FO says airstrikes hit Hafiz Gul Bahadur group

PESHAWAR/ ISLAMABAD:

Accusing certain elements in the Taliban government for patronising the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its affiliates, Pakistan carried out what it termed “intelligence-based anti-terrorist operations” in the border regions inside Afghanistan on Monday, in a significant escalation in tensions between the two neighbours.

But a carefully worded statement did not specify the nature of operation or mention the air strikes.

Although, Pakistan did carry out air strikes in the past inside Afghanistan, notably in April 2022, this was the first time Islamabad officially acknowledged striking inside the neighbouring country.

The strikes were prompted by March 16 terrorist attack in Mir Ali, North Waziristan in which seven Pakistani soldiers including two officers were martyred. The attack seems to be a tipping point in the relationship that has remained on the edge for months.

A statement issued by the foreign office said target of the operation was the terrorists belonging to Hafiz Gul Bahadur Group, which along with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), was responsible for multiple terrorist attacks inside Pakistan, resulting in deaths of hundreds of civilians and law enforcement officials.

“The latest attack took place on 16 March 2024 at a security post in Mir Ali in North Waziristan and claimed the lives of seven Pakistani soldiers,” it added.

The statement explained as to why Pakistan was compelled to take that extreme step.

“Over the past two years, Pakistan has repeatedly conveyed its serious concerns to the Interim Afghan Government over the presence of terror outfits including TTP inside Afghanistan. These terrorists pose a grave threat to Pakistan’s security and have consistently used Afghan territory to launch terror attacks inside Pakistani territory,” said the foreign office.

It said Pakistan accords prime importance to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Afghanistan.
“It has, therefore, always prioritised dialogue and cooperation to confront the terrorist threat. We have repeatedly urged the Afghan authorities to take concrete and effective action to ensure that the Afghan soil is not used as a staging ground for terrorism against Pakistan. We have also called on them to deny safe havens to TTP and to hand over its leadership to Pakistan.”

The statement said while Pakistan has great respect for the people of Afghanistan but alleged that certain elements among those in power in Afghanistan were actively patronising TTP and using them as a proxy against Pakistan.

“Such an approach against a brotherly country, which stood with the people of Afghanistan through thick and thin, manifests shortsightedness. It ignores the support extended by Pakistan to the people of Afghanistan over the last several decades,” it said.

“We urge these elements in power to rethink the policy of siding with Khwarij terrorists shedding the blood of innocent Pakistanis and to make a clear choice to stand with the people of Pakistan,” it demanded.

The statement said terrorist groups like TTP are a collective threat to regional peace and security.
“We fully realise the challenge Afghan authorities face in combating the threat posed by TTP. Pakistan would therefore continue to work towards finding joint solutions in countering terrorism and to prevent any terrorist organization from sabotaging bilateral relations with Afghanistan,” the statement concluded.

The Taliban government confirmed the strikes but rejected Pakistani claims that those attacks killed any militants.

Condemning the strikes as a violation of sovereignty, Zabiullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesperson, claimed attacks killed five women and three children in the eastern border provinces of Khost and Paktika.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan does not allow anyone to compromise security by using Afghan territory,” Mujahid said in a statement.

 

“Last night at around 3am, Pakistani planes bombed the houses of civilians,” said the IEA spokesperson. He added that the bombings resulted in the deaths of six civilians, including three women and three children in Paktika, with an additional two women losing their lives due to the collapse of a house in Khost province.

The Paktika province is located near Pakistan’s South Waziristan district while Khost is situated near North Waziristan. “The person named Abdullah Shah, who the Pakistani side claims was targeted in the incident, is in Pakistan, on the other hand, there is a tribe living on both sides of this region who have daily trips and close relationships,” claimed Mujahid.

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan strongly condemns these attacks and calls this reckless action a violation of Afghanistan’s territory, said the Taliban spokesperson and warned that the interim government of Afghanistan, which has a “long experience of freedom struggle against the superpowers of the world”, does not allow anyone to “invade its territory”.

The spokesperson also urged the new government to stop the “continuation” of wrong policies which “benefit others” and spoil the relationship between the two nations.

Mujhahid warned of potentially dire consequences stemming from such incidents, cautioning that the repercussions could spiral beyond Pakistan’s control, “Such incidents can have very bad consequences which will be out of Pakistan’s control,” said the spokesperson.

Commander Niamt Khan, the TTP Karachi senior military operational Commander, also eliminated in the earlier stages of the strikes, in Birmal. The TTP yet to confirm his death.

Eight civilians were killed Monday in “reckless” air strikes by Pakistan’s military in the border regions of Afghanistan, prompting Afghan forces to retaliate against Pakistani military outposts, Taliban officials said.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Pakistani aircraft “bombed civilian homes” in Khost and Paktika provinces near the border with Pakistan at around 3:00 am (2230 GMT 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.

Malak Noor Khan, a tribal elder in the Sperah district of Khost, said he saw at least four explosives dropped from drones and jets and that multiple homes were destroyed, one with a woman and her children inside.

“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 told AFP.

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

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

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 neighbouring Muslim countries” — an apparent reference to certain Pakistani military leaders.

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