PESHAWAR – Several deadly attacks in Pakistan by militants from Afghanistan have forced authorities to respond more aggressively when extremists cross the rugged 2,400km Pak-Afghan border.
On August 27, more than 200 militants entered the Chitral District through Afghanistan’s Arandu Pass and stormed seven security posts, killing 25 security personnel.
Troops killed 40 of the insurgents as they tried to return to Afghanistan.
“They were taught a lesson by the forces after which they will never dare to enter the Pakistani area again,” said Rahmatullah Wazir, the district co-ordination officer of Chitral.
To boost the morale of security forces, Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani visited Chitral and surrounding areas September 7.
Kiani interacted with the troops and commended their bravery, steadfastness and restraint. He also met with tribal elders and told them he appreciated their co-operation.
Aggressive response necessary
Such stepped-up responses to incursions are part of the national security programme Pakistan is implementing as it tries to protect its tribal areas“We defended our borders in the past, and Chitral State forces defeated Afghan forces in 1919,” said Shahzada Mohiuddin, member of the national assembly from Chitral. “We can do the same now.”
Not only Chitral, but the Malakand Division and Bajaur, Mohmand, Kurram and North Waziristan have come under cross-border attacks during the past five months.
Terrorist safe havens in Afghanistan contribute to the problem, army spokesman Maj. Gen.recently told the BBC.
“Militants and their leaders like Fazlullah, Faqir Muhammad ... have their hideouts in these Kunar and Nuristan areas of Afghanistan. From there they launch cross-border attacks inside Pakistan,” Abbas said.
Security upgrades often come afterward
A number of broadly supported measures to improve the security situation have followed, Wazir said.
“Border security is primarily with the Frontier Corps (of which Chitral Scouts is a part), and they have strengthened their positions and done some redeployment after the Arandu attack,” Akhtar Hayat Gandapur, the deputy inspector general of police for Malakand Division, told Central Asia Online.
Authorities have reinforced troops at sensitive points and improved the intelligence network to counter future violence, he said.
“More heavy weapons have been provided to the posts in vital positions (close to the border), and a detailed assessment on the needs of the Chitral Police has been done in terms of strength, buildings and troops in light of the changed scenario that has been submitted to the concerned officials for approval,” he said.
A Chitral lawmaker said he was angered by the August 27 attack and wants to stop such aggression.
“We defended our borders in the past, and Chitral State forces defeated Afghan forces in 1919,” said Shahzada Mohiuddin, member of the national assembly from Chitral. “We can do the same now.”
Former lawmaker Abdul Akbar Chitrali called the cross-border assaults an “alarming trend,” adding, “The government needs to pull out all the soldiers of the Chitral Scouts from all over the country and deploy them on the border with Afghanistan.”
Changes yield benefits
While it is not clear whether the government will implement Chitrali’s recommendation, Pakistan’s response to other attacks seems to have borne fruit.
On June 1, for example, more than 500 militants stormed police and paramilitary posts in the Shaltalo area of Upper Dir, killing at least 25 security personnel.
“The posts in all the areas close to the border with Afghanistan were properly manned and provided with heavy weapons (afterward),” Qazi Jamilur Rahman, then the Malakand police chief, told Central Asia Online. “The public was also taken into confidence (through) meetings with the elders in all the border towns.”
When militants attacked two schools in Upper Dir in the first week of July, the Qaumi Lashkar promptly reacted.
The lashkar volunteers did not stop the militants from torching two schools, but the members chased the militants toward Afghanistan. The pursuers killed at least seven insurgents and handed over some prisoners to police.
Bajaur boys kidnapped
A different kind of cross-border incident happened September 2, when militants kidnapped about 35 young boys from Bajaur who had mistakenly crossed the Durand Line during Eid ul Fitr. Ten of the detainees, who were below 10 years of age, were later freed; the others are still in Taliban custody as the militants try to barter for some concessions from the Pakistani and Afghan governments.
“Efforts are going on for the release of the boys. The matter has been brought to the notice of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, while the Afghan government has also been asked to play its role,” said Shaukatullah Khan, federal minister for the States and Frontier Regions, who also comes from Bajaur Agency.
A grand jirga of local tribesmen has gone to Kunar to talk with Afghan elders and leaders of the Taliban to secure the boys’ release. The Federal Cabinet has also appealed for the release of the boys.