NWFP/FATA map. Red agencies/ districts controlled by the Taliban; yellow under threat. Click map to view.
U.S. soldier killed in Kurram; Peshawar suicide blast, Karachi riots, border clashes highlight deteriorating security sitution and Musharraf’s tenuous grip on power
After a weekend of mortar exchanges between Afghan and Pakistani security forces on the Khost-Kurram border, and the subsequent Pakistani incursion into Afghan territory, a U.S., Afghan and Pakistani commission met in Pakistan’s Kurram agency. The delegation, which was made up of security and diplomatic officials from the three countries, was ambushed as they left the school which served as a meeting place. The initial reporting on the incident varied widely, with the first reports intimating Pakistani security forces or an al Qaeda mole shot and killed the NATO soldier
The first report by Reuters quoted an Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman as saying “a Pakistani officer rose up and fired at U.S. soldiers, resulting in the deaths of two soldiers and wounding of two others.” The Pakistani military reported that 2 of its soldiers and 3 U.S. soldiers were wounded after “firing came from the Afghan side” of the border. Later, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) reported “one ISAF service member was killed and two ISAF service members and two ISAF civilian members were wounded when they were ambushed by unknown assailants near Teri Mangel, Pakistan.” The Pakistani government labeled them as “miscreants” – which is code for al Qaeda. One Pakistani soldier was killed and 2 were wounded during the attack.
The events in Kurram are unusual in the Northwest Frontier Province only in the respect that U.S. soldiers were killed and wounded inside Pakistan. The Taliban and al Qaeda have been conducting a campaign of murder and intimidation against the Pakistani people throughout the embattled province. A suicide bomber attacked the Marhaba Hotel in Peshawar, the provincial capital, and killed at least 25, with an unspecified number wounded. This is the latest blast in a string of bombings throughout the province.
Recently, nine tankers carrying fuel to US forces were blown up in the Khyber agency by ‘miscreants.’ The vice president of the NWFP People’s Party Parliamentarians was assassinated in Peshawar last week. This followed an assassination attempt on the Interior Minister in Chardassa two weeks ago.
The district of Tank is under a 24 hour curfew after a policeman and civilian were kiled and 10 wounded during a battle with ‘militants’ belonging to Baitullah Mehsud. The district of Swat is bracing for violence after a crackdown on the banned Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi. The interior ministry is warning of suicide attacks by a “Waziristan-based jihadi organisation” against security forces. Northwest Frontier Province Governor Jan Aurakzai “expressed concern” over the Taliban’s grown influence in Bajaur, after he openly promoted turning over the agency to the ‘miscreants’ for the past year. Last week, the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi sent hundreds of its fighters out to establish checkpoints and enforce shariah along the roadways.
Music and barber shops have been the focus of a concerted Taliban campaign of late. After isuing a series of night letters and public notices, the Taliban has begun to order shops closed and bomb those that refused to comply. Over the past week, the Taliban has banned the sale, ownership and playing of music in North Waziristan, bombed 17 video shops in Mardan and Charsadda districts, and a barber shop in Dir. CD and Internet cafe owners in the NWFP are appealing to Taliban supporting Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal government for protection from Taliban threats, but stated “no one from the district administration is lending a helping hand.”
The chaos in the Northwest Frontier Province occurs as the crisis over the suspension of Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhry boils over in Karachi. Supporters of Chaudhry clashed with a pro government party, resulting in scores dead and over 140 wounded during days of street fighting. The Pakistani police are said to have looked on as pro government gunmen fired into the crowds. The government has issued shoot-on-sight orders to paramilitary forces in Karachi in an effort to end the rioting.
President Pervez Musharraf’s tenuous hold on power is threatened as the Northwest Frontier Province slides further from government control, and the nation is in an uproar over the Chaudhry dismissal and the government’s handling of the crisis. The ‘miscreants’ will take advantage of Musharraf’s political weakness to further consolidate their power over the border regions and beyond.