Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Americans Call For Military Action As Suicide Bombers Strike Again In Pakistan

Suicide bombers struck twice in Pakistan on Tuesday, dealing two frightening blows to those hoping to re-establish peace between President General Pervez Musharraf's embattled government and the religious extremists who support the Taliban, and making Musharraf's balancing act even more precarious than it already was.

A ten-month truce was shattered last week after Pakistani special forces attacked the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) complex, an armed and dangerous enclave deep in the heart of Islamabad, the national capital. Government troops gained control of the mosque only after a two-day battle in which at least a hundred people were killed.

After the raid, a Taliban spokesman announced that the truce was finished, and over the weekend, a series of suicide bombings which appeared to be acts of reprisal took more than 60 lives.

The government expressed a desire to reinstate the truce if possible, but the sudden series of vicious attacks left no doubt that the militants in the mountains of Waziristan had seen enough, and by Sunday, people were evacuating the area by the thousands.

And then, a day of calm. Seriously. The good news of the day on Monday in Pakistan was "no suicide bombers"!

But the calm before the storm, if that's what it was, was shattered early Tuesday.

Suicide bomber kills four in N. Waziristan
MIRANSHAH, Pakistan, July 17 (AFP) - A suicide bomber Tuesday attacked and killed four people at a joint army and paramilitary checkpost near Mir Ali, one of the biggest towns in North Waziristan, security officials said.

"A man got down from the vehicle, walked up to the post and blew himself up,” chief military spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad told AFP.

Three soldiers and a civilian were killed, while two others were injured, Arshad said.

Suspected militants also blew up two security checkpoints in Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan, but caused no casualties, security officials said.

Meanwhile, attackers slit the throat of an Afghan national and dumped his body near the main town in Bajaur, another tribal district, along with a note accusing him of spying for US-led forces in Afghanistan.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for any of the attacks.

But militants handed out pamphlets from a car overnight in North Waziristan warning security forces and tribal elders of violence after the collapse on Sunday of a 10-month-old peace accord with the government.

We agreed on the peace deal with the government for the protection of the people. Now we are breaking the peace agreement again in favour of the people,” said the leaflet, a copy of which was obtained by AFP.

The statement, signed by the Taliban Shura (council), warned tribal paramilitary forces and traders supplying the army not to cooperate with government forces or “otherwise they are also our targets.”

It also asked tribal elders and others “not to have jirgas (meetings) with the government; if not, then they will be held responsible.”

Pakistani authorities have made intense efforts to shore up the peace accord.

“We are hopeful the peace deal will stay intact and efforts are under way,” said a senior official at the FATA secretariat.
The government will have trouble negotiating at all if tribal elders are afraid to meet with them.

And even if they're willing to meet, the "peace accord" will be mighty difficult to "shore up", if it can be shored up at all.

Tuesday evening, hopes for "peace" seemed even more distant, after another suicide bombing -- this one in Islamabad. Salman Masood described it this way in the New York Times:

Suicide Bomber Kills 14 at Rally
A suicide bomber detonated a powerful bomb near an outdoor stage where the country’s suspended chief justice was to address members of Pakistan’s opposition parties on Tuesday evening, killing at least 14 people and wounding at least 40, according to the police.

The attack occurred around 8:30 p.m. 100 yards from where the chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, was to speak to a crowd about half an hour later. Mr. Chaudhry’s convoy was several miles away when the bomber struck.

Most of the dead and wounded belonged to the Pakistan Peoples Party of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Ten were in critical condition, according to hospital sources. Four policemen were among those wounded. The blast thrust the capital into a new round of disorder less than a week after a violent siege at a hard-line mosque and seminary that has enraged radical Islamists.

There was no claim of responsibility, though speculation was rampant. It was possible that the bombing was part of the backlash from the siege, aimed this time at Ms. Bhutto’s supporters because she had endorsed it.

But many pointed a finger at the Pakistani intelligence agencies. “It was a direct attack on the chief justice by the agencies,” said Munir A. Malik, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association and a member of Mr. Chaudhry’s legal team. “They wanted to get rid of him.”
It's easy to speculate. I could do it all day.

