ISLAMABAD: Artillery shelling by Pakistan Army on militant camps on the Afghan border continued on the second day on Saturday, leaving 20 suspects dead and many others injured, late-night local TV reports quoted Afghan sources as saying.
The number of the suspected militants belonging to the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA) killed in the past two days increased to 37 with many of their camps destroyed.
The two countries also found themselves in diplomatic tension when a senior Afghan official summoned the Pakistani ambassador to his office in protest over Friday’s reported action by the Pakistani forces. Curiously enough, the two sides also disputed over the number of people killed in those strikes, official and other sources said on Saturday.
Afghanistan appeared to be dismissive of Pakistan’s stance that Kabul did not act against the terrorist groups residing in sanctuaries on the Afghan soil and instead asked Islamabad to take action against groups involved in militancy in Afghanistan.
Kabul summons envoy, protests ‘large-scale arrest of Afghan refugees’
“Terrorists’ hideouts on Pak-Afghan border have been effectively targeted,” an Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) statement said, adding that security forces had been ordered to be vigilant along the border.
The Afghan media said about Friday’s action that JuA camps were targeted in Afghanistan’s Lalpur district of Nangarhar province and the Sarkano district of eastern Kunar province. Overnight leaks from the military suggested that four JuA camps were destroyed in the shelling, including one run by the terrorist group’s deputy chief, Adil Bacha.
Official sources told Dawn that at least 17 suspected militants were killed in Friday’s artillery shelling. They said that army troops were deployed along with the Frontier Corps personnel in the border town of Loe Shalman, some 25km north of Landi Kotal.
The sources said that groups affiliated with the TTP (Khurasani group) had established bases in the Reney-Parchaw area across the Kabul river in Afghanistan.
The group had claimed responsibility for some of the deadliest terrorist attacks in Pakistan.
The security sources said that all the dead were affiliated to the TTP’s Khurasani group. They said the number of the dead could increase.
Afghan General Qadam Shah Shaheem acknowledged that Pakistani troops had fired on Friday about 200 shells that fell in Nangarhar.
Annoyed over the shelling, Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai summoned Pakistani Ambassador Abrar Hussain to his office and told him that the shelling had left two people dead.
He also lodged a complaint about the closure of the Pak-Afghan border and the “large-scale arrest of Afghan refugees”.
Interestingly, Mr Hussain was summoned to the Afghan foreign ministry on Friday, but the Afghans revealed this only after the Pakistani side leaked reports about shelling of JuA camps in the border region.
Mr Hussain told Mr Karzai that the shelling was in response to an attack on a border post by militants and that the Afghan population had not been targeted.
According to local TV reports on Saturday night, artillery shelling on Afghan border by Pakistani forces on Saturday left over 20 suspected militants dead and many others injured. These reports, quoting Afghan sources, said that the deceased included Rehman Baba, who used to train suicide attackers, and `commander’ Wali, who ran a terrorist training camp. Twelve of the JuA camps were also destroyed
Ashraf Ghani’s stance
Following the recent deadly terrorist attack in Sehwan, the Pakistan military had asked the Afghan government to either take action against the 76 terrorists hiding across the border or hand them over.
In its response, the Afghan presidency claimed that it had indiscriminately acted against “all terrorist groups without any distinction and irrespective of which country and people their targets are”.
“The government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan once again demands Pakistan to take practical measures and initiate effective counterterrorism efforts against all those terrorist groups which operate in Pakistan and pose a threat to security and stability of Afghanistan,” the presidency said in a statement.
It also reminded Pakistan of an agreement reached during the quadrilateral talks for dealing with terrorism and called for its implementation.
Meanwhile, the Voice of America reported that the Afghan military had promised to look into the Pakistani list of 76 suspected terrorists.
“We will investigate it [the Pakistani list], and if there is a need for more evidence and documents we will ask for it. But we also handed over a number of lists with enough evidence and documents to Pakistan and we hope they will also sincerely take action on them,” asserted Gen Shaheem.
Ibrahim Shinwari in Landi Kotal contributed to this report
Published in Dawn, February 19th, 2017