Taliban insurgency expands into Punjab
The Pakistani Taliban has expanded its insurgency beyond the Northwest Frontier Province after its forces assaulted a police checkpoint in a district in Punjab province.
Seven policemen were killed in the complex attack on a police checkpoint in the district of Mianwali in Punjab. The attack took place in the early morning when Taliban fighters detonated a bomb outside of what was described as an "an important checkpoint" in the region. The Taliban assault force then opened fire on the policemen, killing all seven manning the outpost. The police checkpoint "was completely shattered in the offensive," Geo News reported.
The Mianwali district borders the district of Lakki Marwat in the Northwest Frontier Province. Taliban forces loyal to Baitullah Mehsud are active in Lakki Marwat and control most of the region.
The attack in Mianwali took place just two days after a suicide bomber killed more than 30 civilians and wounded more than 50 in Dera Ghazi Khan, also in Punjab province. The attack took place outside a mosque during a Shia religious procession. The bombing sparked riots in the district.
Dera Ghazi Khan borders the district of Dera Ismail Khan, which borders the Taliban controlled districts of South Waziristan, Tank, and Lakki Marwat.
Last year, Baitullah Mehsud had threatened to wage "jihad" and turn the provinces of Sindh and Punjab "into a furnace" if the operations in northwestern Pakistan did not cease.
The Taliban have also stepped up attacks along NATO's supply route through the northwest for its forces in Afghanistan. A bomb detonated on a vital bridge in Khyber closed the route on Feb 3. On Feb. 5, the Taliban said it would shut down NATO's supply lines if the Pakistani Army's offensives in Khyber and Swat did not end. The Pakistani military responded by striking a Taliban ammunition depot in Khyber. The military claimed 52 Taliban were killed in the attack.
The Pakistani government has downplayed the situation in the northwest and claimed the insurgency has been tamped down in Bajaur and under control in Swat. On Jan.30, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani said the Taliban and al Qaeda have largely been driven from much of the tribal areas. "We are genuinely attacking the targets and the most areas have already been cleared of the terrorists," Gilani said. He also claimed that al Qaeda operatives are no longer present inside Pakistan.