Eight soldiers and at least 18 terrorists were killed in clashes over the past 24 hours in the South Waziristan tribal agency near the Afghanistan border.

Exactly how the clashes began is unclear as the two sides offered conflicting narratives. According to military sources, the terrorists were killed during a “clearance and search operation” in the last two days in the Sarang Baba Ziarat area. Seven terrorist hideouts were destroyed and a huge cache of arms and ammunition recovered. In the fighting that took place, eight soldiers were killed and six injured. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), however, had another version to offer. Its spokesperson was quoted as saying 12 soldiers had been killed in an assault by TTP fighters on a post in the agency.

The TTP has also claimed to have beheaded some of the soldiers. If this is true, this would not be the first time that soldiers have been beheaded by terrorists in the tribal agencies. Terrorist attacks on security posts have become rather commonplace in recent months, particularly since the onset of summer when terrorists holed up in Afghanistan also launched attacks inside Pakistan. This has become a major issue in bilateral relations at a time when the two countries are trying to work together to pave the way for a lasting governance arrangement in post-2014 Kabul.

The latest clash in South Waziristan comes at a time when speculation is rife about the possibility of the Army launching an operation in North Waziristan which is a haven for various terrorists groups. South Waziristan has already seen one such operation in 2009 and fears of a military offensive have triggered an emigration from North Waziristan to adjoining areas including Afghanistan.

A report in Dawn newspaper on Sunday said a local Taliban Shura and tribal maliks of North Waziristan had decided that their people would take refuge in Afghanistan in case of a military offensive. This decision was taken at a meeting attended by 1,500 maliks, clerics, and members of the Taliban Shura.

Accusing the government of violating a peace agreement signed in 2007, the dominant view at the jirga was that Afghanistan was a safer bet than other parts of Pakistan as the drones do not strike west of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

The jirga’s call has created an ironical situation as Pakistan has been providing refuge to Afghans for over two decades. Nearly 1.7 million Afghan refugees continue to live in Pakistan even after the return of 3.7 million, making it the one of the largest and most protracted refugee situations in the world.

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