• Kabul claims air strikes in Paktika and Khost kill eight people, summons envoy
• Clashes between Pakistan, Afghanistan security forces erupt, officer martyred; border crossings closed
• FO says operation targeted Hafiz Gul Bahadur outfit, terms militant groups threat to collective peace

ISLAMABAD: After Pak­istan conducted air strikes inside Afghanistan using jets and unmanned drones to target militants linked to the Hafiz Gul Bahadur group, fierce clas­hes erupted between the two countries along the bor­der, resulting in the martyrdom of one officer and injuries to three soldiers.

In a pre-dawn operation, the military targeted the militant outfit — responsible for the March 16 North Waziristan attack which martyred seven troops — in an ‘intelligence-based anti-terrorist operation’.

The attack came a day after President Asif Ali Zardari vowed to avenge the deaths of Pakistani soldiers.

The airstrikes were confirmed by the Foreign Office in a statement issued several hours after the sorties.

The FO said the operation targeted the Hafiz Gul Bahadur group responsible for several attacks inside Pakistan. “Pakistan…always prioritised dialogue and cooperation [with Kabul] 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 the TTP and to hand over its leadership to Pakistan.”

The statement said “certain elements among those in power in Afghan­istan” were actively patronising the TTP and using the banned outfit 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. 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 said.

Islamabad said militant groups like the banned TTP posed a “collective threat to regional peace and security” and Pakistan fully realised the challenge faced by the Afghan authorities in combating the threat.

“Pakistan would therefore continue to work towards finding joint solutions in countering terrorism and to prevent any terrorist organisation from sabotaging bilateral relations with Afghanistan,” it said.

‘Eight killed’

Earlier, Afghan government spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said Pakistani aircraft had carried out airstrikes in Paktika and Khost provinces along the border, killing eight people.

Paktika is located near South Waziristan while Khost is situated near North Waziristan. In a statement, Mr Mujahid said “at around 3am Pakistani aircraft bombarded civilian homes” in Khost and Paktika provinces, claiming that all eight people killed were women and children.

Alleging that “houses of common people were targeted”, he said three women and as many children were killed in Paktika and a house collapsed while two women were killed in Khost, where a house was destroyed as well.

In a statement posted on his X account, Mr Mujahid said: “The Pakistani side is saying that [militant] Abdullah Shah was targeted in the strikes but he lives on the Pakistani side. Members of the same tribe live on both sides and routinely move across the border.”

He stated: “The Islamic Emirate strongly condemns the attacks and describes these as non-serious actions and violation of Afghanistani territory.”

The spokesperson further said: “Pakistan should not blame Afghanistan for their problems and failure to control violent incidents. Such acts can lead to dire consequences which will not be in control of Pakistan.”

A statement posted later by the Afghan foreign ministry said it summoned Pakistan’s charge d’affaires and also sent him a letter of protest. “Besides condemning the attacks, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs informs Pakistan that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has a long experience of fighting for freedom against the superpowers of the world and cannot tolerate aggression on its territory in any way.”

“The new civilian government and the people of Pakistan should not allow some circles to complicate the relations between the two neighbouring Muslim countries with their irresponsible actions and wrong policies,” it said.

Taliban retaliate

In response to airstrikes, Kabul targeted “bases of Pakistani security forces” across the border, said the Defence Ministry of Afghanistan.

The border forces of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan targeted military bases of Pakistan army across Durand Line with heavy weapons, the statement claimed.

An army officer embraced martyrdom and three soldiers sustained injuries in day-long cross-border clashes between Pakistan and Afghan Taliban forces on along border in district Kurram, police said.

“The clashes, which began on Monday morning, are still ongoing,” DPO Kurram Mazhar Jahan told Dawn.

There was, however, no word from ISPR on the clashes in Kurram as well as in North Waziristan, where media reports claimed an officer was wounded in crossfire.

The DPO said that the Kharlachi border crossing had to be closed.

Local officials said several properties were damaged after shells, fired from across the border which landed inside the houses in Pakistan.

Similar clashes were reported from North Waziristan where local sources informed that the Ghulam Khan border crossing had been closed.

“The clashes are still underway,” police officials said, adding the situation would become clear once the clashes stopped.

Afghanistan ‘enabler of terror’

The ISPR, in a statement, asserted that the “recent wave of terrorism in Pakistan has the full support and assistance of Afghanistan” but did not comment directly on the strikes.

“The Afghan interim government is not only arming the terrorists but also providing a safe haven for other terrorist organisations as well as being involved in the incidents of terrorism in Pakistan,” it stated.

“With the help of the Afghan Taliban and the supply of modern weapons, there has been an increase in the incidents of terrorism in Pakistan,” the ISPR added.

About the recent North Waziristan checkpost attack, the military’s media wing said the “fabric of loss of precious lives is also found with terrorists taking shelter in Afghanistan”.

The statement said there was “clear evidence of involvement of terrorists from Afghanistan” in the Zhob Garrison attack in July 2023.

It added that “TTP terrorists armed with the latest American weapons attacked two army check posts in Chitral” in September last year.

The military’s media wing said that the November attack on Mianwali Air Base was “also planned by the terrorists taking refuge in Afghanistan”.

It said “terrorists from Afghanistan used night vision goggles and foreign weapons” in the Dera Ismail Khan attacks in December.

“There is clear evidence of the involvement of TTP terrorists who took refuge in Afghanistan in the terrorist incident in Tank on Dec 15, 2023,” the ISPR stated.

The statement also said militants from Afghanistan were involved in the Peshawar Police Lines blast in January 2023, which claimed more than 80 lives.

Published in Dawn, March 19th, 2024

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