More than 70 civilians were killed and scores injured in an air raid on April 10 by the Pakistani jet fighters in the tribal region along Pakistan's northern border with Afghanistan. According to eyewitness accounts, a bomb was dropped on a house in the remote village of Sara Walla in the Khyber tribal agency. The fighter jets returned as villagers tried to dig out people from the rubble two hours later.
According to Ikramullah Jan Kukikhel, a tribal elder, the death toll is likely to reach up to 80. He said between 20 and 30 others were injured when the house of Hameed Khan Kukikhel was bombed by the jets, killing women, children and elderly people. "All of those killed were civilians, 100% innocent," he told the press.
Ironically, the Kukikhel are with the government. Two sons of Hameed Khan Kukikhel (whose house was bombed) were serving in the para-military Frontier Constabulary. "We have never joined the Taliban or any other fundamentalist group. We are normal people who just want peace for the country," said Ikramullah Jan Kukikhel.
However, the Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas insisted that any of the dead were civilians, saying the army had intelligence that militants were gathering at the site of the strike. As army was adamant not to concede the civilian casualties, an embarrassed civilian administration offered compensation to 71 victims of the tragic incident.
According to a survivor of the attack an official from the Khyber administration visited him and gave him a check of Rs 20,000 ($220) to compensate for the loss of four relatives, including his brother.
Pakistan's mercenary Army is conducting massive operations against the militants in the tribal region behind a smoke screen. No journalists are permitted inside the war zone. Reports about the fighting and casualties of the so-called Taliban and army as well as civilian victims are primarily based on the information, misinformation and propaganda released by government or military spokesmen.
About 150,000 Pakistani army troops have been involved in operations in Swat and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas along the Afghanistan border, including Bajur and South Waziristan. A major operation was launched in Swat in November 2007. Another operation in Bajur commenced in August 2008. South Waziristan operation began in October 2009.
Under US pressure, the latest operation was launched last month in North Waziristan where more than 300 alleged militants have been killed in three weeks of constant air-strikes and occasional ground clashes. The North Waziristan operation is seen crucial for U.S.-led forces across the border in Afghanistan. The United States and its NATO allies long have been pressing for action in North Waziristan, an alleged base for al-Qaida and the Haqqani network, described as one of the most powerful insurgent groups in Afghanistan.
According to Pakistan Army's website, over 3,000 militants have been killed and almost 4,000 apprehended in the military operations in the tribal region. Pakistan Army and paramilitary Frontier Corps suffered more than 1400 fatal casualties. The army has neither released the names of those arrested nor the killed militants. After any encounter or raid there is a terse statement by the Army Public Relations Department giving the number of casualties without any names. Since the region is a no-go area for the media, the army claims cannot be confirmed.
A recent Human Rights group report provides an insight into the US-backed brutal Army operations in the volatile region. Since 2002, the United States has provided $11.6 billion in military aid and $6 billion in development assistance, according to Congressional Research Service figures. The administration has requested an additional $3 billion in combined aid for 2011.
The Human Rights Watch said earlier this month that it had documented the extrajudicial execution of as many as 300 alleged Taliban supporters and sympathizers in the area around Mingora, the Swat capital. The group was able to interview more than 100 Swat families in February and March. A report on the alleged abuses, including torture, home demolitions, illegal detentions and disappearances, is scheduled for release later this month.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch said the Army was targeting civilians who had voiced support for the Taliban when they controlled Swat or were suspected of providing them food or shelter. "People are taken away, and sometimes they turn up a few days or weeks later having been tortured. Sometimes they disappear. Sometimes their body is dumped with a bullet in the head," said Tom Malinowski, director for the Human Rights Watch.
He also described cases of illegal detention. "A son has gone off to fight with the Taliban, and so another son is taken as a hostage," he said. "And the father is told: We will release son No. 2 when son No. 1 turns himself in."