had already left.

“Most of them have gone deep into the mountains towards the Afghan border,” a senior security official told AFP.

Locals said militant groups were also seen escaping from villages that are a known hub of the Haqqani network.

Rumours of a ground offensive in North Waziristan have abounded for years. But authorities have held back from a final push — possibly fearing the blowback in major cities of the country.

However, the sheer numbers of people leaving, some 60,000, according to official estimates, since late May, suggest that this time might be different.

Foreign fighters

Residents saw foreign militants leaving the Machis Camp and Data Khel village near Miramshah, as well as the villages of Musaki, Hurmaz, Hesso Khel and Api.

The fighters included Chechens, Uzbeks, Turkmen, Tajiks and Uighurs, residents and officials said.

They arrived during the early 2000s, lured by the fiery rhetoric of Osama bin Laden and the chance to fight “infidel” forces in Afghanistan.

Married into the local population, some have erected mud houses in small villages among the area’s rugged mountains.

Others “have rented houses and rooms here but they have now left towards the Afghan border,” a grocery shop owner in Miramshah bazaar told AFP.

Another resident in Miramshah estimated that more than 80% of local and foreign fighters have left North Waziristan.

The migrations began on May 22 when Pakistani F-16s pounded suspected targets, killing at least 75, according to the military.

Government representatives also began holding talks two weeks ago with a grand jirga, or council of elders, warning them to hand over foreigners in the area or face severe consequences.

“Tribesmen are against war, they want to solve this conflict with talks and according to tribal traditions and that’s why we have formed a peace jirga,” jirga chief Sher Mohammed told AFP.

Residents said some jirga members last week made announcements from mosque loudspeakers in several villages asking foreign fighters to leave the area.

They also made those under their command hoist Pakistani flags to demonstrate their loyalty and ward off aerial attacks.

Most areas along the border are not well demarcated, which allows militants to escape into Afghanistan.

“They have moved towards Shawal and Birmal,” an intelligence official said, referring to remote villages on the Afghan border.

A second security official said: “It is good that they (fighters) are leaving. We hope that tribesmen will not allow them to come and settle here again.

“In case of any military operation, we will face less resistance,” he added.

Residents said they have seen less activity of the feared Haqqani fighters in recent weeks. “They are also disappearing, probably they have gone to Khost, Paktia or Paktika,” one resident in Miramshah told AFP, naming Afghan border provinces.

Imtiaz Gul, a security analyst and long-time observer of the tribal areas, said the jirga and other threats of full-scale action in North Waziristan appeared to be a deliberate strategy on Pakistan’s part.

“This was probably done with a clear intent and that intent was to let them cross the border if they like.

“As long they cross the border – why should it be Pakistan’s headache? It’s then the headache of Afghan and coalition forces,” he said, adding that such movement had occurred in the past when Islamabad had launched operations in other parts of the tribal areas and in Swat Valley.

Which is why it was so difficult to engage militants in a fight in the area, as they could eventually return.

“They keep going backwards and forwards – they can’t plug the entire border whether it’s Pakistani militants or foreign militants.”

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Reader Comments (31)

  • Jun 13, 2014 - 4:06PM

    Another proofreading error.
    Which is why it was so difficult to engage jihadists in a fight in the area, as they could eventually return.
    “They keep going backwards and forwards — they can’t plug the entire border whether it’s Pakistani militants or foreign militants.”

    Please delete the above lines. They are printed twice in the article.

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  • Jun 13, 2014 - 4:50PM

    In between these beasts, common people suffer. Every Sunni majority nation facing problems because of their perverted philosophy.

    Recommend

  • Moazam
    Jun 13, 2014 - 5:00PM

    If a full scale military offensive against Taliban and Al Qaeda militants does commence in North Waziristan. The military will have to have a permanent presence there once the terrorists have been defeated or have fled. After that it is the job of the Government to impose it’s writ there and provide infrastructure, healthcare, employment and business opportunities, education and other services and facilities to the people of North Waziristan. Only then will terrorism gradually fade from that region. No civilised State should tolerate terrorist safe havens.

