Tens of thousands flee Pakistan offensive

More than 137,000 flee after military begins operations in tribal area that is a Pakistan Taliban stronghold.

Islamabad – Tens of thousands of Pakistanis have fled their homes in the tribal area of North Waziristan, as a military offensive against the Pakistan Taliban continues.

On Thursday, the local disaster management authority told Al Jazeera that it had registered more than 76,623 people flee since a curfew was loosened in the last 48 hours.

The total number of civilians and others to have left the area, a stronghold of the Pakistan Taliban and other armed groups, has now risen to 137,856, local official Haseeb Khan told Al Jazeera. Most of the internally displaced people headed to the neighbouring district of Bannu, in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, he said.

Pakistan’s military said that it had killed at least 228 – all designated “terrorists” – in the military operation, dubbed “Zarb-e-Azb”. Most of those were killed in air raids, with a large number reported to be foreign fighters associated with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement.

Civilian casualties, however, have also been a concern, and the Islamabad-based FATA Resource Centre, which has done extensive work in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, says that at least 100 civilians have been killed since air raids began in North Waziristan two weeks ago.

“There are no terrorists in my family, and yet my whole family has been killed,” Noor Daraz Khan, a former resident of the village of Mosaki, told Al Jazeera. Three three missiles hit his home on May 21, killing 24 family members including 19 children.

“There is no point in living in Pakistan,” said the 45-year-old labourer, who lives and works in Dubai. “All of my property there has been looted. It was even difficult to say the funeral prayers for my family, because there is shelling from the morning until night everyday.”

No advance warning

Khan’s family was killed in a preliminary wave of attacks against targets in North Waziristan, but military operations have been continuous since June 15, when the operation officially began. Those who left North Waziristan after they started said they faced many difficulties in escaping.

A military source told Al Jazeera that residents had not been provided advanced warning before June 15. He added that the army was holding off from a full scale ground offensive until after civilians were able to leave the area.

He said that the army was however concerned that Taliban fighters would slip away from the area along with refugees.

The Taliban has promised to carry out retaliatory strikes against civilian targets. Security has been stepped up in the major urban centres of Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, the capital Islamabad and elsewhere, authorities say, in anticipation of such attacks. 

Amir Rana, the director of the Islamabad-based Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, said that increased violence was possible.

“If they want to launch attacks in Pakistan, they will do so by their affiliates who are already present elsewhere. […] It is important that they do not have the kind of territory in Pakistan to challenge the state. But you cannot say that you are going to completely end terrorism with this operation,” he said.

Minhaj Uddin contributed reporting from Bannu.

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Source: Al Jazeera