Pakistan conducts airstrikes inside Afghanistan, 8 people killed

Strikes targeted banned Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) affiliated militants

Pakistan strikes Afghanistan (File) Army soldiers stand guard during a temporary closure of the Friendship Gate crossing point at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border town of Chaman | Reuters

Pakistan on Monday said it carried out airstrikes on the banned Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) affiliated militants in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, amidst a war of words between the two neighbours for a spate of recent terror attacks in restive Pakistani cities.

At least eight civilians, including three children, were killed in the airstrikes carried out by Pakistan, the Afghan Taliban said while summoning the charge d'affaires of Pakistan's embassy in Kabul to lodge a strong protest.

In a press release, Pakistan's Foreign Office (FO) said that rebels belonging to TTP's Hafiz Gul Bahadur Group were hit after the outfit claimed responsibility for the attack on Saturday at an army outpost that resulted in the killing of seven soldiers, including two officers.

This morning Pakistan carried out intelligence-based anti-terrorist operations in the border regions inside Afghanistan. The prime target of today's operation was the terrorists belonging to Hafiz Gul Bahadur Group, which along with Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), is responsible for multiple terrorist attacks inside Pakistan, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of civilians and law enforcement officials, it stated.

The FO said that over the past two years, Pakistan repeatedly conveyed its serious concerns to the Interim Afghan Government over the presence of terror outfits, including TTP, inside Afghanistan, who posed a grave threat to Pakistan's security as they consistently used Afghan territory to launch terror attacks inside Pakistani territory.

It said terrorist groups like TTP were a collective threat to regional peace and security and Pakistan was aware of the challenge Afghan authorities faced in combating the threat posed by TTP.

Pakistan also announced its decision to continue to work towards finding joint solutions in countering terrorism and to prevent any terrorist organisation from sabotaging bilateral relations with Afghanistan.

The FO said that Pakistan accords prime importance to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Afghanistan and always prioritises dialogue and cooperation to confront the terrorist threat.

"We have repeatedly urged the Afghan authorities to take concrete and effective action to ensure that the Afghan soil is not used as a staging ground for terrorism against Pakistan. We have also called on them to deny safe havens to TTP and to hand over its leadership to Pakistan, FO said.

It said that Pakistan has great respect for the people of Afghanistan but certain elements among those in power in Afghanistan are actively patronising TTP and using them as a proxy against Pakistan.

It said that such an approach against a brotherly country, which stood with the people of Afghanistan through thick and thin, manifests shortsightedness and ignores the support extended by Pakistan to the people of Afghanistan over the last several decades.

We urge these elements in power to rethink the policy of siding with Khwarij terrorists shedding the blood of innocent Pakistanis and to make a clear choice to stand with the people of Pakistan, it said.

There were also reports of the exchange of fire on the border between the troops of the two sides after the Afghan side fired mortars following the airstrikes, injuring four civilians.

In response to the Pakistani air strikes on the Barmal district of Paktika and the Spera district of Khost, the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned the charge d'affaires of Pakistan's embassy, Obaid Rahman Nizamani and submitted a protest letter to him.

Besides condemning the airstrikes, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs informs Pakistan that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has experienced a long struggle for freedom against the superpowers of the world and cannot tolerate any kind of invasion of its territory, the ministry said in a statement.

Earlier, Zabihullah Mujahid, the spokesperson of the Afghan rulers, said in a statement that Pakistani aircraft had carried out the airstrikes, the Dawn newspaper reported from Kabul.

At around 3 am, Pakistani aircraft bombarded civilian homes in Khost and Paktika provinces near the border with Pakistan, said Mujahid, claiming that all eight people killed were women and children.

Mujahid said that Pakistani planes had bombed the Laman area in Paktika's Barmal district.

Alleging that houses of common people were targeted, he said three women and three children were killed in Paktika and a house collapsed while two women were killed in Khost, where a house was destroyed as well.

"The Islamic Emirate strongly condemns the attacks and describes these as non-serious actions and violation of Afghanistani territory," Mujahid said.

The spokesperson asked Pakistan to stop blaming Afghanistan for its problems and failure to control violent incidents.

"Such acts can lead to dire consequences which will not be in control of Pakistan," he warned.

The strikes come a day after President Asif Ali Zardari vowed retaliation following the killing of seven soldiers, including two officers, in a terrorist attack on a security forces' post in North Waziristan.

Offering the funeral prayers of the two officers, Zardari on Sunday said that the blood of the martyrs would not go in vain and the country would avenge the deaths. The president said Pakistan would not hesitate to strike back if attacked by anyone at borders or inside its territory.

The Hafiz Gul Bahadar group had claimed responsibility for the deadly attack. Security officials say that fighters of the Gul Bahadar group operate from the Afghan side of the border, mostly from Khost.

The Paktika province is located near Pakistan's South Waziristan District while Khost is situated near North Waziristan.

Pakistan's Special Representative to Afghanistan Ambassador Asif Durrani on Saturday said that an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 militants from the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have taken shelter in neighbouring Afghanistan.

The TTP, which has ideological linkages with the Afghan Taliban and is also known as the Pakistan Taliban, was set up as an umbrella group of several militant outfits in 2007.

The TTP's main aim is to impose its strict brand of Islam across Pakistan. Pakistan had hoped that the Afghan Taliban after coming to power in Kabul in 2022 would stop the use of their soil against Pakistan by expelling the TTP operatives. However, Islamabad says Kabul has refused to rein in the TTP.

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