    Recommend

  • BeOne
    Jun 13, 2014 - 5:01PM

    @Nazir Hussain:
    Who is sunni nation, There is no Sunni, Shia or any other nation. Its Only Muslim nation. Its enemy oldest tactic “Divide N Rule”. So Together we r Stronger we R.

    Recommend

  • Peshawar
    Jun 13, 2014 - 5:40PM

    Please don’t call them jihadis, they are cowards. The real jihadis is not killing civilians and innocents, rather it’s a fight against temptation as the first stage. And stop informing these things in the news. Media gives these militants the warning to escape. They should be killed once and for all. Media ends up helping then and they flee.

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  • Jan
    Jun 13, 2014 - 5:46PM

    Because of our stupid rulers the game is turned. Some Pakistani military generals and civil politicians wanted to destroy Afghanistan, but now the situation showing that Afghanistan is on the road of progress and helping our effected refugee families and we are dying. Shame on you Pakistani leaders.

    Recommend

  • Muhammad Zaman Shah
    Jun 13, 2014 - 5:51PM

    @BeOne:

    Really brother. Have you looked around you. You really think there are no sunnis or shias. They have been around for over a thousand years and have fought savagely.

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  • faisal naqvi
    Jun 13, 2014 - 5:58PM

    I rather be a citizen in Iran which is peaceful and still strong also I am Shia.

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  • Realist
    Jun 13, 2014 - 6:00PM

    @BeOne:

    Stop being so melodramatic. It is unfair to say all Muslim countries are facing problems. Shia Iran is doing well. Libya, Pkaistan, Egypt, these are all Sunni nations. So yes, Sunni nations are facing problems due to their own idiocies.

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  • unbelievable
    Jun 13, 2014 - 6:25PM

    @Realist:

    Stop being so melodramatic. It is
    unfair to say all Muslim countries are
    facing problems. Shia Iran is doing
    well. Libya, Pkaistan, Egypt, these
    are all Sunni nations

    Hate to break your bubble but Libya, Pakistan, Iran and Egypt have been spiraling downhill for sometime. I doubt many would consider any of them “doing fine”.

    Recommend

  • unbelievable
    Jun 13, 2014 - 6:56PM

    Most areas along the border are not
    well demarcated, which allows
    militants to escape into Afghanistan.

    What does “demarcation” have to do with allowing the enemy to retreat into Afghanistan? If your goal is to defeat/destroy they put troops on the border and cutoff their retreat – or are you trying to re-create your 09 “offensive” which was largely a public relations show which allowed a convenient escape route?

    Recommend

  • Batman
    Jun 13, 2014 - 7:06PM

    why does the tribune keep censoring my comments? maybe i should make a blog about this

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  • A
    Jun 13, 2014 - 7:23PM

    Bomb the militants before they go away else they will come back.

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  • Naseer
    Jun 13, 2014 - 7:44PM

    These militants are crazy but not stupid. Why they will sit and wait for the army to launch an operation and get them? They have moved all around Pakistan and across the border while our political leadership is still scared and reluctant to take any action.

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  • MJ
    Jun 13, 2014 - 8:10PM

    Why are we letting them escape, saying they are now Afghanistan’s headache? They will just as easily come back into Pakistan once they start feeling the heat from USA from that side. Then once again they will become our headache. This migraine ping pong betweem Pakistan and Afghanistan will go on forever. Either seal the border and dont let them escape, killing them once and for all inside Pakistan, or make them run to Afghanistan and seal the border so they dont come back in, and become targets of USA there. In both cases, just freakin’ seal the border and make sure they are killed!

    Recommend

  • Assad
    Jun 13, 2014 - 8:55PM

    @faisal naqvi:
    Please migrate to the greener pastures of Iran, who is stopping you? Or is it that your Iranian brothers won’t give you citizenship?

