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Afghanistan struggles to cope as 65,000 Pakistanis flee fighting

KABUL — Afghanistan is struggling to cope with about 65,000 Pakistanis who streamed across the border to flee fighting between the military and Taliban fighters that has displaced almost half a million people.

About 11,000 families have arrived in the eastern provinces of Khost and Paktika this month as Pakistan's military fights militants in North Waziristan province. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif flew to a city in the tribal area Friday to visit some of the roughly 450,000 Pakistanis displaced in the country.

"This kind of migration had never happened previously," Mohammad Nader Farhad, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said by phone from Kabul. "It could be the biggest migration of Pakistani refugees in Afghan history."

The flow of people into Afghanistan threatens to create a humanitarian crisis as Asia's poorest country also fights Taliban militants in the south. A disputed presidential election risks leading to further violence and delays in signing a security pact that would keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014 and secure billions of dollars in aid money.

"Afghanistan is itself facing humanitarian crisis, and it's a big challenge for us to provide shelter and food for about 11,000 families," Islamuddin Jurat, a spokesman for Afghanistan's ministry of refugees and repatriation, said by phone Friday. "It's a huge number and a worst-case scenario."

Sharif is pushing to eradicate militants in North Waziristan province along the Afghan-Pakistan border to end violence that has killed more than 50,000 people since 2001. Two airport attacks this month have prompted foreign airlines to stop flying to some Pakistani cities as violence spreads from tribal regions to urban areas.

In the Pakistani town of Bannu, where many residents from North Waziristan fled, Sharif pledged to rebuild destroyed houses, roads, hospitals and schools.

"You have left your home," Sharif said, standing next to army chief Raheel Sharif. "We fully realize the agony you are going through and working day and night to resolve the problems."

Peace talks between Sharif and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, known as the TTP, collapsed this month after an attack on Karachi's international airport left 26 people dead. Sharif then ordered the operation into North Waziristan.

"This was something which was absolutely necessary," he said, referring to the operation. "We are confident that this difficult phase will end soon and you will be able to return to your homes peacefully."

More than 330 Taliban insurgents have been killed in air strikes and shooting since the operation began on June 15, according to Pakistan's army. Earlier this week, shots fired at a Pakistan International Airlines Corp. plane while it was landing in the northwestern city of Peshawar killed one person.

Pakistan has incurred $102.5 billion in costs due to incidents of terrorism in the past 13 years, according to a finance ministry report this month. The country seeks to boost economic growth to an eight-year high of 5.1 percent.
 

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