Could the Taliban have been behind this bombing? Sure. But most of their attacks have been against armed government forces in the wildlands; this was against unarmed anti-government demonstrators in the capital city.

It is true that the religious militants have a very different vision of Pakistan's future than the pro-democracy activists who rally in support of Mr. Chaudhry, and it is conceivable that the Taliban would seek to intimidate them.

But you couldn't sell any of this to the people in this photo, "angry workers of the Pakistan People's Party" who were chanting "anti-government slogans" after the attack, according to the caption provided by CTV, whose report (from the AP) was scant on details of the attack except to say that
Three security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record, said it was a suicide attack and that the head of the attacker had been found.
The death toll from the terrorist attacks in Pakistan over the past two weeks now stands at 137, according to Pakistan's Daily Times. This total includes other terrorist attacks which have gone largely unnoticed in the West:
About 137 people, including personnel of the armed forces and police, have died and 327 have sustained injuries in 21 terrorist attacks across Pakistan since the military operation against Lal Masjid in Islamabad on July 3.

According to data collected by Daily Times the terrorist attacks included suicide bombings, remote controlled and timed [device] explosions and rocket attacks on law enforcement personnel.
Here's the Daily Times list of the most significant terrorist attacks of the past two weeks:
July 3: Unidentified militants explode a remote controlled device in Swat, killing four people and injuring the district police officer.

July 4: A suicide bomber attacks an army convoy in North Waziristan, killing eleven people, including six army personnel.

July 5: Unidentified militants attack a police patrol vehicle in Peshawar, killing four policemen and injuring another four. In another incident, terrorists fired a rocket on an army post in Landi Kotal. Only few hours later that day, a suicide attack in Swat killed four people, including a major and a lieutenant of the Pakistan Army.

July 6: Unidentified militants try to hit President General Pervez Musharraf’s aeroplane when it took off from the Chaklala Airbase in Rawalpindi. No causalities were reported. On the same day, militants kidnap six pro-government tribal elders in North Waziristan and later kill them.

July 8: Unidentified militants attack a police party in Peshawar, killing an assistant sub-inspector and injuring three junior officers.

July 10: Terrorists explode a bomb in Peshawar, killing a deputy superintendent of police and ten others.

July 12: A rocket attack at the Mingora bypass on Kohala Road in the NWFP killed eight people including three policemen. Another rocket attack on a Frontier Constabulary check post in Khar, Bajaur Agency, caused no casualties.

July 13: Terrorists kidnap and later kill three pro-government tribal leaders in North Waziristan.

July 14: A remote controlled explosion at the Bannu Airport near a security check post kills three law enforcement officials. Militants carried out another attack in Malakand Agency, but no one was hurt. A suicide bomber rammed his explosive-laden car in a FC convoy near Miranshah, killing 26 and injuring 29 security officials. In another incident, militants attack army personnel busy in flood-relief operation in Balochistan, killing an army officer.

July 15: A suicide bomber attacks security forces in Swat, killing 19 people and injuring another 26. In another incident the same day, a suicide bomber kills 26 police officials at the Dera Ismail Khan Police Lines.

July 17: A suicide bomber detonates the explosives strapped to his waist near a stage prepared for the address of the chief justice of Pakistan. Fifteen people were reportedly killed in the attack.
Notice that's fifteen dead now from the rally, according to the Daily Times. And their list doesn't include Tuesday morning's attack in North Waziristan, so the total must now be more than 140.

What has triggered all these attacks? Government spokesmen have toed the Orwellian party line:
Information Minister Muhammad Ali Durrani Durrani said the incidents were not in reaction to the Lal Masjid operation.
Inter Services Public Relations spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad backed the information minister’s statement ...
but they weren't entirely slavish about it.
Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao said the attacks were ‘backlash’ of the Lal Masjid operation.
And later,
Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema said there was a "possibility" that the northwest attacks were a response to the Red Mosque raid.
Having admitted this tiny slice of obvious reality, the Interior Ministry spokesman got back to the song he was meant to be singing:
"We would like to reiterate once again our unwavering resolve to eliminate the evils of terrorism and extremism in the supreme national interest," he told reporters.
Ah, yes. The supreme national interest!

At the moment it would seem that the supreme national interest aligns quite well with taking instructions from the Americans.

