Peshawar: Around 28,000 people have fled a Pakistani tribal region where the military is conducting a fresh offensive to evict Islamist militants along the Afghan border, officials said on Tuesday.
Thousands of families escaped Kurram in a mass exodus after the offensive was launched on Monday, with the Army saying that artillery and fighter jets had swung into action to drive out "terrorists".
The military was also aiming to open up the main road bisecting the district, which is often troubled by sectarian violence.
About 4,000 families, with an average seven members each, had already left, said government official Sahibzada Anis, sparking fears authorities and charities might struggle to cope with the sudden surge of refugees.
More than 450 families were seeking shelter in camps or school buildings in the area while the majority of the displaced people had gone to their relatives living in different places, he said.
"The authorities will provide food and relief goods to the uprooted tribesmen as efforts are made to restore peace in the region," he added.
On Monday, officials put the number of displaced at 1,000 families.
Mubashir Akram, a spokesman for the British-based charity Oxfam, said the local administration expects 6,000 to 8,000 families to be displaced due to the current operation in central Kurram.
"The need is far more than the capacity," he warned.
Pakistan's tribal region disaster management authority (FDMA) says it has urgently requested tents, food, washing facilities and non-food items from aid agencies.
Army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said the operation would clear the area "of terrorists involved in all kinds of terrorist activities, including kidnapping and killing of locals, and suicide attacks".
He also said it would endeavour to reopen the road between the mainly Shi’ite Muslim upper Kurram and the mainly Sunni Muslim lower part.
"The operation has been launched on the great demand of local tribal leaders," Abbas said.
Raids have been conducted on and off in the district ever since the Army launched a previous operation in 2009. More than 24 hours after announcing the latest offensive, commanders have yet to provide any casualty reports.
Pakistan's seven tribal districts bordering Afghanistan are rife with a homegrown insurgency, and are also strongholds of the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda. Washington has described them as the most dangerous place on Earth.
Although Pakistan has fought homegrown Taliban militants across much of the region, it has so far withstood huge American pressure to move against the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network in North Waziristan.
That region is considered the premier bastion of militancy, and although there have been reports of Haqqani supporters fleeing into Kurram, there is no suggestion that the Kurram offensive is targeting them.
Pakistan is also under pressure from Washington to do more to destroy militant sanctuaries since US Navy SEALs found and killed Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani military town of Abbottabad on May 02.
First Published: Wednesday, July 06, 2011, 08:37