About ten thousand ethnic Pashtuns were forced to leave their homes when Pakistani forces attacked the village of Miran Shah in North Waziristan, part of Pakistan’s semiautonomous tribal belt along the border with Afghanistan. Over 100 have been killed, labeled “militants” by the press, although opposition parliamentarian Imran Khan described the operation as a “massacre of our citizens” by “indiscriminate force.” The operation began two days before President Bush visited Pakistan, and continued throughout his trip, “fueling speculation Pakistan was flexing its military muscle in the border regions to signal its commitment to the U.S.-led war on terrorism.”
Mohammed Anwar, a resident who fled the fighting, told AP, “We were waiting for the day. It was fighting all night and we feared that we might be hit by fire from a helicopter.” Noor Nawaz, another villager, said, “People are extremely scared. Nobody has slept. Children were crying.”
Bashirullah Khan of Associated Press described the scene:
On Sunday, Miran Shah’s streets and bazaars were empty. Smoke billowed from a bank building hit by an artillery shell. Another shell tore a hole in the home of a doctor who lived on the premises of a state-run hospital. Shells also pocked the side of the hospital. Both sides were using mortars and other heavy weapons, and it wasn’t known who hit the buildings.
Col. Jim Yonts praised the Pakistani action. “We see this as a very positive move. This issue in Waziristan is an example that they are fighting the war on terrorism.” The government attacks were made with “US-built Cobra gunships,” according to the Taipei Times.
With the new US-Pakistan “Strategic Partnership” we can look forward to more government strikes against villages and internal displacements of this kind.
As the fighting went on, the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan traded public insults regarding how to fight the “war on terror.” Hamid Karzai’s government in Kabul claims that the semiautonomous tribal belt that is officially part of Pakistan is where anti-US and anti-Karzai forces have their “safe haven.” Pervez Musharraf’s government in Islamabad responds that Karzai’s intelligence is faulty and recommends fencing the border regions to stop militants from crossing from Afghanistan to Pakistan. Both in their way are playing a game of showing to their benefactor in Washington that they are “doing something” about terrorism, but Karzai’s claims are closer to the truth. The Miran Shah fighting underscores this.
An escalating series of suicide and other attacks against Afghan government activities and support forces, including US and other foreign troops, has originated from the border regions throughout 2005 and into 2006. It is an open secret that the Pakistani government, with US support, has encouraged (or in more recent years turned a blind eye to) the rise in fundamentalism in its semiautonomous tribal belt, to support military operations in Afghanistan. Such operations backed the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and then kept the Taliban regime well stocked in the 1990s.
Nothing seriously has changed since the fall of the Taliban in Kabul. In fact, according to Asia Times, North Waziristan has been declared an “Islamic State” by the Taliban, who are extremely powerful, and even somewhat popular in that region.
By taking control of virtually all of Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal area on the border with Afghanistan, the Taliban have gained a significant base from which to wage their resistance against US-led forces in Afghanistan. At the same time, the development solidifies the anti-US resistance groups in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, which will now fight under a single strategy.
The ordinary people of the region are as usual caught in the middle. Maulana Abdul Malik, a cleric and member of parliament from neighboring South Waziristan, told the Washington Post, “Scores of innocent civilians have been killed to earn a medal from America. This campaign will turn every tribesman into an anti-Musharraf and anti-U.S. militant.”