NWFP/FATA map. Red agencies/ districts openly controlled by the Taliban; purple is defacto control; yellow is under threat. Click map to view.
Army convoy hit en route to Miramshah as violence increases throughout the Northwest Frontier Province
The Northwest Frontier Province is in danger of catching fire in the aftermath of the assault on the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque. After a week of increased attacks on military and government targets, a Taliban suicide bomber struck a Pakistani Army convoy heading to Miramshah in the Taliban-infested tribal agency of the Northwest Frontier Province. Twenty-four soldiers were killed and 29 wounded, The News reported. “More bodies were recovered from the badly mangled wreckage of the vehicles which were hit in the suicide attack,” said Major General Waheed Arshad, the Director General of Inter Service Public Relations.
The suicide attack in North Waziristan follows the assassination of three pro-government tribal leaders in Miramshah. In neighboring Dera Ismail Khan, police found a car laden with explosives and seven suicide vests. Police arrested three suspects and also found mortars, rockets, and anti-tank mines.
The Pakistani Army and paramilitary troops of the Frontier Corps have beefed up their presence in the settled districts of the Northwest Frontier Province. The army deployed a brigade of troops to Tank, a Taliban safe haven that borders North and South Waziristan. But there is no talk of an offensive operation, the Daily Times reported.
“No operation is being considered at the moment,” the DPO [Tank District Police Officer] added. NWFP Information Minister Asif Iqbal Daudzai ruled out a military operation in the area, saying that the army had been summoned to assist the local administration in maintaining law and order. “We were against use of force in Islamabad… how can we agree on an operation in the NWFP?”
Troops are also patrolling the districts of Swat and Battagram, where Maulana Fazlullah and his outlawed Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM – the Movement for the Implementation of Mohammad’s Sharia Law) have blocked the Silk Road to China, and have attacked police and army units with ambushes and rocket, mortar, and suicide attacks. Fazlullah has incited the TNSM to violence since the Lal Masjid crisis began.
Fazlullah denied his involvement in the attacks in a recent interview with the Asia Times‘ Syed Saleem Shahzad, but was proud of the government’s official charge that he is a member of the Taliban. “It is not a charge, it is an honor. I say that I am with the Taliban and I consider [Taliban leader] Mullah Omar as my amir [head].” Fazlullah has also called Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda his “foreign brothers.”
In neighboring Bajaur, Faqir Mohammed’s branch of the TNSM has imposed a Friday “holiday” and sent out his fighters to impose sharia. “A group of 50 hooded and armed vigilantes, who call themselves mujahedeen (fighters), smashed confiscated video cassettes from local shops and demanded an end to vice and adherence to Islamic practices on Friday,” Press TV reported. “According to witnesses, the militants told Muslims in Khar, the main town in the deeply conservative Bajaur tribal district, to get ready for jihad (holy war) because Muslims were facing a ‘critical situation.'” Faqir’s TNSM has been conducting a series of attacks against the government and military in Bajaur.
The organized attacks in the Northwest Frontier Province come as pressure from inside and outside Pakistan increases on President Musharraf and his regime. The Taliban-supporting Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal political party, which runs the provincial government in the Northwest Frontier Province, organized rallies nationwide on Friday to protest the Lal Masjid assault and demand Musharraf step down. Qazi Hussain Ahmad, the leader of the MMA, resigned in protest on Saturday. The Supreme Court has ordered the government to release all of those detained in the Red Mosque assault by Monday if no charges are filed.
The U.S. government is beginning to openly pressure the Pakistani government over the rise of the Taliban and al Qaeda throughout the Northwest Frontier Province. Stephen Hadley, the National Security Adviser, said the “peace deals” in Bajaur and North and South Waziristan have not “worked the way it should.” The policy “has allowed some pooling of Taliban,” Bloomberg reported. “It has allowed the reestablishment of some operational training areas. It has allowed some planning.” The U.S. National Intelligence Estimate has determined the tribal regions of Pakistan are now a safe haven for the Taliban, al Qaeda, and allied groups, a point made here at The Long War Journal since January 2006.