Norwegian Refugee Council says cross-border firing has displaced up to 200 families in Afghanistan.
Hundreds of families were fleeing from both sides of Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan on Monday, officials said, as Islamabad continued a violent crackdown on extremists after multiple attacks last week raised fears of a militant resurgence.
Pakistan has accused Afghanistan of harboring the militants who carried out last week’s attacks, which killed more than 100 people across the country. The Pakistani military said it used heavy artillery to fire at militant hideouts in Afghanistan on Monday, after carrying out airstrikes on both sides of the border over the weekend.
Journalists are not allowed into the area and the claims could not be independently verified. But officials on the Afghan side said at least six people had been killed, and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said the firing had displaced up to 200 families.
“Military fire across the border into Nangarhar and Kunar Provinces has forced Afghan families to flee their homes… [such] attacks forcibly displace civilians, violating International Humanitarian Law, and must stop,” said NRC Country Director in Afghanistan, Kate O’Rourke.
A Pakistani security source told AFP on Monday that up to 700 Pakistani families were being evacuated from along the border in Khyber tribal district “to protect them from any retaliatory attack.”
Kabul and Islamabad routinely accuse each other of providing safe haven to militants, and the Pakistani government openly admitted it shelters the Afghan Taliban leadership in statements made by the country’s top diplomat last year.
On Friday Pakistan gave Afghanistan a list of 76 “Afghan-based” militants and demanded that Kabul take action against them. In a tit-for-tat move on Monday, Kabul supplied Islamabad with a list of 85 militants it said were sheltering in Pakistan, calling for similar action.
Pakistan has already closed the two main gates along its porous border with Afghanistan, Torkham at the Khyber Pass and Chaman in Balochistan province. Officials said on Monday they would remain closed “indefinitely.”
The spike in tensions was triggered by last week’s assaults, the deadliest of which was a suicide attack at a crowded Sufi shrine in Sindh province on Thursday which killed 90 people, according to a new official toll, and which was claimed by the Islamic State group. A series of other attacks were apparently coordinated by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, including a bombing in Lahore, which killed 15 people and wounded dozens on Feb. 13.
The emergence of I.S. and a TTP resurgence would be a major blow to Pakistan, which had enjoyed a dramatic improvement in security over the past two years after a military-led crackdown begun in 2014. But critics have long argued that the government has not addressed the root causes of extremism, and analysts said there were “visible signs” militants were regrouping after last week’s attacks.