Locals still fleeing Miranshah
THOSE who fled came across the hills with tales of terror: bombed hospitals, beheaded government officials, helicopter gunships and indiscriminate bombings.

The survivors escaped in pick-up trucks — their frightened women and children crying in the back — to make the 15-minute journey to the Afghan border and safety.

When they arrived in Ghulam Khan yesterday, they described a ferocious five-day battle between Taleban insurgents and the Pakistan military for control of the town of Miran Shah in the tribal lands of Waziristan.

Akram Zahid, a 24-year-old Afghan who lived in the town, said: “So many people were killed. The Government destroyed a mosque and bombed hospitals. They were bombing the whole city with their Cobra helicopters.”

The engagement at Miran Shah is at the centre of a furious row between Pakistan and Afghanistan — both key US allies in the War on Terror. More than 120 pro-Taleban militants and five Pakistani soldiers are said to have died during the fighting in the past week.

President Karzai of Afghanistan pleaded yesterday for greater co-operation from his neighbour, President Musharraf, who the previous day had accused elements within the Afghan regime of maligning Pakistan.

Commander Karim, the leader of an Afghan Special Forces unit tasked with securing the frontier between the Afghan province of Khost and North Waziristan in Pakistan, looked across the border. “We could see helicopters bombing and hear mortar shells. We heard one only half an hour ago,” he said.

Ashraf Khan, 23, held a crying child in his arms as he described why he had fled. “The Taleban were arresting people, government employees or those supporting them, and beheading them. The Army came and we were watching them, they were fighting, they came in Jeeps and helicopters and they were bombing the area,” he said.

The region is notoriously wild and is inhabited on both sides of the border by Pashtun tribesmen, a proud warlike people who defend their guests to the death.

It is in these tribal belts that many of the senior Taleban, who were made homeless by the American-led invasion of 2001, are believed to be living.

The fighting started last week as President Bush flew into Pakistan to meet President Musharraf. In a show of strength, the Pakistani Army attacked a militant stronghold killing 45. Pro-Taleban insurgents responded by seizing government buildings in Miran Shah and unleashing the terror.

The violence has come when relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan are strained. Last month President Karzai gave Pakistan a list of Taleban and al-Qaeda insurgents who he said were hiding in Pakistan. President Musharraf said that the intelligence was outdated.

The tension is such that America has sent General John Abizaid, Central Command Chief, to Pakistan to smooth things over. In Afghanistan, however, there is a feeling that finally Pakistan is addressing the problem of militants.

“This fighting has a positive impact on the security of Khost. Pakistan has decided to chase and fight the terrorists. Of course the terrorists are based there,” said Mirajuddin Pathan, the governor of Khost, whose punishment for suspected terrorists is to parade them through the streets and allow his townsfolk to pelt them with tomatoes. “Mr Musharraf said that the information given by Mr Karzai is three months old, indirectly he is admitting they have terrorists there.”

Back on the border Yassin Tajik, 40, wearing a white turban and a smile, was obviously happy to be back on Afghan soil. “I am Afghan, now there is peace here and violence there — why would I stay?”
Posted by: Dan Darling 2006-03-09