A Long Bloody Week in Pakistan
It may have taken slightly longer than anticipated, but the militants and the Taliban regrouped, unleashing carnage in four cities across Pakistan this past week in which they hit the military, the international community, and regular Pakistanis.
The raids are part of an apparent campaign to deter a planned army offensive against Taliban strongholds in the Waziristan region along the Afghan border.
The most recent attack on Monday hit a military convoy that was passing through a busy market in Shangla in Swat, where the army had been fighting the Taliban and had declared the area clear of militants. Most of the 41 people who lost their lives were ordinary Pakistanis.
Last Saturday the militants struck at the heart of the Pakistani establishment in a 22 hour long hostage situation at the Pakistan Army headquarters in Rawalpindi. Like the attack at the UN the previous Monday, up to 10 militants had obtained army uniforms and also carried fraudulent identity documents as they drove through a key entry point to the army’s general headquarters. After penetrating the outer defences they took about 42 hostages in an assault and demanded the release of around 100 militants. Commandos eventually stormed the building Sunday. The army said nine militants and 14 other people were killed, mostly members of the security forces.
Five of the militants came from Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous and wealthy province, while the other five were from South Waziristan, a Taliban stronghold at the southern end of the tribal belt, along the Afghan border.
From the AP:
Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq said the attack that killed 20 people was only the first in a planned series of strikes intended to avenge the killing of their leader Baitullah Mehsud in a CIA drone attack in August.
He said the raid on army headquarters was carried out by a Punjabi faction of the militant group and it had given orders to other militant branches across the country to launch similar operations.
He also warned the army that if it launched a planned offensive into Waziristan it would be its undoing.
On Friday a suicide bomber struck at a crowded market in the city of Peshawar killing 49 people. This came only two weeks after another suicide bombing that killed 11 in Peshawar.
And finally on Monday, October 5, a suicide bomber, dressed in the uniform of the Pakistan Frontier Corps, entered the UN office of the World Food Programme in Islamabad under the pretense of wanting to use the toilet and then proceeded to blow himself up and kill five more innocent people.
With the impending attack on militants in Waziristan, these attacks are a clear signal from the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other militants that they still have the ability and the will to cause destruction, instil fear and strike at the heart of the Pakistani Army. Additionally the close geographic proximity of the attacks in Islamabad, Peshawar and Rawalpindi indicates a growing strength of militants outside of the tribal areas and North West Frontier Province (NWFP) into Punjab, the most populous and wealthy Pakistani province.
The growing importance of the Punjabi factor in local and international militancy has placed the army under pressure to extend its crackdown beyond the tribal belt. Although most of the terrorist masterminds may be in the tribal areas, the attacks in the past weeks have only underscored the role Punjab plays in providing the foot soldiers for operations both within and outside Pakistan. Ajmal Kasab, the sole surviving gunman from the Mumbai terror attack last November, hails from a village in southern Punjab and serves as an ever-present reminder of the reach of the Taliban and other militant groups. While the Pakistani Army has been willing to take on the militants on their western border with Afghanistan, the military option in Punjab is unlikely to materialize, particularly given the proximity of Punjab to India. Any intervention there which would undoubtedly add to the already strained relations between India and Pakistan.
Today’s editorial in Pakistan’s leading English daily newspaper, Dawn, sums up the questions plaguing Pakistanis in their countries fight against militancy:
Unfortunately, the history of Pakistan’s fight against militancy is a case study in missed opportunities and warning signs ignored until the damage is already caused. Why must we wait for militants in south Punjab to set fire to that part or other parts of Pakistan before we act against them? And why must we only try and kill or capture the militants that are attacking the state rather than shut down the pipeline that is churning out such elements? Unless the apparatus that creates the militants is shut down, there will always be new militants to take the place of those killed or captured.
See a timeline of militant attacks in Pakistan for 2009.
The views expressed by the author are personal.
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