December 2, 2022

‘I Lost Everything’: Pakistani Airstrikes Escalate Conflict on Afghan Border

7 min read

MANADATA VILLAGE, Afghanistan – It was about 3 a.m. in the mountainous border areas of eastern Afghanistan when a voice waking up Qudratullah was shaken. Confused, he stumbled upon the door of his mud brick house, looked outside, and froze.

Dark clouds of smoke and dust filled the air. In front of this modest house where his relatives lived was a pile of rubble. Her 3-year-old nephew was standing in the yard crying. Behind him, four more children were scattered on the yellow ground, their lifeless frames covered in blood.

God Almighty ran towards them, he said. Then another explosion occurred.

His village of Mandata was one of four victims of Pakistani airstrikes in eastern Afghanistan this month, killing at least 45 people, including 20 children, Afghan officials said.

Among them were 27 relatives of Qudratullah. Almost incomprehensible damage. Qudratullah, 18, known by only one name as many in Afghanistan, lost his 16-year-old wife, who was crushed under a pile of rubble in a second airstrike. Her older brother, who survived, lost his four daughters, who were less than 11 years old.

God Almighty said that I am destroyed. “I lost my wife, my relatives, my house, my cars, our animals, everything.”

Of Early morning air strikes in Khost and Kunar provinces Two weeks ago, cross-border conflict escalated in this remote, wild and rocky part of Afghanistan, and escalated tensions between the two countries that have fueled the fragile relationship since the Taliban seized power last year. ۔

Pakistani officials have not confirmed or commented on the airstrikes.

The airstrikes, which Afghan officials said were carried out by Pakistani military planes, were carried out several days later by militants operating from the area, killing seven soldiers across the border in Pakistan.

In eastern Afghanistan, many feared that the recent airstrikes were the beginning of a new violent chapter in the long-running conflict in the tribal areas that stretches across insecure borders. Strengthening those concerns, Afghanistan’s acting defense minister, Mullah Mohammad Yaqub, warned in a speech Sunday that the Taliban government would not tolerate further “attacks” by neighboring countries on Afghan soil.

Asfandyar Mir, a senior expert at the United States Institute of Peace, said, “Pakistan is sending drones and killing many people in different places. Taliban defense ministers are threatening war if further attacks. This is a turning point. “

For more than a decadePakistani authorities have sought to eliminate militants hostile to the Pakistani state in Afghanistan’s border areas, and have periodically targeted the area with artillery, killing a handful of civilians each year.

After the overthrow of the Western-backed government by the Taliban in Afghanistan, many in Pakistan hoped that the insurgents would become rulers – who have benefited from Pakistan’s support in the last 20 years of war – militant violence Will curb, which is called. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Or the Pakistani Taliban?

But in recent months, the group’s attacks in Pakistan have increased: ever since In August, the Western-backed Afghan government collapsed.According to the Islamabad-based Pak Institute of Peace Studies, the Pakistani Taliban have carried out 82 attacks in Pakistan, more than double the number in the same period last year. The attacks killed 133 people.

That number is still relatively low compared to the height of the Pakistani Taliban insurgency around 2009, but the recent sharp rise in violence has raised fears that the group is gaining strength after declining over the past decade. And there are growing fears that a new Taliban-led government in Afghanistan could become a haven for militants.

Islamic State has done it. Many attacks Across the country, analysts say, mainly against Afghanistan’s Shia minority, while the Pakistani Taliban are re-emerging in the east.

Taliban officials have refused to provide safe havens to militants, including the Pakistani Taliban, but the issue has become a flashpoint between Afghan and Pakistani officials, who claim that the militant group – which is part of Pakistan’s history. Responsible for the worst terrorist attacks. The Taliban have been encouraged under the new government and allowed to operate freely on Afghan soil.

The Pakistani Taliban, whose analysts estimate there are several thousand fighters in eastern Afghanistan, have maintained ties with the Taliban for more than a decade and have pledged allegiance to the Taliban leader. Hundreds of Pakistani Taliban militants were released from prisons last year after the Afghan Taliban seized control of major cities and liberated their prisons.

