Religious schools in Pakistan’s border area with Afghanistan have been shut down in order to provide recruits for militants fighting Kabul’s forces, an army commander has said.
Major-General Mohammad Sharif Yaftali, who commands Afghan forces in seven south-eastern provinces, said insurgent numbers were up around 15 per cent on last year’s summer fighting months, with an estimated 5,000 now in his area.
Many were Pakistanis and Chechens, Maj-Gen Yaftali said, reinforcing recent assessments by Afghan army chief of staff General Sher Mohammad Karimi that the insurgency’s backers in Pakistan had shut Islamic schools to send more fighters across the border.
Maj-Gen Yaftali said: “They closed them on purpose, to push them to Afghanistan to disrupt security. There are 3,500 madrassas in Pakistan and if every one sends five people, well, you can imagine.”
Pakistan, which supported the 1996-2001 Taleban government in Afghanistan, is seen as crucial to efforts to promote peace in Afghanistan, a task that is gaining urgency as Nato-led combat troops continue to leave the country.
Gen Karimi said in a recent interview the influential Pakistan military could end the 12-year-old Afghan war if it chose to “in weeks”, despite facing a Taleban insurgency of its own. Islamabad has rejected his comments.
Afghanistan has levelled a string of accusations against Pakistan since peace talks with the Taleban imploded last month, in a row that has dashed hopes of a reset in the pair’s relationship.
Kabul is angry with what it sees as the insurgent movement’s attempt to position itself as a legitimate government-in-waiting and has accused Pakistan of supporting and sheltering militants. Pakistan is upset because it feels it played a crucial role in bringing the Taleban to the negotiating table.
Yesterday, Pakistan foreign office spokesman Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry said accusations it was shutting schools to send fighters to Afghanistan were baseless.
“This information is not correct. Pakistan wants what is best for peace and stability in the region,” he said. However, Pakistan’s central government has little say over the activities of its intelligence services.
Maj-Gen Yaftali said recent security operations in the east by four Afghan brigades had greatly improved security with only minimal assistance from Nato coalition allies. Major roads were cleared and more than 650 insurgents killed over the course of three months.
While people in Paktia province say the Taleban-allied Haqqani network still influences at least five of 14 districts, Maj-Gen Yaftali said around 150,000 girls attending school in his command area were proof the insurgency was on the back foot.
As evidence, Afghan commanders organised a media conference with a Pakistani insurgent captured after being shot in the leg, who was handcuffed to a bed in the military’s Paktia Regional National Hospital where he was being treated.
“The people told us there are infidels and to go and fight against them. That’s why I came,” said the fighter, who gave his age as around 22 and claimed his name was “Hezbollah”, after the Lebanon-based Islamic militant group and political bloc.
He said he was the youngest of a group of 13 fighters who had made their way over the mountains into Afghanistan, staying for 15 days before being shot in an ambush.
Rapid improvements in the ability of the army to operate independently of Nato forces has raised hopes among coalition commanders that Afghan security forces will be able to match the insurgency after the 2014 exit of most Western troops.