By: Chandrashekar Bhat
AT LEAST five Pakistan soldiers were killed due to firing from neighbouring Afghanistan, Islamabad said on Sunday (6), in an attack claimed by the Pakistan Taliban.
It comes just days after Baloch separatists in the southwest killed nine Pakistan troops in a series of brazen attacks that officials said involved planners from Afghanistan as well as India.
After seizing power in August, Afghanistan’s Taliban pledged terror groups would not be allowed to operate from the country, but Pakistan militant groups have long taken sanctuary across the porous border.
They include the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which on Sunday (6) claimed responsibility for the attack in the Kurram district of rugged Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
The TTP has been emboldened by the return to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan and has stepped up attacks since a month-long truce with the Pakistan government ended last year.
The Taliban are separate groups in both countries, but share a common ideology and draw from people who live on either side of the border.
The TTP said it killed six Pakistani troops in Saturday (5) night’s attack, but the Pakistan military’s public relations wing (ISPR) said five Frontier Corps members had died.
“Troops responded in a befitting manner,” it said, adding “terrorists suffered heavy causalities”.
Pakistan “strongly condemns the use of Afghan soil by terrorists”, ISPR said.
“The army is determined to defend Pakistan’s borders against the menace of terrorism, and such sacrifices of our brave men further strengthen our resolve”.
Premier in China
It took four days until Saturday for Pakistan’s troops to put an end to assaults by separatists in Balochistan province, with the army putting the final death toll at 20 militants and nine soldiers.
The ISPR said intelligence agents intercepted communications during those assaults on army posts that showed militants had links to Afghanistan and India.
Separatists have waged an insurgency in the vast southwestern province for years, fuelled by anger that its abundant reserves of natural resources are not relieving citizens from crushing poverty.
The fighting came as Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan was paying an official visit to China, which has invested significantly in Balochistan, further stoking tensions.
Chinese investments in Balochistan are part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative.
A Pakistan security official said on Friday (4) that the attacks were an attempt to derail Khan’s visit to China.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project linking China’s far-western Xinjiang region with the strategic port of Gwadar in Balochistan has sparked claims that the vast influx of investment does not benefit locals.
While the economic corridor offers a lucrative gateway for China to the Indian Ocean, the security of its workers has long been a concern.
Pakistan’s government announced late last year it had entered a month-long truce with the TTP, facilitated by Afghanistan’s Taliban, but that expired on December 9 after peace talks failed to make progress.
The TTP has been blamed for hundreds of suicide bomb attacks and kidnappings across the country, and for a while held sway over vast tracts of the country’s rugged tribal belt, imposing a radical version of Islamic law.
But after the 2014 massacre of nearly 150 children at a Peshawar school, the Pakistan military sent huge numbers of troops into TTP strongholds and crushed the movement, forcing its fighters to retreat to Afghanistan.
Earlier this week the Afghan Taliban again insisted foreign militant groups would not be allowed to operate inside the country.