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  • Assad
    Jun 13, 2014 - 8:57PM

    @Realist:
    This has nothing to do with Sunnis. For that matter Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia are also all Sunni majority countries but do not have the problems faced by some of the others you have listed. Perhaps you need to understand the basic problems in each before making misinformed comments.

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  • Assad
    Jun 13, 2014 - 9:01PM

    Its best that the militants leave and then Pakistan needs to garrison North Waziristan like it has done in South Waziristan to maintain a permanent security presence with support from the local tribes. Those foreigners who have married into locals should be allowed to live as long as they do not fight the state. If they pick up arms then the local tribes should be held responsible for their actions and expected to take action against these people. Garrisoning the Army in NW will ensure that these elements are not able to gather in strength. Army cantonments will also bring development, roads, schools and other infrastructure to the locals increasing the pace of their upward mobility and economic rehabilitation.

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  • Ch. Allah Daad
    Jun 13, 2014 - 9:52PM

    They are entering Afghanistan from one area and re-entering Pakistan from another. There are more restrictions in visiting Red Light Area than on this border. Pakistan will never ever be a peaceful country until and unless Tribal areas are abolished, border is controlled, no Afghan should is allowed in Pakistan without valid visa, Writ of the State is implemented on every square inch of the country and every organ of the State is made accountable.Recommend

  • goggi (Lahore)
    Jun 13, 2014 - 10:07PM

    Both, the oil and the religious philosophy of Arabs, have thoroughly polluted and poisoned the global climate as well as the human minds.

    No society can survive with such a high propensity towards violence……be it towards the own body or towards other human fellows!

    Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Jun 13, 2014 - 10:19PM

    @Ch. Allah Daad:
    Good point, now be realistic and identify the border line with your neighbours! You have no land without the people and if they do not recognise your State and you use force against them, then this action is termed as WAR, and this Sir you already have with the people!!.

    Rex Minor

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  • Rex Minor
    Jun 13, 2014 - 10:25PM

    @Naseer:

    Do remember the pictures E T is showing; they will soon be knocking on the doors of Pakistan capital!

    Rex Minor

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  • SAL
    Jun 13, 2014 - 10:27PM

    And, the Pakistan Govt let them go across the border??? It was the right time to strike them off from this planet earth. If the expected Govt comes in power in Afghanistan these very same people will be used against Pakistan, then it will be too late.

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  • antanu
    Jun 13, 2014 - 10:49PM

    @unbelievable:
    right….courtesy uncle Sam. ..otherwise these were really peaceful nations.

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  • antanu
    Jun 13, 2014 - 10:51PM

    @Jan:
    hmmmmmm. …OUR. …really?

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  • truth
    Jun 13, 2014 - 11:48PM

    @Realist, Shia Iran is doing well? Joke of the decade. Go and see the ground realities, people are disnfranchised with the mullocracy, and Syria and Iraq interventions.

    Recommend

  • zaffar
    Jun 14, 2014 - 2:47AM

    These Talibans are blood thirsty criminal animals.They kill people in the name of Islam,but do they really know the meaning of Islam?

    Recommend

  • Qamar
    Jun 14, 2014 - 4:18AM

    They are guerrilla fighters their tactics does not include to hold ground and fight. They will endure the operation days when things would get settled backlash would begin. So operation is already flawed as it lost element of surprise. Waste of billions.

    Recommend

  • Not Surprised
    Jun 14, 2014 - 7:45AM

    @Nazir Hussain:
    “perverted philosophy…” comments like these increase sectarian chasm than promote harmony.

    Recommend

  • pakistani bloach
    Jun 14, 2014 - 2:27PM

    @faisal naqvi: pitty that iran wont let u in thr so better focus on ur own country nd work towards its betterment cuz at the end of the day, ur own country is ur own.

    Recommend

  • islam
    Jun 16, 2014 - 7:24PM

    islam is the religion of peace so brothers maintain peace…

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