Karachi, Sept. 7 (Reuters): Pakistani Islamists ruling a key province bordering Afghanistan warned the army today against a crackdown in tribal areas where al Qaida remnants are thought to be hiding, saying it would pit soldiers against the people.
“The government should abandon the idea of a military operation in that sensitive region,” Qazi Hussain Ahmed, a vice president of the six-party Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal alliance (MMA), said in Karachi.
“It will have grave consequences.” He spoke days after helicopter-borne troops were deployed in a remote district of the MMA-ruled North West Frontier Province (NWFP) in what officials say was a routine exercise.
Ahmed said the deployment of such a large number of helicopters was not a routine affair.
Up to 35 military helicopters packed with troops landed in NWFP’s Bannu district some 40 km from the Afghan border on Wednesday. Officials said they could be about to attack remnants of Afghanistan’s former Taliban regime and militants from the al Qaida network taking refugee from the US-led campaign in Afghanistan.
The government said on Friday the exercise was over but local officials said three rockets were fired that night at the airport used by the helicopters.
Police said the rockets caused no damage and there were no helicopters at the airport at the time. Military spokesperson Major General Shaukat Sultan said the incident was being investigated.
No one claimed responsibility, but many of the fiercely independent Pakistani tribesmen are opposed to the campaign.
Ahmed said the government should stop targeting Arabs, saying its operations against al Qaida were carried out at the behest of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation against people the military had itself trained.
“The Arab mujahideen (holy warriors) came here at the invitation of our governments. They were trained here and used in Afghanistan,” said Ahmed. ”The army would not be acting honourably by targeting them,” he said. “It should refrain from martyring Arab mujahideen.”