The Taliban have taken credit for today’s deadly bus bombing on a Pakistani Air Force bus in Peshawar. Thirteen Pakistanis, including 10 security officials, were killed and more than a dozen were wounded after a bomb was detonated as the bus drove over a bridge in the provincial capital of Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province.
The Taliban immediately took credit for the attack. “[The] Taliban Movement has warned that we would react across the country” if operations were not halted in Swat and the tribal agency of Bajaur, said Mullah Omar, the spokesman for the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. During previous threats, the Taliban said it would set the provinces of Sindh and Punjab “on fire.”
The Pakistani military went on the offensive in Swat and Bajaur after the Taliban violated the terms of recent peace agreements and conducted attacks against the military and the government. Fighting has stalemated in Swat, as the Taliban continues to conduct attacks and target infrastructure such as bridges, girls’ schools, and police stations.
The Frontier Corps has suffered a string of defeats in the Bajaur tribal agency since launching an operation last week. A large Taliban force surrounded and ambushed a 200-man convoy of Frontier Corps forces moving into the region. Heavy fighting broke out after the Frontier Corps troops attempted to break the encirclement. Scores of Pakistani soldiers have been reported killed or captured, and more than a hundred Taliban have been reported killed as well. Pakistani forces retreated from the region and the Taliban are digging in around Khar, the administrative seat for Bajaur.
Peshawar remains under threat
The security situation in Peshawar began to rapidly deteriorate since late in 2007, when the Taliban ramped up its campaign of bombings and intimidation against barber, tailor, video, and CD shops across the province. Shops in Peshawar started to open “Islamic businesses” as the police were unable to protect the business owners. In some cases, the police recommended the shopkeepers close down, and expressed their own fears of the Taliban.
In June, government officials openly stated that the city is under threat of a Taliban takeover. The interior secretary for the Northwest Frontier Province said the Taliban are moving on Peshawar. Peshawar’s police chief said the Taliban will soon be in control of the entire district if steps are not taken to halt the advance.
Shortly afterward, the government launched a military operation in the Khyber tribal agency, claiming pro-Taliban forces were using the region to threaten Peshawar. After 10 days of inconclusive clearing operations, the military declared a cease fire and the government signed a peace agreement with the Lashkar-i-Islam, one of the two main extremists groups in the tribal agency. The military freed all of the prisoners captured during the operations.
Nine days after signing the Khyber peace agreement, a similar deal was cut with the Taliban in Orakzai, which borders Peshawar to the south. A deal with the Taliban in Mohmand, which borders Peshawar to the northwest, was signed in late May.
The agreements have placed the Taliban in effective control of the three tribal agencies bordering Peshawar, and have given them a base to continue their attacks on the military and the government.
The Taliban have stepped up attacks in Peshawar over the past week. The Army had to be called in after a Taliban force attacked a police outpost in Mattani on Aug. 6. “Hundreds of heavily armed militants” conducted the attack, police told Daily Times. One soldier was killed and four security forces personnel were wounded in the fighting, while several large weapons caches were discovered in homes in the region. The Taliban also blew up an electricity pylon. On Aug. 9, a Taliban force attacked police checkpoint in Peshawar. Police responded by setting up more than 20 checkpoints around the city to check those entering and exiting Peshawar.