Pakistan to deport Afghans from tribal region

Pakistan ordered the deportation of about 50,000 Afghan refugees in an insurgency-wracked tribal region amid a major military offensive against al-Qaida and Taliban fighters.

The government said it was expelling all Afghan refugees in the Bajur tribal region, alleging many of them have links to militant groups.

Police in the town of Khar in Bajur arrested 25 Afghans and said they would soon be deported.

“The orders have been issued to the tribal police to push all of them (refugees) out,” said local government official Abdul Haseeb yesterday, adding that their homes would be bulldozed to keep them from returning.

A government offensive in Bajur that began in early August has claimed some 1,000 lives.

It comes amid increased US pressure on the government of President Asif Ali Zardari to crackdown on militants in the restive border region where al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding.

The US has long complained Pakistan is unwilling or unable to take strong action against the extremists.

President Zardari has pledged his cooperation in the fight against terrorism, but must tread carefully given strong domestic opposition to his country’s alliance with Washington.

This balancing act has become increasingly complicated by an upswing in US missile strikes against suspected al-Qaida and Taliban hide-outs in the north-west and more recently by Mr Zadari’s comments to The Wall Street Journal suggesting he had consented to the strikes.

“We have an understanding, in the sense that we’re going after an enemy together,” the newspaper quoted him as saying after paraphrasing Mr Zadari’s apparent consent for the missile strikes.

The interview appeared on Saturday.

Yesterday, government spokesman, Farhatullah Babar, insisted there was no deal allowing the US to fire missiles at militant hide-outs in Pakistan, saying the journalist had read too much into Mr Zardari’s comment and that the president was talking in generalities about fighting terrorism.

“The official position is that we do not allow foreign incursions into Pakistani territory,” Mr Babar said.

Mr Zardari also told the Journal “India has never been a threat” to Pakistan and called Islamist militant groups in the disputed Kashmir region “terrorists”.

Those comments stirred concern within Pakistan’s powerful army that has traditionally viewed India as its No. 1 enemy.

In the latest in a string of bombings against government military and Western targets in Pakistan, a suicide bomber attacked a politician’s home in the east of the country, killing 15 people wounding 50, officials said.

Police officer Khan Baig said was not immediately clear whether Rasheed Akbar Niwani, a member of the Pakistan Muslim League-N, the main opposition party in the federal government, was among the victims or why he was targeted.

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