Down From The Mountains, Pakistanis Flee Military Offensive

In Pakistan, people continue to flood out of the mountains bordering Afghanistan. An estimated 200,000 people have abandoned their homes and livestock to escape a new phase of war underway in the North Waziristan tribal area.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel. Pakistan is seeing a flood of people pouring out of North Waziristan in the mountains abutting Afghanistan. The exodus began after Pakistan began a major ground offensive against the Taliban and foreign militias there. Some 200,000 people are believed to have left since Sunday. Pakistan's military is calling it an organized evacuation. But as NPR's Philip Reeves reports, some fleeing the area describe a frightening chaos.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Shehrullah Wazir left his village Wednesday with his family. The 80-mile journey took longer than expected.

SHEHRULLAH WAZIR: (Through translator) We walked for two days because we couldn't get a vehicle. We had women and children with us, and they all walked.

REEVES: Shehrullah's a 17-year-old science student. Coming down the mountain, he saw things he wished he hadn't.

WAZIR: (Through translator) I saw two young kids dying on our way, and one woman, from heat and thirst.

REEVES: This morning, Shehrullah finally arrived in the Pakistani town of Bannu, a few miles outside the tribal belt. He's staying there with relatives, in the same house as nine other displaced families. They're lucky. Some can't escape.

NOOR: (Through translator) The situation's terrible. There have been helicopters, artillery fire, and missiles.

REEVES: Noor, a shopkeeper, asked NPR to withhold his full name for fear of reprisals. He says he can't get out of North Waziristan because he can't hire a vehicle. Prices are going through the roof. Noor lives close to North Waziristan's main town, Miranshah, now surrounded by troops. Pakistan's military today used gunship helicopters, artillery and snipers there to attack suspected militant hideouts. Noor thinks they're too late.

NOOR: (Through translator) Can I tell you one thing? The terrorists leave beforehand. In these situations, all the hardship's borne by the poor.

REEVES: Pakistan's North Waziristan offensive was finally triggered by this month's attack, by the Taliban and some Uzbeks, on Karachi airport. As tanks rolled in, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif addressed parliament.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

NAWAZ SHARIF: (Speaking foreign language).

REEVES: We must unite against the terrorists, said Sharif. Yet, Noor says many Pashtuns, now pouring out of North Waziristan, direct anger at Sharif.

NOOR: (Through translator) The type of anger that this situation's created won't easily go away. The hatred towards the government will grow.

REEVES: Pakistan doesn't allow foreign media into North Waziristan. It's nigh-on impossible to verify information from those caught up in the conflict, like Noor. But his sentiment has an alarmingly familiar ring. Philip Reeves. NPR News, Islamabad.

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