The Taliban and al Qaeda continue the relentless campaign against military and government targets inside Pakistan. Less than one week after capturing a company of Pakistani troops in the lawless South Waziristan agency, two suicide bombers targeted a bus carrying Inter Services Intelligence personnel and the Royal Artillery bazaar in the military garrison city of Rawalpindi. Pakistani military and intelligence officers were the direct target of two suicide attacks. Over 25 were killed and 68 were wounded, although it is unclear how many were military personnel.
The two attacks “struck minutes apart” in the heart of Rawalpindi. The suicide bombings “bore the hallmarks of Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network and the Taliban,” Pakistani officials told The News.
The first strike targeted a bus carrying personnel of the Inter Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s intelligence service. The suicide bomber appears to have worn a suicide vest. “The white 40-seater bus was almost completely destroyed by the blast, with its roof ripped open and windows blown out,” The News reported. “Rescue workers cut open the wreckage to pull out injured people and dead bodies.” Seventeen were killed in the attack.
The second strike occurred in the Royal Artillery bazaar, and “was timed to target army officers who use the route to reach the military headquarters.” Eight were killed in the attack, which appears to have been carried out by a suicide bomber on a bicycle.
The suicide attacks occurred as the Pakistani government is working to secure the release of a company of its soldiers captured by Baitullah Mehsud’s Taliban in South Waziristan. The troops were captured last week without firing a shot. Yesterday, the Pakistani government freed over 100 of Baitullah Mehsud’s “tribesmen” in an effort to “pave the way for the release of 210 kidnapped soldiers.” The Mehsud tribesmen were released and the Pakistani troops are still in Taliban hands. A Taliban spokesman “warned the government that if it did not change its Waziristan policy, militants would intensify attacks on security forces and launch more suicide attacks.”
The Rawalpindi attacks struck at the center of gravity of Pakistani military. This was a direct message to Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment not to interfere with the Taliban insurgency in the Northwest Frontier Province.
Pakistan has suffered a wave of Taliban and al Qaeda attacks since signing the North Waziristan Accord in September 2006. Since the signing of the peace agreement, which turned the agency over to the Taliban, the Taliban and al Qaeda have been emboldened and stepped up their attacks against military and government targets while intimidating and murdering the local populations in the Northwest Frontier Province. The Pakistani government responded by signing “peace accords” in Bajaur, Swat, and Mohmand agencies.
The Taliban and al Qaeda have struck Pakistani military bases in Dargai, Kharian, Dera Ismail Khan, Hangu, and North and South Waziristan. Military convoys have been repeatedly hit by suicide attacks, improvised explosive devices, and ambushes throughout the Northwest Frontier Province. Taliban commander Maulvi Abdul Khaliq Haqqani took credit for a wave of suicide attacks in the aftermath of the Lal Masjid assault. Baitullah and Abdullah Mehsud, who was recently killed in Hub in Baluchistan, have been linked to the suicide campaigns.
During the Lal Masjid siege, the Taliban attempted to assassinate President Musharraf by targeting his plane as it took off from Rawalpindi. There have been multiple suicide attacks against civilian targets in Islamabad over the past year as well.