Suicide bombings, attacks on government outposts become routine
Pakistan has suffered three suicide bombings over the past five days, spread across the country in Mir Ali, the provincial capital of Peshawar and the capital of Islamabad. While the targeting may appear different at first glance, each of the attacks were clearly directed at the authority and legitimacy of the state. Pakistan is fighting a deadly Islamist insurgency far more cunning, sophisticated and resourceful than that being fought in Iraq.
Yesterday's suicide strike in Peshawar, the capital of the Northwest Frontier Province, was directed at a procession forming up at a Shia religious center. The Shia are celebrating the holy month of Moharram, and Sunni attacks on Shia are especially violent in Pakistan. However, the attacker didn't just wade into the crowd to kill as many Shia as possible. He waited to kill the Peshawar chief of police. "The man was standing in the street and as police came out of the Imambargah, he made his way into the police team and blew himself up," said Badshah Gul Wazir, the provincial Home Secretary. Fifteen were killed in the strike and 60 were wounded. "Among the police officers killed were Malik Saad, the Commissioner of Police of Peshawar, Khan Raziq, Superintendent of Police, and Nawaz Khan, a Station House Officer. All the three of them were actively involved in the investigation of the earlier blasts in Peshawar."
B Raman notes this is the seventh such bombing in Peshawar since September. "Presently, the needle of suspicion points to the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ), the extremist Sunni organisation of Pakistan, which has periodically been attacking not only the Shia, but also the more tolerant Barelvi Sunnis," notes Raman. "The LEJ often carries out acts of terrorism on behalf of the Taliban and Al Qaeda."
On Friday, a suicide bomber detonated his deadly load after being confronted outside of the Marriott Hotel in the national capital of Islamabad. Many foreigners and Westerners stay at the Marriott,and the hotel was also hosting an event commemorating the 58th Independence Day of India. Police are investigating Taliban links in this attack. B Raman notes this is the third suicide attack on the Marriott Hotel chain, and the second in Pakistan. The first occurred when "seven persons, including two Italians and an American diplomat, were injured in an explosion at the Marriott Hotel of Islamabad on the night of October 28, 2004, when 11 members of the US Embassy were having their dinner in a restaurant."
On January 23rd, a suicide bomber struck a military convoy near Mir Ali in North Waziristan. Four Pakistani soldiers and a woman were killed and twenty soldiers were wounded after the suicide bomber rammed the military convoy at the Khajori checkpoint, just east of Mir Ali, a Taliban stronghold. This was a blatant violation of the Waziristan Accord, where the Taliban agreed not to attack government forces in exchange for autonomy in the region.
Also this week, the Taliban conducted a rocket attack against a paramilitary Frontier Constabulary post in Shakai, South Waziristan. The rockets missed the target, but are the latest in a string of attacks against government forces stretched along the Afghan border. This attack followed the kidnapping of 3 policemen, a journalist and 5 others in separate incidents in South Waziristan. In neighboring Tank, a string of attacks led to the death of a policeman.
The Pakistani tribal regions continue to fall into the hands of the Taliban and al Qaeda. Past investigations into suicide bombings throughout Pakistan have pointed back to a bloody trail to Taliban and al Qaeda training camps in the Northwest Frontir Province agencies (or districts) of North and South Waziristan, and Bajaur. The Taliban claims to have 2,000 suicide bombers prepared for the upcoming "Spring Offense" in Afghanistan. South Waziristan commander Baitullah Mehsud has vowed to conduct suicide strikes in retaliation for Pakistani strike on a Taliban camp in Zamazola, South Waziristan. Baitullah is but one of several well know Taliban leaders in North and South Waziristan. Taliban fighters killed in action in Afghanistan are brought back to the tribal areas for burial.
President Pervez Musharraf continues to attempt to split hairs by making distinctions between Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, and passing off the problem on Afghanistan. "The Taliban is solely Afghanistan's problem," Musharraf said recently, while making the absurd claim that al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri have parted ways. There is absolutely no evidence, within the intelligence community or on jihadi formums, to support such a claim.
Pakistan is fighting an Islamist, al Qaeda backed insurgency no less deadly than what is being fought by the governments of Iraq, Somalia the Philippines and elsewhere. This insurgency is threatening the existence of the nuclear armed Pakistani state. Musharraf and the Pakistani government dance around the issue, instead blaming a few 'miscreants, denying the existence of al Qaeda in the tribal areas, refusing to dismantle Taliban command structures in Quetta and the FATA, and signing peace treaties with the Taliban and al Qaeda in North and South Waziristan. Occasional airstrikes against al Qaeda and Taliban bases only occur after significant prodding by American and NATO officilas.
Pakistan is fighting an insurgency against the Taliban, Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and a host of home-grown terror groups such as Laskar-e-Taiba, Harakat ul-Mujahidin, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and others. Significant elements of the military and intelligence community have ceased to make distinctions between the organizations (except for purposes of charting the organizations, memberships and histories), and call the allied groups AQAM - al Qaeda and Allied Movements. If the Pakistani government recognizes this, it is doing little to counter the threat.
See The Fall of Waziristan: An Online History for more information.