SARAROGA, SOUTH WAZIRISTAN – Apart from sophisticated artillery and search technology, anti-aircraft guns have been installed on the hill-tops across war-ravaged Waziristan to safeguard country’s territorial sovereignty.

Military sources said that state-of-the-art equipment had been installed on hundreds of border check-posts across South Waziristan to avert Salala-like raid.

‘Of course, soldiers have already been ordered to retaliate with full force in case of any misadventure or air-strikes on Pakistani border posts’, a senior military officer told this reporter when asked whether the anti-aircraft guns had been installed specifically to respond to possible NATO air-raids.

Operational Commander South Waziristan Maj-Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa told this reporter that the anti-aircraft guns had been installed to stop Taliban raids and air violation by outsiders.

‘This (equipment) is for both (purposes). Taliban and also to stop air-violation (in case of air-strikes)’, Maj-Gen Bajwa said after visiting forward check-posts in Sararoga, a small town located some 35-km away from Jandola in South Waziristan Agency. 

On November 26th, last year, US-led NATO forces carried out deadly air-strikes on Salala check post, which left 24 Pakistani soldiers martyred. Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani had termed the air-strikes as attack on Pakistan’s sovereignty and ordered the troops to retaliate with full force in future rather than waiting for formal orders in case of possible aerial strikes.

Since then, Islamabad shut down all NATO supplies from moving across the border through Pakistan in protest.

Pakistan Army has established more than 821 border posts in the insurgency-infested region, where soldiers are equipped with best technology including night vision and thermal vision devices.  Each thermal vision device is said to be worth Rs 7 million.

The soldiers on light machine-gun (LMG) fitted vehicles patrol across South Waziristan round-the-clock. Special equipment is attached to the patrolling vehicles that could jam Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) from 300 meters distance.

In case of any emergency, a senior officer said, Pakistan Army’s gunship and Cobra helicopters arrive at the crisis-hit spot within a few minutes from different locations.

The Operational Commander South Waziristan further told reporters that the military faced tough resistance during the operation in Sararoga but successfully managed to flush out the militants from the area within a short span of time.  According to Maj-Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa, the military captured all the hilltops in the region and established proper check-posts to deeply monitor possible infiltration and movement of the militants.  Despite budget constraints, at least 147,400 military personnel are deployed across the militancy-hit region to keep the things under control.

Muhammad Qadir, a soldier of 1st Punjab Regiment, said that the soldiers serving on the front-line are being given special allowances worth thousands of rupees per month.  Qadir has completed his two-year posting in the area and would leave to see his family in Vehari district soon.

‘We are here to protect the country. I had joined Pakistan Army on the wish of my mother. She always prays for our success’, the soldier said.

Muhammad Sarfraz, a well-trained army jawan also fighting on the front-line, said that they had faced tough resistance from the Taliban at the initial stage of the action. ‘States can fight war against States. But a few groups or offshoots can never challenge a State or a professional military like Pakistan Army’, said Sarfraz, who belonged to Hyderabad of Sindh province and is strongly committed to safeguard the country.

He said that the army has successfully won the hearts and minds of the local population. ‘Look, when the military arrived here, the local residents used to interact hesitantly with the soldiers. Now, they salute us and we salute them in response’, he added.

The village of Sararoga, once the stronghold of Taliban, where the militants used to slaughter the government agents and military contractors, has now been transformed into a model village, where children are attending classes at modern schools and men are being provided livelihood opportunities to feed their family.