Villagers buried what they said were dozens of “innocent victims” of Pakistani air force strikes aimed at militant strongholds near the Afghan border. The funerals went ahead after residents persuaded the army to halt operations launched amid fierce fighting that has killed some 250 people since Saturday.
About 1,500 people gathered in the village of Epi hoping to bury some 50 people, including women and children, killed in Tuesday’s airstrikes.
Maulvi Gul Daraz, a Muslim cleric who led the funeral prayers, said they buried only 27 bodies in Epi and moved the others to another village for burial there for fear of more airstrikes after helicopters appeared in the sky. Daraz described Epi as a ghost town whose residents had run for their lives when the bombing began. He said some of the victims were found lying in the street or in the rubble of destroyed houses and shops.
In the week that he assumed charge as Pakistan’s army chief-in-waiting, General Ashfaq Kiyani has seen the army suffer nearly 60 casualties in its war on terror in the tribal areas. While the low intensity was has been raging in the area for several months now, the rise in casualties have alarmed many.
Major General Waheed Arshad, the army’s spokesman, has said that civilian casualties have been above 150. The lastest casualties came after the military was repeatedly ambushed and had to resort to the help of the air force to bomb targets in the area.
Many Pakistanis, however, are questioning the wisdom of entering into such a war, which they say is gradually shifting its focus from being a war on terror to a war between the army the local tribesmen. “It is becoming very personalized, with tribesmen seeing this as an attack on their independence and way of life,” said one analyst.
Angry tribesmen, they say, are giving shelter to Taliban militants, not because they have sympathy for them but because they are angry with the government. However, for its part, the government’s hands are tied. The hostilities in the tribal areas come after pressure from the United States to come up with results in the war on terror.
“Along with politics, the basic issues of the people which have caused frustration in the first place must be addressed,” Akram Zaki, an analyst, said. Military action close to the Afghan border could have far-reaching repercussions. “It’s not as easy as we think it is. We need to first look at where the government has gone wrong,” said Moinuddin Haider, former interior minister.