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Tens Of Thousands Flee Fighting In Pakistani Tribal Districts

A woman and her family arrive in Peshawar after fleeing the restive Bajaur tribal area.
Pakistani authorities say that recent fighting between the military and Taliban insurgents in the Bajaur tribal district has displaced at least 250,000 ethnic Pashtuns from the region.

Many such internally displaced families have moved to Peshawar, capital of the insurgency-plagued, North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) where some of them live in state-run displacement camps, while others depend on local charity.

International media reports say hundreds of militants, Pakistani soldiers, and civilians have died in the weeklong, fierce fighting between Pakistani security forces and the Taliban in Bajaur. The fighting created panic among civilians who fled elsewhere.

One man told RFE/RL at a new camp in Peshawar that fighting -- particularly aerial bombing -- left people no option but to flee from their homes and villages.

"We demand from the government not to target people randomly," he said. "They should target only terrorists or those who make trouble. What wrongs have our children, women, and cattle committed?"

Relief Camps Established

Rahimdad Khan, a senior minister in the NWFP government, told RFE/RL that the provincial government has established about 17 relief camps in the Dir, Malakand, Mardan, and Peshawar districts that border Bajaur and is trying to help the displaced people.

"We resent that these people have been displaced," he said. "The emergency situation [in Bajaur] has displaced between 250,000 and 300,000 people. ... We consider people who challenge the government's writ and create conditions [for military operations] as being responsible for their [displacement and] ordeal."

Pakistani media reported that the provincial government has requested millions of dollars to bolster its efforts to help the displaced people.

Many Bajaur residents have also sought refuge in neighboring Afghanistan. An RFE/RL correspondent reported from the eastern Afghan province of Kunar that some 500 families from Bajaur have sought shelter in Kunar.

Naseem Khan, one of those Bajaur residents who has sought refuge in Kunar, told RFE/RL that severe bombing by planes forced the families to abandon their homes.

"The entire valley of Bajaur from one side to the other has been completely evacuated," he said. "Some families have left one or two people behind [to look after their houses], but even they have to live on the mountains because of bombing fears. [The people here are very kind], they have moved their families [to their relatives] to allow our women and children to live in their houses."

'Kunar Is Like Your Home'

Kunar Provincial Governor Fazlullah Wahidi called on international aid organizations to help the new refugees. While addressing a delegation of the elders of the Bajaur refugees, he said they can live in Afghanistan as long as they need to.

Kunar is like your own home and you can live here as long as you want.
"Whatever help we have given you so far was on an emergency basis and might not be sufficient. ... Kunar is like your own home and you can live here as long as you want," Wahidi said. "You can go back whenever you think the [security] situation back home is stable."

The French news agency AFP reported on August 17 that some 200 people have thus far died in the most recent bout of sectarian fighting in the remote tribal district of Kurram, including some 23 who died in fresh overnight fighting between rival Shi'ite and Sunni tribes.

Some 500,000 residents of Parachinar, a Shi'ite enclave and the district headquarters of Kurram, has been in a virtual siege for the past several months, as all roads to the town have been blocked and the Taliban have attacked aid convoys en route to the town. Media reports indicate that there is a chronic shortage of food and medicine in Parachinar.

An RFE/RL correspondent in Khost reports that many Shi'ite and Sunni families from Kurram have gone across the border into Afghanistan's southeastern Khost and Paktia provinces.

Local Hospitality

Tahir Khan Sabarai, the deputy governor of Khost, told RFE/RL that hundreds of families from Kurram have moved to the bordering districts of Khost Province over the past few days.

Sabarai said that they have given the incoming refugees some blankets and food aid, but international aid agencies should quickly step in to help the refugees. He added that most refugees depend on local hospitality for their survival, and they expect thousands of more refugees to enter if fighting in Kurram continues.

Pakistani media reported that the prevailing insecurity in Bajaur and Kurram has forced them to suspend the upcoming polio immunization campaign in the region. The move will prevent some 325,000 children from being immunized against the disease.

The German news agency dpa reported last week that Pakistan's top Interior Ministry official, Rehman Malik, gave the warring tribes in Kurram three days to halt clashes or face government action. The deadline expired on August 18, but fighting continued.

Najib Amir contributed to this story from Peshawar. Rohullah Anwari and Amir Baheer contributed from Afghanistan.
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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, the editor of RFE/RL's Gandhara website, is a journalist specializing in coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. ​