Kabul/Islamabad, July 17: Pakistani troops in Miran Shah, North Waziristan amid a government operation to clear the area in north-western Pakistan of extremists. Photograph: Rebecca Santana/AP
Afghan officials have accused Pakistan of letting Afghan militants escape a complex crackdown on insurgent hideouts, after a massive truck bomb killed dozens of civilians in a crowded bazaar earlier this week.
The vehicle was packed with explosives across the border and driven into Afghanistan even as the Pakistani military battled to extend their control of North Waziristan beyond the administrative headquarters of Miran Shah, according to a spokesman for Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security.
“The Haqqani network was behind this attack,” Abdul Haseeb Sadique said of the bombing on Tuesday. “It was planned and designed in Miran Shah. The aim of this attack was to inflict maximum casualties, regardless of whether they were civilians or military.”
The Haqqani network is perhaps the wealthiest and most ruthless of several Taliban-linked groups that operate out of western Pakistan; much of their support comes from their home province, Khost.
The Afghan government has long accused its neighbour’s intelligence service of supporting insurgents with money, arms, advice and safe havens. Islamabad says the accusations are groundless and it has no control over areas that were ceded long ago to groups fighting their own state.
Operation Zarb-e-Azb, a long-delayed effort to seize back the area from militant groups, began on 15 June. It has effectively emptied the area of civilians, with nearly a million fleeing within Pakistan and tens of thousands across the border into Afghanistan, raising worries that insurgents might be lying low among them.
The Pakistani army insists that all insurgents will be targeted and says more than 400 have been killed so far, but a senior Afghan intelligence official said he was not aware of any Afghans among the dead or captured.
“Haqqani network has planned and has managed to organise such a large, spectacular intelligence-led operation inside Waziristan … coordinate the transport to Afghanistan, cross the border, come to the attack area and blow it up,” the official said.
“It tells us a story that something is wrong, either the operation is a failure or there is an intention that the Haqqanis are not going to be the target.” The official said he had reports of Haqqani leaders evacuated to safety and small “safe havens” set up for lower-level fighters to escape the crackdown.
Tuesday’s attack was far beyond the capacities of local Taliban, and fits with a pattern of similar assaults and attempted attacks by Haqqani fighters. Authorities have intercepted five truck bombs in the past 16 months, mostly heading for Kabul, and one other reached its target in a province just south of Kabul, killing dozens in an attack on the governor’s compound.
On 11 June another massive truck bomb was destroyed by a US drone just 20km north of Miran Shah as it was travelling the short distance to the Afghan border, from where insurgents can easily reach major provincial capitals.
After just a month of operations, Pakistan does not yet fully control Waziristan, a large and partly mountainous region. However on Wednesday it was reported that leading Pakistani Taliban commander Adnan Rashid had been captured, although officials refused to confirm the arrest.
While Pakistan has been accused of colluding with militants vying for power in Kabul, Rashid, a former air force technician, is regarded as an arch member of the “bad Taliban” that Islamabad wants to uproot because they target Pakistan.
He was the mastermind of a 2003 suicide car bomb plot to kill former president Pervez Musharraf, and escaped from a prison near North Waziristan during a mass jailbreak organised by the Pakistani Taliban in 2012.
The Pakistani government has also complained to Afghanistan that it is providing shelter to militants in its own lawless border regions, and requested their eviction. It was a demand that many in Kabul found ironic after years of making similar pleas to no effect in Islamabad.