Pakistan launches military operation against militants in tribal area

While denying an organised Daesh presence, the Pakistan Army's spokesperson says military operation Khyber-4 will look to prevent their spillover from Afghanistan. Daesh, however, has claimed several deadly attacks in Pakistan.

Photo by: AP
Photo by: AP

A Pakistani Air Force F-16 fighter jet during a military parade in Islamabad, Pakistan on March 23, 2017. The air force will participate in the fourth operation against militants in Khyber Agency since 2014.

Pakistan says it had launched a new military operation to combat militants, including Daesh, near its Afghan border, an area surrounded by mountains reaching up to 14,000 feet.

"An operation to wipe out terrorists has been launched in Rajgal Valley in Khyber Agency," the director general of Pakistan Army’s media wing, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), told reporters on Sunday.

Codenamed Khyber-4, the military operation will target militant hideouts in what Major General Asif Ghafoor called "the most critical area in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata)".

Fata, Pakistan’s tribal region bordering Afghanistan, is governed by Islamabad via an archaic set of laws and has seen multiple military operations against militant groups such as the Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda after the so-called “war on terror” triggered by 9/11.

Hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis have been displaced overnight with each operation. However, fighting had subsided in Fata in recent years and many internally displaced people have been sent back to villages reduced to rubble due to military operations.

This will be the fourth time an operation will displace the people of Khyber Agency since 2014.

Daesh’s presence in Pakistan

Daesh has claimed a series of attacks over the past two years, including a bombing in the northern town of Parachinar in Fata last month that killed 75.

However, Ghafoor denied that Daesh has any organised structure present within the country. The military spokesman said the operation will help prevent other militant groups from supporting Daesh and secure areas bordering Afghanistan.

Alluding to Afghanistan, Ghafoor said across the Khyber Agency border there are safe havens for multiple "terrorist" organisations that are linked to recent attacks in Pakistan, including the Parachinar assault.

Daesh has had more success in neighbouring Afghanistan where it controls small chunks of land, but has also faced tough resistance from the US-backed government in Kabul and local Afghan Taliban militants.

Pakistan is seeking support from Afghanistan to control the border but Ghafoor made it clear that it will not allow "foreign boots on the ground" in its territory. He said Pakistan had informed the Afghan authorities and urged them to take similar measures on its side of the border.

Afghanistan and Pakistan have long accused each other of turning a blind eye to militants operating along their porous border. 

"Once this operation is completed, we will first secure the international border on our side and eliminate the hideouts of various terrorist groups," Ghafoor added.

Pakistan's military began building a fence along the 2,611-kilometre border with Afghanistan in May as part of its security programme.

Construction of the fence has also caused tensions, as Afghanistan does not recognise the colonial-era line as an international border.

Keeping up with the Haqqanis

Ghafoor also commented on the recent visit by a group of US senators to Pakistan that included John McCain. 

The spokesman addressed concerns in the US about the presence in Pakistan of the so-called Haqqani network, the strongest faction of the Taliban fighting against allied forces in Afghanistan. 

Ghafoor said that "There is a blame game as to why the Haqqani network is here", and said his country fought against all terrorists. 

The faction is accused of having deep ties to Pakistan and particularly its intelligence agency.

TRTWorld, Reuters