President Bush
has backed President General Musharraf publicly, especially when Musharraf made the decision to attack the mosque.

Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte has publicly suggested that Musharraf should resolve "on his own" the legal obstacles that stand in the way of his plans for getting himself re-elected.

And Richard Boucher, also of the State Department, has said
the storming of the mosque "shows that the government of Pakistan is prepared to move, to act, against a dangerous militancy that has come to infect various areas and parts of Pakistani society."
It's all part of a (publicly) unspoken quid pro quo in which all the support comes with various hints and suggestions that the President-General will certainly take very seriously. Thus
President Bush's homeland security advisor, Fran Townsend, said Musharraf's agreement with tribal leaders had been a failure.

His strategy "hasn't worked for Pakistan. It hasn't worked for the United States," she said, stressing, though, that the administration continues to back Musharraf.
Subtle, aren't they? That's why they call it diplomacy!

Diplomacy remains the order of the day, apparently. And once again Richard Boucher is in the middle of it. According to a report from Agence France Presse via Raw Story:

US asks Pakistan to launch military offensive against extremists
The United States on Tuesday prodded Pakistan to launch a military offensive against fighters hiding in tribal areas after Washington hinted at a lack of commitment from its ally to hunt down violent extremists.

US officials said Pakistan military ruler Pervez Musharraf should send his troops into the tribal border region with Afghanistan to flush out Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants, following the collapse of a 10-month peace accord between Islamabad and tribal elders.

"I think first and foremost we have to remember that some military action is necessary, and will probably have to be taken," Assistant Secretary of State for South and central Asian affairs Richard Boucher said.
It is extremely useful to have this comment on the record, of course, just in case the President who also happens to be a General was wondering whether further military action might be necessary.
Pakistani authorities have made intense efforts to shore up the peace accord since the Taliban pulled out on Saturday, knowing that without it, they risk fresh violence in a region thought to contain many militants.

Boucher said Washington was less concerned about whether the agreement worked or not, pointing out that "it's the facts of what happens."

"There are elements in these areas that are extremely violent and are out to kill government people, out to kill government leaders, and will not settle for a peaceful way forward," he said.

"Whether it is through an agreement or through the imposition of government will or whatever, they remain the key: no Talibanization, no cross-border activity, no Al-Qaeda plotting and planning from the tribal areas," he said.

"And we're going to help the government of Pakistan achieve that through whatever -- all these different means that might be necessary," he said citing joint US-Pakistan plans to develop the isolated areas in tandem with possible military action.
Did that sound like a carte blanche to you? It sure sounded like one to me: what else could Richard Boucher mean when he says "all these different means that might be necessary"?

And that's in public. What must Musharraf be hearing in private?
"We think the time is now," one official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"We think with the movement on the Red Mosque, Musharraf feels a sense of momentum and he's got the tools in place -- [...] he's got the military starting to creep forward into forward positions," the official said.

"Whether the peace deal is on or off, it doesn't matter."
With all this loose talk floating around, I wouldn't exactly be amazed if the suicide bomber who struck the rally in Islamabad was connected somehow to one of Mr. Boucher's associates. But then speculation is easy.

Pervez Musharraf has been walking a very shaky tightrope ever since September 11, 2001, when he became America's #1 ally in the Global War On Terror. Ever since, he's been taking cautious little steps, trying to establish a balance between the pro-democracy forces who want to see an end to his military dictatorship and the religious fundamentalists who want something else entirely.

And he's taken these little steps and inched his way along and after all these years he looks around and sees himself over the middle of the canyon, with no easy way forward or back, and now here come the Americans, pushing him from behind. "Let's get a move on, Pervez, y'heah?"

Already the news carries stories of Wednesday's (first?) deadly attack:

Dozen killed in northwest Pakistan ambush
MIRANSHAH, Pakistan, July 18 (AFP) Militants ambushed a Pakistani military convoy in the Lwara Mundi area of the North Waziristan tribal area Wednesday, sparking a gunbattle that left at least a dozen people dead, security officials said.

“Initial reports say that the fighting was heavy and at least 12 people were killed,” a senior security official told AFP requesting anonymity. The military confirmed “several” deaths.
It won't get any easier.