While Pakistan’s parliament is scheduled to debate restoration of Pak-US relations this week, a new military offensive has been launched in Khyber Agency- one of the seven tribal districts of Pakistan lawless tribal region and the main supply route to Afghanistan.
The military offensive is part of the series of small and large scale operations started in 2008 against the militants of Lashkar-e-Islam (Army of Islam) and its commander Mangal Bagh Afridi.
On Sunday 14 dead bodies were found in the Sipah area of the Agency. Locals confirm all the killed people were non-combatants. 3 unidentified handcuffed dead bodies were found in Yousuf Talab village. They complain the operation caused more losses to the civilians as compared to the militants.
Habib-ur-Rahman Afridi, A local elder told RFE/RL Mashaal Radio that despite deployment of thousands of security forces peace was not restored to the area.
“There are 4 military camps in Bara with more than 20,000 forces. I fail to understand why thousands of security forces are not able to clear an area of 8 square KM in 3 years? “, he asked.
Main markets, schools and hospitals in Bara are closed and curfew imposed in most of the areas where people are either restricted to their homes or flying to Peshawar city or surrounding areas.
According to officials at the education department until now 60 schools were bombed by the militants in Khyber.
Military officials claim that the security forces have successfully pushed back militants to Tirah, a mountainous valley on the border, killed several of them and destroyed their bases in the region.
“Militants strength has been weakened. If you recall earlier they fought face to face with the military. Now they are breathing their last. Now they can only carry sporadic attacks. They don’t have the physical strength. They can’t afford it”, says Colonel Shahid, operation commander of Pak security forces fighting TTP militants in Dara Adam Khel of Khyber Agency.
However locals complain of increasing number of civilian casualties in the military operation in different parts of the agency.
They inform during last two weeks 13 civilians mainly children and women were killed or injured due to shelling by the military.
Ikhtiar Badshah Afridi, a resident of Bara says dead bodies of people belonging to Sipah tribe are lying on the ground but the security forces don’t allow people to bury them.
“All the ways leading to Peshawar are closed. We demand the government to give us a safe way so that we can take our injured to the hospitals”, Afridi demanded.
Another local tribesman claims that the military operations have displaced more than 20,000 families from Bara.
Earlier the tribal district was dominated by Lashkar-e-Islam but now militants belonging to Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Ansar-ul-Islam (AI) and a number of splinter groups with different nomenclature have established their bases there. Due to its close proximity to Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, militants from here easily target security officials, members of peace Jirgas, and public gatherings.
Since the British times the Khyber Agency played an important role in geo-strategic and political developments in the region. It was the main outpost in the US sponsored Jihad against USSR in 1980s, and now it is the frontline of the War against Terror.
On March 08 replying to a question at a Senate hearing in Washington US chief of Central Command General Mattis said that for “The withdrawal out of Afghanistan we do need the ground lines of communication through Pakistan”.
These ground lines of communication pass through Torkham Pass of Khyber Agency that connects Afghanistan to Pakistan. Pakistan closed Torkham pass for all NATO supplies to Afghanistan after 24 security forces were killed in NATO air attack on Salala Check post in November 2011.