Aftab Sherpao, scores more wounded at a political meeting in Charsadda
The Taliban have targeted Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao with a suicide strike while he was addressing his political party, the Pakistan Peoples Party (Sherpao Group), in the settled district of Charsadda in Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP). Over 28 were killed in the suicide attack, and scores more wounded, including Interior Minister Sherpao his son, Sikandar Khan Sherpao who is a minister in the NWFP assembly, “and several other lawmakers and security officials.” Ten of the wounded have been listed as being in critical condition.
The Sherpao assassination attempt comes as bomb was detonated at nearby Peshawar International Airport, which damaged a building. No casualties were reported in the incident.
This is the second high profile assassination attempt against a Pakistani Cabinet member in the past two months. On February 6, Baitullah Mehsud targeted Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz as he was transiting through Islamabad International Airport. Al Qaeda operatives Amjad Farooqi, Abu Faraj al-Libbi, Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi and others conspired to kill Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf three separate times in 2003. Baitullah Mehsud conducted an extensive suicide and bombing campaign in greater Pakistan in the winter and early spring of 2007.
The two bombings in Charsadda and Peshawar followed yesterday’s explosions in Danda Saidgai, which are believed to have been caused by a multiple missile attack from either U.S. aircraft or artillery across the border in Afghanistan. The religious schools of Noor Mohammed, a Taliban cleric who has been targeted by U.S. forces in the past, were struck in yesterday’s attack. Danda Saidgai was the location of a specialized al Qaeda camp used to train the elite Black Guard, the praetorian guard unit designated to protect Osama bin Laden. This camp was destroyed in March of 2006 by Task Force 145.
NWFP/FATA map. Red agencies/districts are openly controlled by the Taliban; yellow are under threat. Click map to view.
It is too soon to tell if the Sherpao assassination attempt was a revenge attack for yesterday’s Danda Saidgai strike. Interior Minister Sherpao leads one of the few Pakistani institutions which has shown a willingness to stand up against the rise of the Taliban. Pakistani police have diligently investigated al qaeda and Taliban attacks nationwide, and have leveled indictments and made arrests against extremists nationwide. The most high profile charges were made against the powerful Taliban warlord Baitullah Mehsud for conducting the string of suicide attacks. The Pakistani police are undermanned and under funded, and alone cannot stand up to the Taliban an al Qaeda. Pakistan police have been the target of suicide strikes, including the murder of the chief of police in Peshawar.
The security situation in the Northwest Frontier Province is dire. On April 3, 2007 we identified the settled districts of Bannu, Lakki Marwa, Swat and Charsadda as Taliban influenced regions of the Northwest Frontier Province (yellow on the map). These are regions where the Taliban operates as a state-within-a-state These districts joined Kohat, Tank, Bannu and Peshawar, and the tribal agency of Khyber, which have been identified as Taliban influenced districts throughout 2006 and 2007. North and South Waziristan came under direct Taliban control (red on the map) in 2006 after the Pakistani government negotiated away control of the agencies. Bajaur joined North and South Waziristan in March of 2007. The reality is all of the NWFP should be shaded either red or yellow on the map. We’ve only used open source data to make the determination.
The assassination attempt against the Interior Minister, who controls the internal police power of the state, in his own home district no less, speaks volumes on the security situation and the Taliban’s power in Charsadda and the greater Northwest Frontier Province.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.