“It would be appropriate to describe the TTP as the ideological twin of the Afghan Taliban,” said Madiha Afzal, a Brookings Institution Fellow, using the acronym Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. “When the Taliban took over Afghanistan last year, the TTP praised the Taliban’s ‘victory’ and renewed its oath of allegiance.”

The villages that have been the victims of recent airstrikes are nestled among the mountains wrapped in cedar forests. Due to the stubbornness of the soil for large-scale farming, most residents scrape live pine nuts every autumn or collect wood from the forest to sell in the local market.

The glow of the barbed wire fence dividing Pakistan and Afghanistan is visible just above the horizon. The border, known as the Durand Line, cuts directly from traditional Pashtun lands and for decades was no more than a line drawn by British colonial officers for families divided on both sides.

The fence itself has been a source of tension between the two countries since Pakistani authorities began construction on the disputed border in 2019.

When the Pakistani military launched a major military operation against the militants in 2014, millions of people fled militant bombers attacking Pakistan’s tribal areas and fled to Afghanistan to seek refuge with their relatives.

Among them were many militants with the Pakistani Taliban, who had found refuge among the Taliban. For years, they quietly regrouped amid the threat of US airstrikes and attacks by Western-backed Afghan security forces. But since the Taliban seized power last year, many militants, now able to move freely, have returned to their relatives’ homes along the border, residents say.

Signs of their presence and support are numerous: children wearing small buttons with pictures of Hakimullah Mehsud, the second emir of the Pakistani Taliban, who was killed in a US drone strike in 2013. The militant group’s flag is flown over homes and shops.

And unlike many other parts of the country, where Taliban security forces have gone from house to house collecting weapons from civilians, these villages are full of armed men.

But as traces of Pakistani Taliban militants have increased in recent months, Residents say that there is also shelling from Pakistan. Yet, the devastation caused by the airstrikes on April 16 was the opposite of what they had never experienced.

This morning in about 3 Kanai villages, Rangin, 30, noticed that his wife was asking him to wake her up. For sehri, Muslims eat food before Fajr before fasting all day in the holy month of Ramadan. A refugee from Pakistan’s North Waziristan, he escaped during a military operation and eventually built a small house on Afghan hill where he lived with his wife and four children.

He said Rangin had asked his wife to let him sleep, then the walls and ceiling hit him. Trapped under the rubble, his right arm was pressed against the torso of his wife, who struggled to breathe and sank. Minutes later, two more explosions destroyed a neighbor’s empty house and a shop down the street, killing his 16-year-old shopkeeper.

After half an hour, Rangin could no longer feel the movement of his wife’s chest. She was eventually rescued, but she died along with her three daughters, aged 1, 3 and 10.

“Why are they bombing us?” He asked, standing in the rubble of his house. “We are just refugees. That is cruelty.”

150,000 Pakistani rupees, about 800 pieces of torn banknotes which he had kept in his house, fell on the ground around him. Like others interviewed here, he said he had nothing to do with the Pakistani Taliban.

Around the same time, an explosion took place in front of Qudratullah’s family home in the nearby village of Mandata. His relative and neighbor, Saddamullah, 21, ran home with his aunt, uncle and cousin, suffocating in the smoke. He could pull out the red flames wrapped around the bodies of children lying on the lawn and the family’s tractor and pickup truck.

But before Saddam could understand the scene, another explosion ripped through the back of the house, knocking him to the ground. When he arrived, he saw his cousin lying face down on the ground, his legs covered in blood. Her aunt and uncle were buried under the rubble.

“My hands, feet and brain were not working for about 20 minutes, I lost control,” he said.

Six days later, Qudratullah, his brother Zargat, and dozens of his surviving relatives gathered inside a large canvas tent to pray for their lost family members. All that was left of their house was a pile of rubble. His pickup grill was hanging from a tree branch, and the skull of one of his flocks was sitting in a pit. Near the top of a nearby hill, 27 flags of white flags and stones perched on a fresh mass grave.

“I lost my home, I lost my family, I lost everything,” said Zargat, 30. “Now I’m alone.”

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