The Pakistani government has announced a “crackdown” on the 30,000 plus Afghan refugees it estimates are living in the troubled Bajaur Agency. Pakistan gave the refugees a three day deadline to return to Afghanistan which expired this weekend. The director general of Kunar’s Refugee Department is quoted as saying “seven to eight” families had returned by the deadline, but they expected some more might come later.
Tribal elders in the region warned against a crackdown on the refugees, many of whom have been living in the agency for decades and have intermarried with the local populace. The attempted expulsions may serve as a contentious issue at a time when Pakistan’s army has been pressing local tribesmen to take up arms against the area’s militants.
Meanwhile it has been reported that Pakistan’s military has been given a mandate to continue fighting in Bajaur until it controls the entire area. The offensive has been going on for two months already, with a reported 1,000 militants killed. Christian Science Monitor quotes Pakistan defense analysts as saying the army presently controls somewhere between 30 and 60 percent of the agency.
The offensive has caused major humanitarian problems in the agency, with as many as 400,000 of the region’s residents reportedly displaced by the fighting. As of the last census, Bajaur Agency’s population was slightly under 600,000. An additional 20,000 have reportedly fled into Afghanistan, and Pakistan’s government has complained that militants and supplies have continued to pour across the border from Afghanistan into Bajaur, leaving any timeline for Pakistan’s military gaining total control of the agency purely speculative.