Northwest Pakistan
As the attention of Americans is turned toward the new administration in the White House and the ongoing effects of the Syrian refugee crisis, certain problems in other parts of the world slip under the radar. The war in Northwest Pakistan is one such problem.

Here are some facts about the war that most Americans are not aware of:

  1. Another name for the war in Northwest Pakistan is the war in Waziristan, after the region predominantly affected. Located in the northwest of Pakistan, Waziristan holds three federally administered tribes — the Wazirs, the Mehsuds and the Dawar.
  2. The war began in 2004. The Pakistan Army sought to drive out al-Qaeda and the Taliban, who were using Waziristan as a home-base to attack U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
  3. The Taliban in Pakistan is allied with but not synonymous with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Both forces, along with the Afghan Haqqani network and small branches of al-Qaeda, still occupy Waziristan. Terrorism in the region is the driving force behind the fighting.
  4. An attack in 2014 on the international airport in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest and wealthiest city, triggered the Pakistani government to a new onslaught against the terrorist groups. The attack killed 26 people and tainted the sacred image of the city.
  5. The military operation against the suspected terrorists was code-named Zarb-e-Azb, which was the sword used by the prophet Muhammad in an ancient battle. The retaliating airstrikes killed 140 suspects in Waziristan.
  6. Pakistani forces killed 376 rebels in the first 15 days of the government’s retaliation to the Karachi attack. The number of civilian casualties was not released to the public.
  7. The effects of the war on the civilians of Waziristan are kept tightly hidden from the public. What is known thus far is this: 500,000 residents have fled the region due to the war — some fleeing as far into Afghanistan, and others to eastern regions of Pakistan.
  8. The United States has been periodically involved throughout the war in northwest Pakistan. Between 2008 and 2013, the CIA completed around 400 drone strikes in Waziristan in order “to weaken al-Qaeda and to suppress Taliban fighters.” The attacks came after Obama ordered a new round of American forces into Afghanistan in 2009. The Pakistani government approved the airstrikes.
  9. When the war first launched in 2004, Pakistani forces had suffered three times the loss than the U.S. since the 2001 Afghanistan war on terror.
  10. For years, Washington and other allies called on Islamabad to join the fight in ridding the Waziristan region of rebel militants. Until the act of terrorism in Karachi, Islamabad was resistant. But even with Islamabad’s added assistance, civilians remain pessimistic of the terrorist groups leaving anytime soon.

In 2005, when the war had only started, the local Taliban and its allies declared to be in the “fight until the last man and the last bullet.” Thirteen years later, their determination to defeat the Pakistani government has held true.

Brenna Yowell

Photo: Flickr

Shortly after the recent attacks on the Karachi International Airport, the government of Pakistan announced an offensive attack against Taliban militants based in the Waziristan region. This was the first major offensive that the Pakistani government has launched since 2007, when government leaders signed an unofficial non-aggression pact with pro-government militias. The main target for this offensive is the Matchis Camp. The camp was originally set up as a refugee camp for Afghans fleeing the ongoing war in their country, but over the course of time, it eventually turned into a hub for local and foreign militants.

Since the offensive started it has been estimated that at least 350,000 people that live in the region have been displaced. Most of the people are fleeing to the nearby town of Bannu, where only a rudimentary camp has been created so far. Many refugees that have spoken to media outlets have said that they don’t want to go there, largely because the town lacks basic necessities like food, water and sanitation. Local aid organization are doing what they can to help the situation, but the continual influx of people is beginning to strain resources.

Siraj Ahmed, the highest government official in the region, released a statement as the offensive started that strongly urged people to leave the region as soon as they could. However, officials in Pakistan say that approximately 80 percent of the 7 million people living in the Waziristan region, which is in the northern part of the country and borders Afghanistan, still remain there despite the escalation of military strikes and continuous conflict.

One particularly striking aspect of this most recent influx of refugees is that many of the children that are fleeing are at a high risk for infectious diseases. This is thanks to the Taliban imposing a ban on the vaccination of children that lived in the region. While there are many diseases that the children are susceptible of catching, of particular concern is the spreading of polio. Living in a refugee camp, particularly like the one in Bannu, only increases the chance of these children contracting various diseases.

From here the military offensive is only going to get increasingly deadly as more helicopters, soldiers and drones enter the region. The human toll is only going to get worse from here, especially considering the large amount of civilians still in the region, unless aid efforts are increased exponentially.

— Andre Gobbo

Sources: BBC Asia, Reuters, The New Yorker
Photo: Insight on Conflict