Sporadic Soviet air raids on Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan's tribal areas, together with regular infringements of air space, are being officially ignored by Gen. Zia ul-Haq's military government.
Reliable independent sources confirmed today that the Russians have been sending helicopter gunships over the mountains to rocket the camps. The tribal areas are normally closed to foreigners and are administered under treaties originally negotiated by the British.
The most recent known incursion was near the town of Parachinar at the end of last month, when three Russian helicopters appeared at mid-morning to blast nearby sprawling tent encampments.
It is not known whether there were any casualties. Independent accounts said that the Pakistani Air Force did not arrive to challenge the attackers, and subsequently there was official silence from Islamabad.
These sporadic raids have been going on over the last six months, the sources said.
Gen. Zia's government is acutely aware that an airborne challenge to Soviet raiders would mean swiftly escalating a conflict that Pakistan cannot win.
At the moment, the country is being sucked slowly into the Afghan quicksands. Gen. Zia's Islamic stance means he cannot turn his back on brother Moslems whose country has been invaded by the Soviets and who are fighting a jihad , or holy war. He has therefore accepted hundreds of thousands of refugees, and allowed the various rebel groups to operate openly from Pakistan. Most have their headquarters here in the North-West Frontier town of Pershawar.
However, this tempts the Soviets to strike into Pakistan, and eventually stage regular hot-pursuit raids.
It is also bringing the refugees into conflict with the local population over grazing rights, farming land, water utilization and jobs. In the Peshawar area, sources said, no compensation was being paid to farmers whose land was being taken over by Afghans.
"The growth of refugees around Peshawar is most significant," one international expert said. "It is beyond the 220,000 mark, and will reach 300,000 fairly quickly. The refugees are now achieving parity with the local population."
Pakistanis frequently draw an analogy between Afghan refugees and the Palestinians, whose militant presence in Lebanon led to bloody civil war. A number of clashes have already taken place between Afghan refugees and the local population.
"There are a lot of little vendettas going on," a source said. "In Peshawar, a refugee was pulled out of the Warsak Canal with a rope around his neck the other day. He was the third."
News agencies reported these other Afghan-related developments:
Soviet military commanders in Afghanistan are launching helicopter-borne commando raids against Moslem rebels in a major tactical shift from previous large-scale ground operations, The Times of London reported in a front page report from Kabul.
The report said commanders of the 80,000-man Soviet Army force presently in the country had called in Cuban and Vietnamese counterinsurgency experts to help in dealing with the anti-government rebels.
Britain has protested to Afghanistan over the unusual surveillance of its diplomats and embassy in Kabul following the defection of a Soviet soldier in the U.S. Embassy five days ago, a Foreign Office spokesman said.