At the height of Pakistan’s war on terror, there was hardly any area or city particularly in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa that was spared by terrorists.
But there was one exception. Despite close proximity to Afghanistan and having borders with three Afghan provinces, including Kunar, Nuristan, and Badakhshan, Chitral district of K-P remained peaceful.
It was in the international headlines occasionally when reports suggested that al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden spent some time in Chitral after crossing over from Afghanistan before getting settled in Abbottabad. But the scenic region had never been the stronghold of militants.
Read 12 terrorists killed as army repels TTP attack in Chitral
That was the reason the Sept 6 cross-border raid by dozens of terrorists from the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) came as a major surprise. Perhaps, that was the whole idea of the TTP, target the region that was spared earlier, and sprang a major surprise.
Pakistani security forces repelled the cross-border raid. At least 12 terrorists were killed and four Pakistani soldiers embraced martyrdom. The fight lasted for over four hours. But the damage could have been far bigger. Three days before the TTP terrorists mounted an unprecedented assault, a key piece of intelligence was shared with the administrations of Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan. The intelligence report revealed that a large number of terrorists was gathering across the border to launch an attack inside Pakistan. The plan was not just to make inroads in Chitral but also target G-B, according to a senior official posted in the region.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, was briefed on the intelligence about the imminent attack.
In view of the intelligence report, security was beefed up particularly along the border. Pakistan Army commandos were flown to Chitral to deal with the evolving situation.
“Had there been no intelligence, the damage would have been catastrophic,” the official said.
He believed the accurate intelligence and quick response by authorities prevented a major disaster. “Imagine 150 to 200 terrorists managed to enter Chitral. They would have created havoc. Thankfully, they were dealt with at the border,” the official added.
But the attack has raised alarm bells in Pakistan. Authorities are concerned that under the Afghan Taliban government, the TTP seems to have been emboldened. Observers say such a massive presence of terrorists across the border was not possible without tacit approval of the interim Afghan government.
Also read Torkham border shuts after Pakistan-Afghanistan skirmish
Sources said Pakistan took up the matter with the Afghan government after getting the intelligence. However, no action was taken from the other side, according to the sources.
The Chitral attack is likely to further deepen tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan over the issue of the TTP.
The day the TTP terrorists mounted an attack on Chitral, Pakistan and Afghan Taliban border forces exchanged fire at the Torkham border crossing.
The skirmishes were triggered by illegal construction of a check post by the Afghan Taliban along the border, according to reports.
As per the understanding, both sides could only build new structures by taking the other side into confidence. But in this case, the Afghan side had not informed Pakistan about its decision, leading to the exchange of fire.
Following the clashes, the key border crossing—used for trade and people’s movement—was shut.