US-NATO firing in N Waziristan
29 June, 2007
By Amir Latif
Till the morning of June 23, Pikhawar Khan was a happy man. A father of two sons, and a daughter, and grand father of four grandsons, Pikhawar had no idea what that day had in stock for him.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization NATO-led US helicopters and jets fired on the makeshift house of Pikhawar Khan located in Shawal valley of Pakistan’s troubled northern tribal belt near Pak-Afghan border leaving a heap of debris behind of the bodies of his nine family members who died on the spot.
The air strike was conducted to kill the militants, who according to NATO spokesperson, were preparing for an attack on allied troops in Afghanistan.
Gratitude to NATO spokesperson, and Pakistani government for regretting the killings of Pikahawar's family, but it was too late. Seventy-year old Pikhawar was a weak and powerless man, and had no resources to avenge the killing of his family members. The only way he chose to get rid of the pain and grief, was to take his own life.
Pikhawar shot himself dead after he saw the bodies of nine members of his family, including three women and four children.
“He shot himself dead in front of some 8-10 people after some hours of seeing the bodies of his family members”, Pazir Khan, a neighbour who managed to escape the air strike told weekly Pulse on telephone.
“He (Pikhawar) was so disturbed… and kept crying and laughing. I can’t explain his condition. He kept crying, and all of a sudden he started laughing loudly”, he said.
“We did try our level best to console him. Initially, his condition was not too bad, but after seeing the bodies of his grandsons, he lost his courage”, Pazir said.
“ Light-emitting balls hit our houses, but mainly his (Pikhwar’s) house, leaving a heap of debris behind”, Pazir said adding, “ Pikhawar was not at home at the time of the attack, that is why he managed to survive, but his two sons, two daughters-in-law, a daughter, and three grandsons were killed”.
He said only one child of Pikhawar’s family survived the bombing by gun-ship helicopters and aircraft. Pikhawar left two brothers and seven nephews and nieces to take care of the only survivor.
“Machinegun rounds and artillery shells were fired from planes and helicopters, which shook the entire area,” he said. A small restaurant was also hit by rockets, killing and injuring many people, he told.
Walls of Pazir’s house were also damaged by a shell, however no casualty occurred.
A Wana-based journalist, who visited the area on condition of anonymity, confirmed the incident. “Residents told me that after bombing Shawal valley, the helicopters and jets started pounding the nearby Rakha area along the Afghan border in the South Waziristan. NATO and US-led forces started intense shelling on houses in Rakha, in which 20 people were killed and scores of others got injured”, he mentioned.
“People have started leaving the affected areas, as tension has gripped the entire region. Local people fear more air strikes in the area. Violation of Pakistani airspace by allied jets and helicopters has become the order of the day. It’s just that sometimes it gets reported in the media, and at others not. But the locals, especially women and children are getting psychologically affected”, he maintained.
The journalist said that the fresh incident has fanned the already charged atmosphere in the area.
“ Local people told me that many of the youth have vowed to conduct suicide attacks on allied troops operating just a few miles away from the area”, he said. “Pushtuns never forget their revenge. They retaliate even after 100 years. The highly charged atmosphere against America is not merely religiously motivated. The revenge-based sentiments are running high there. Youth are angry over deaths of their dear ones”, he added.
Surrounded by untamable mountains, the forest-covered Shawal valley, shot to fame in 2003 after US and Pakistani intelligence agencies reported the presence of Osama Bin Laden hiding there.
NATO-led force in Afghanistan has admitted the killings of civilians in the air strike against militants who had been seen near the border preparing an attack.
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) spokesman Major John Thomas told newsmen that the air strike was conducted with the “coordination” of Pakistan Army.
The claim, however, was strongly rebutted by Pakistan Army. Pakistan Army spokesman, Major General Waheed Arshad says that Pakistani army neither coordinated nor was it informed about the strike.
“The ISAF’s spokesman’s claim is incorrect. I don’t want to comment further on this issue. Pakistani government is contacting the concerned (US and NATO) authorities in this connection”, he told newsmen.
He said at least nine civilians were killed “when a rocket fired by foreign forces hit their home”. However, locals claim that at least 33 civilians were killed in the strike.
“Media is exaggerating the death toll of civilians”, the army spokesman claimed adding that “NATO’s confession and apology on civilians’ killings is a good sign”, he contended.
NATO spokesman claims that about 60 militants were killed in the operation. Follow-up investigations found civilian casualties amongst the dead, he said.
“We have reports that one of our weapons hit a building which may have had a number of civilians in it and that building may have been a home or way-station or some hotel facility,” Major John Thomas said.
“We regret the loss of innocent life and our prayers are with the families of those who died.” The strikes had been carried out in coordination with the Pakistani military which was also involved in the investigation to find out how civilians were killed, he said.
The force had crossed the border mistakenly, Thomas said.
Professor Shamim Akhtar, a veteran security analyst believes that NATO’s apology over killings of civilians is a mere eyewash. “They have just regretted the killing of Pakistanis. What would be their reaction if Pakistanis kill 10 Americans and regret?” he questions.
“It has been a routine affair that US aircraft trespass into Pakistani airspace with impunity, and no one is there to stop them”, he said and added “the NATO spokesman’s claim regarding cooperation of Pakistan Army in civilians’ killings is a matter of shame for us”.
“America doesn’t care about our sovereignty. Wherever and whenever it wants, it strikes. Pakistani government only condemns the US attacks after they occur”, he opined.
Professor Akhtar thinks that until US leaves the region; there will be no decrease in extremism. “Until US and other foreign forces are here, there is no chance of decline in growing phenomenon of so-called extremism. In fact, US forces are the main reason of extremism in the region”, he said.
“It is better for the USA to leave this region as soon as possible if it wants peace”, he suggests.