Thousands flee NWA fearing operation

PESHAWAR: Tens of thousands of people from the most troubled tribal district have fled their homes fearing a long-awaited military operation is imminent, officials and residents said Monday. A government official in Peshawar told AFP that some 58,000 people, mostly women and children, had fled North Waziristan district since air strikes targeting militants in late May killed at least 75 people. The exodus has increased rapidly in recent days, with more than 25,000 fleeing their homes in the last 48 hours alone, he added. An official in the district’s main town of Miranshah confirmed the migration was underway to various parts of Khyber Pakhtunkwha province. “I am taking my family to a safer location,” said one resident who did not wish to be named. An offensive in North Waziristan has been rumoured for years but analysts remain cautious about whether the military has the capacity to attempt such a move without assistance from the Afghan side of the border where militants are likely to flee in the event of an attack. A ground operation could also anger militants who are seen as more friendly to Pakistan but whom the US accuses of using North Waziristan as a base to target Afghan and NATO troops, such as the Haqqani network and the faction led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur. The latest rumours of an operation began after government talks with Tehreek-e-Taliban broke down in April, and were further stoked by the air strikes and the widespread distribution of a leaflet from Bahadur last week warning residents they should leave their homes by June 10. Officials and elders told AFP that residents from the area had formed a 65-member jirga comprising members of the Utmanzai tribe who had held last-ditch talks with the military and government in the region’s main town of Peshawar on Friday to avert the offensive. The jirga members also held talks with Bahadur on Monday, a tribal elder and a member of jirga told AFP. 

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