The recent airstrikes by the Pakistan military in the Khost and Kunar provinces of Afghanistan, that killed a number of civilians, have escalated the already simmering tensions between the two countries, said a media report.
According to the local officials on Sunday, the death toll from the airstrikes in eastern Afghanistan early Saturday morning rose to at least 45 people and left several others injured, reported The New York Times.
While sporadic cross-border shelling has killed Afghan civilians for years, the casualties due to the strikes mark a significant exacerbation in violence and the use of military force by Pakistani authorities as the strikes drew immediate criticism from Taliban officials, who said that Pakistani military aircraft carried out the airstrikes.
“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan strongly condemns Pakistan’s attacks on refugees in Khost and Kunar. IEA calls on the Pakistani side not to test the patience of Afghans on such issues and not repeat the same mistake again otherwise it will have bad consequences,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement on Twitter.
Mujahid added that the problems between the two countries should be resolved through political means.
According to a statement from Afghanistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Taliban on Saturday also summoned Pakistan’s ambassador in Kabul to express their disapproval of the attacks and give him a diplomatic demarche to deliver to Islamabad. However, Pakistani officials have not yet confirmed the strikes and instead urged the Taliban to curb increasing cross-border attacks from Afghanistan on their security forces.
“Pakistan has repeatedly requested Afghan Government in last few months to secure Pak-Afghan border region. Terrorists are using Afghan soil with impunity to carry out activities inside Pakistan,” the media outlet quoted Pakistan’s foreign office as saying in a statement on Sunday.
Notably, since the Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan last year, the country’s eastern border with Pakistan has been a source of increasing tension between the two countries as Pakistani officials have claimed frequent attacks in Pakistan by militants harbored on Afghan soil. However, Taliban officials have refuted such reports of sheltering militants.
The porous border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan has been a stronghold for the Pakistani Taliban, a banned militant group in Pakistan, for decades. The group has carried out various terrorist attacks in Pakistan and the officials in the country have claimed that the members of the group found shelter in neighbouring Afghanistan. However, the former Western-backed governments in Afghanistan have accused Pakistan of nurturing the Afghan Taliban insurgency and sheltering its leaders.
After the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in August last year, the Pakistani authorities worked with the Afghan Taliban to broker a monthlong ceasefire with the Pakistani Taliban, according to Pakistani officials. However, the ceasefire was not renewed and after it expired, the Pakistani Taliban again stepped up attacks on Pakistan’s soil.
Notably, seven Pakistani soldiers were killed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s North Waziristan on Thursday, which the country’s foreign office claimed was done by militants operating from Afghanistan. The pre-dawn airstrikes in Afghanistan seem to have been carried out as retaliation to that attack as according to locals, most of the people killed in the airstrikes had been displaced from North Waziristan, reported the media outlet.
However, the airstrikes seem to have emboldened the Pakistani Taliban that challenged the Pakistan army to fight them on the battlefield instead of bombing innocent refugees.
“We want to tell the Pakistani army that every war has a principle and Pakistan has violated every principle of war up to date. We challenge the Pakistan army to fight us in the battlefield instead of bombing oppressed people and refugee camps,” the media quoted Pakistani Taliban spokesman Muhammad Khurasani as saying on Saturday.