Recent skirmishes between the Pakistani government forces and the Taliban fighters have been driving endangered civilians to seek shelter in the neighboring country. The new immigration that Afghanistan is facing from Pakistan is rather unusual, given the movement trends normally occurred the other way around in the past. The number of fleeing families is not yet huge and the local government is doing its best to assist them.
Despite becoming a national ally of the U.S. after the September 11 terrorist attacks, Pakistan has been struggling to control some of the tribal regions in North Waziristan, right along the Afghan borders. Many militias linked to the Taliban have become firmly entrenched in that area. An on-and-off military campaign has started in 2009, attempting to flush out the insurgents, but has not yet proven successful. However, Pakistan has begun significantly bolstering its efforts in the past several days.
BBC reports that the Pakistani army has just launched a major “comprehensive operation” targeting the militants in North Waziristan. The offensive is a response to the recent Taliban raid on the biggest airport of the country located in Karachi, which has put a halt to the ongoing peace talks between the government and the insurgents. In the past week, the Pakistan forces have begun performing air strikes in the region, stating that eight militant hideouts were destroyed and 105 alleged terrorists killed. However, these casualties have not yet been confirmed independently. It is also not clear how many ground troops will be involved in the operation, but the whole initiative will also rely on air force, artillery and tanks as well.
As a result of the clashes in the region, many civilians have begun fleeing further north and crossing the border. At this time, the unusual immigration Afghanistan is facing from Pakistan is not too overwhelming. Jabar Nihimi, the governor of Afghanistan’s Khost province, stated that only around 300 families have crossed the border so far. About 100 of them were already aided, and more will be helped soon. Additional polio vaccinations have also been dispensed.
However, despite facing a common enemy in the form al-Qaeda-linked Taliban factions, the relations between the two countries have been tense and marked by suspicion. Some early reports by NATO in 2012 suggested that Pakistani security services might have been assisting Afghan Taliban. BBC stated it was a “painful reading” for both international forces and the Afghan government, but the Pakistani foreign ministry denied the accusations. Furthermore, some of the Taliban forces are also stationed in the mountain regions of eastern Afghanistan and are capable of launching missiles into Pakistan. Combating these insurgents would thus require a joint effort between the two countries, unless the Pakistani military crosses the border.
The situation in North Waziristan has already been fairly tense, and the coming days will only introduce more clashes. There is also a risk of the Taliban forces striking back, hitting security and government targets on both sides. Afghanistan may be facing even more unusual immigration from Pakistan, as an increasing number of civilians flees through the border to avoid getting caught in the crossfire. Reuters stated that the lawless mountain regions have been gripped by a climate of fear. Pakistani authorities also worry some of the militants might escape to Afghanistan along with the fleeing families.
By Jakub Kasztalski