Can Pakistan’s future be decided by more military-civilian wrestling or is joint action against extremism possible?
Islamabad – At least 87 people have been killed and more than a 100 wounded in ongoing clashes between the Pakistani military and Taliban-allied fighters in the country’s northwestern Khyber tribal area, the military said.
The fighting, involving both ground troops and aerial bombardment, began on Saturday and was ongoing in the Sipah area of the Tirah Valley, a military spokesperson told Al Jazeera on Sunday.
The military said that it has killed at least 80 people, all designated “terrorists”, while seven soldiers were also killed.
“[Operations] will continue with full force till total terrorist elimination from these areas,” tweeted Maj-Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa, the military’s spokesperson, on Saturday evening.
Pakistan has been battling the Lashkar-e-Islam in the Khyber tribal area, adjacent to Peshawar and part of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), since October last year, when it expanded anti-Taliban operations into the area.
Operations have particularly focused on the Tirah Valley, where Sunday’s fighting was also taking place.
On March 12, the Lashkar-e-Islam, led by local commander Mangal Bagh, formally entered into an alliance with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an umbrella organisation of anti-State religious extremist groups that have been fighting against Pakistan since 2007.
So far, operations in the Khyber tribal area have resulted in the deaths of at least 419 people, all designated “terrorists”, as well as at least 17 soldiers, the military said.
Pakistan launched military operations against the TTP in June last year, with Operation Zarb-e-Azb taking on the TTP in its heartland of North Waziristan.
Since then, it said it has killed at least 1,883 “terrorists”, while losing the lives of more than 120 soldiers.
Al Jazeera could not independently verify the figures provided by the military, as access to the conflict areas was severely restricted.
The fighting has also seen the displacement of more than a million people from both North Waziristan and Khyber.
On Friday, the government began a process of assisted repatriation for those who had fled parts of the Khyber tribal area that were not in the active conflict zone.
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