Sunday, July 15, 2007

Cue The Wave Of Reprisals

The AP reports on a deadly attack in Pakistan, the second in two days.
PESHAWAR, Pakistan: A bomb attack against a military convoy in northwestern Pakistan killed more than 10 troops Sunday in an intensifying militant campaign of violence against the government in the restive border region, officials said.

The latest incident, either a suicide attack or a roadside bomb blast, followed the deaths of 24 soldiers in a suicide strike against another convoy in the northwest Saturday.

The government has deployed thousands of troops to the region to thwart calls by extremists for a holy war to avenge the bloody storming of Islamabad's Red Mosque last week.

The convoy of army and paramilitary troops was attacked in Swat, a mountainous area of North West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan, said police officer Humayun Khan.

Troops opened fire after the attack and a gun battle was continuing, he said.
The death toll could certainly increase: a more current report sets the count at 14.

Saturday a suicide bomber killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in North Waziristan.
The violence came amid heightened tension in northwestern Pakistan after the government raided the besieged Red Mosque in Islamabad last week and killed at least 75 militants.
Elsewhere,

Various Islamic organisations and seminaries staged protest demonstrations and held meetings on Friday to observe the day of protest against the massive use of military force and killings in Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa operation.

Speakers at various protest meetings and demonstrations seriously castigated the government policy of launching forceful blitz against the Jamia Hafsa and Lal Masjid people at a time when the mediation efforts of leading religious scholars of the country were nearing [an] end [to] the deadlock through negotiations.
The violence comes in response to the Pakistani army's attack on the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) complex but also to President General Pervez Musharraf's nationally-televised speech on Thursday in which he declared his
government's firm resolve to fight extremism and terrorism and warned that no other mosque or madrassah would be allowed to be misused like Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa.
The attack on the mosque left more than 100 people dead, including 10 members of the President General's elite guard, a force of only 164 which suffered 10 deaths and 33 injuries. So it's no wonder he said he
appreciated law enforcement agencies including police, Rangers and armed forces for proving their professional excellence during the operation, and paid glowing tribute in particular to the Special Services Group (SSG) and Anti-Terrorists Force.
Did the strike force know what they were getting into? Pakistani authorities say they knew about the weapons:

LAHORE: Intelligence agencies had been informing the government that Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa were involved in illegal activities and were gathering weapons, but the government delayed action to avoid collateral damage, Federal Education Minister Javed Ashraf Qazi told Geo TV on Friday.

Only two gunship helicopters could have demolished Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa, but that could have ended up in massive loss of lives, he added.

The minister said militants had booby-trapped the madrassa, adding only trained people could install such traps. Qazi rejected various claims that there were no weapons inside the mosque. “Who killed 10 commandos if there were no armed militants inside the Lal Masjid. Trenches in Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa reveal that the madrassa administration had been preparing to fight the army,” he said.
Pakistani lawyers say Musharraf has been wagging the dog, and

accused the government of "killing many people for political motives" to divert attention from the judicial crisis.

The Pakistan Bar Council, the major lawyers group in country, demanded judicial inquiry of the operation and to determine as to who were responsible [for] the operation.
...

The Council said that President Musharraf, with the help of intelligence agencies, had taken the issue of Lal Masjid to a point to convince the world that he is the only man in Pakistan to counter extremists.

The PBC described the operation as 'cruel' and said it was conducted to seek Western support.

"The Lal Masjid operation shows incompetence of Musharraf's government".
Pakistani officials conducted a tour of the damaged mosque on Thursday, and showed journalists (except those from CNN) the sorts of things that sell papers:

The mosque's bullet-scarred concrete tells a story in itself.

Its burnt-out arches, battered minarets, sections of blown-up perimeter walls and swirling clouds of flies in dark passages are evidence of intense combat.

Maj-Gen Waheed Arshad, the chief spokesman for Pakistan's army, nonchalantly guided reporters around the mosque, past coils of barbed wire and soldiers nursing assault-rifles in the drowsy afternoon humidity.

The front of the Jamia Hafsa girls' madrassa was ravaged by bullets and shells; its metal gates buckled and bundles of bedding and clothes, textbooks and shoes lay swept up in corners in the 70-room complex.

Inside its courtyards, used for ablutions and prayer, the concrete and white plaster walls were riddled with bullet holes.
and

Inside a room near the main entrance, the army had stashed the arsenal amassed by the students and militants.

Heavy machine guns, Kalashnikov assault rifles, mines and rocket-propelled grenade rounds were laid on the floor next to an array of less orthodox armaments, including a spear, a trident and a box of explosives wrapped in sticky tape.
and
In one corner of the courtyard, the militants had created a makeshift bunker under a staircase.

"It was from here that they fired on commandos coming over the roof," said the military spokesman.

It was reduced to a fly-infested pit of incinerated human remains, a few bricks and crushed ammunition cartridges.

Thousands of rounds had pitted the surrounding masonry.

Next to the staircase was a burnt-out room. A suicide bomber had blown himself - or herself - up inside this space.

Soldiers found the bomber's head along with the remains of five or six other people.
The other aspects of the government's damage-control plan have been finalized and Religious Affairs Minister Ejaz ul Haq

has been assigned the task to boost up his contacts and coordination with religious sections [...] to diffuse the pressure that they are exerting on account of the operation. The minister will meet different religious leaders in the near future, the official said.

Ejaz told a meeting chaired by the president that the most-important religious groups would not support any anti-government agitation due to the storming of the Lal Masjid-Jamia Hafsa Complex because they had already disapproved these militants’ policies.
Having lost their loved ones to members of less-important religious groups will be no consolation to the families of the Pakistani soldiers who were killed this weekend.

Nor will any of these details console the families of the missing.

Knots of anxious parents pressed toward a large green board officials said would be pinned with information aiding their search for missing children from the bloody siege of Islamabad's Red Mosque.

But the board at the government's "Facilitation Center" was totally blank Friday.

"I found my younger son lying injured in the hospital, but cannot find any trace of the elder one, Shahid Shah," said Hanifa Bibi, her voice choking behind a black burqa. "For God's sake help me find him. I beg the government to let me know where my son is. Is he dead or alive? Please show me."

Bibi, one of dozens or more people known to be seeking children and other loved ones, said she has rushed between the capital's main hospital, a distant graveyard and the center in her exhausting search.
Some relatives found the names they sought on a message board at the main Islamabad hospital. Others weren't so blessed.

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eleventh in a series