Monday, July 16, 2007

Suicide Warfare In Pakistan: 'The Peace Agreement Has Ended'

Suicide warfare rages again in Pakistan.

Riaz Khan of the Associated Press is in Peshawar and comes to us via The Guardian:
Suicide bombers struck yesterday in two areas of north-western Pakistan, killing up to 38 people, while Taliban militants broke a 10-month-old peace deal with the government along the Afghan frontier.

"The peace agreement has ended," Abdullah Farad, a militant spokesman, told journalists in Peshawar. He said the Taliban chief in North Waziristan, Maulvi Gul Badahar, made the decision at a council meeting after the government had failed to abide by its demand to withdraw troops from checkpoints by 4pm yesterday.

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.
In case you missed it, the Pakistani government's attack on the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) complex, in which more than 100 people died, occasioned a series of detailed and disturbing articles on this very page.

The announcement came as three blasts struck a military convoy in Swat, a mountainous area of North West Frontier province, killing 18 people and wounding 47, a government official said. He said two explosive-laden vans had rammed the convoy and that the dead included seven civilians.
In Pakistan's Daily Times, Zakir Hassnain and Manzoor Ali Shah reported:
Sunday’s first attack occurred between 7:00am and 7:40am, when two cars packed with explosives rammed into a convoy of several vehicles passing through Matta bazaar in Mingora, Swat. In addition, a landmine also hit the convoy, Swat District Coordination Officer (DCO) Syed Muhammad Javed told Daily Times.

“Among the dead, 11 are army jawans, six civilians, including a child, and two suicide bombers,” said the DCO, adding that among the injured, 41 were from the army, two from the Frontier Corps (FC), two from the police, and two were civilians. The blast destroyed some nearby houses and damaged a market.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack. “Some people have been taken into custody and the police are investigating,” Javed said. He said the injured were shifted to hospitals in Peshawar, Mardan and Rawalpindi in helicopters. Asked if the government would now conduct an operation against militants in Swat, Major General Waheed Arshad, director general of ISPR, said: “We’ll see what we can do. There is no such move at the moment.”
Riaz Khan again:

In the day's second attack, a suicide bomber targeted people taking exams for recruitment to the police force in Dera Ismail Khan. The blast killed 20 people and wounded 35, said police officer Mohammed Aslam.
The Daily Times provides additional details:
At about 4:15pm, a suicide bomber blew himself up at DI Khan Police Lines as candidates took police entrance exams. Police official Safiullah told Daily Times that a total of 26 people were killed, including 12 policemen and the suicide bomber, and 61 others were wounded.

Dera Ismail Khan District Nazim Haji Abdul Rauf said it was not clear how the bomber entered the police lines, whose entrance was guarded by policemen. Police officer Mohammed Aslam told AP that more than 150 people were on the premises when the bomber struck. He said the suicide bomber’s head and suicide vest had been found.
There you go. 26 dead, 61 wounded, another 65 or more lucky not to be bleeding, and they found the head and the vest.

So the much-criticized truce is over.
Under the 2006 truce, soldiers manning security posts throughout the region returned to their barracks and militants agreed to no longer take part in attacks in Pakistan or Afghanistan. While the agreement ended much of the violence, critics said the truce gave the militants a haven from which to plan and launch attacks on forces in Afghanistan.
But never fear. Here come the Americans to the rescue, in their usual subtle yet effective way:

US to pour 750 million into Pakistan's tribal areas: NY Times
WASHINGTON, July 16 (AFP) The administration of President George W. Bush plans to pour 750 million dollars worth of aid into Pakistan's tribal areas in a bid to wrest it away from Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants, The New York Times reported on its website late Sunday.

But citing unnamed officials involved in the planning, the newspaper said some people were warning of the dangers of distributing so much money in an area where oversight is impossible.

Who will be given the aid has quickly become one of the most contentious questions between local officials and American planners concerned that millions might fall into the wrong hands, the report said.
Many of the local people have already decided not to hang around and find out.

Thousands flee from Pakistani tribal areas after militants scrap peace deal
ISLAMABAD, July 16 (AFP) Thousands fled a tribal area Monday after pro-Taliban militants scrapped a peace deal with the government there, following three weekend suicide bombings that left more than 70 dead.

In the tribal area of North Waziristan, thousands of people fled the main city of Miranshah after local militants tore up a peace agreement they had struck last year with President Musharraf's government.

Bazaars were deserted as hundreds of families fled the town for safer areas, and Radio Pakistan went off the air when broadcasters joined other government officials in leaving the tense area, local residents said.
It may not be politically correct to speak of murderous tension as chickens coming home to roost, but Sir Cyril Townsend's just-published opinion piece in the Brunei Times summarizes the history fairly well:
The recent history of the Red Mosque, the second largest mosque in the capital -- it can accommodate 4,000 for prayers -- highlights the problems of Pakistan. A previous military ruler of the country, General Zia ul-Haq, agreed to the expansion of the Red Mosque in return for the enlistment of young recruits for the jihad against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

This led on to the mosque and its religious schools becoming a centre for jihadi elements, especially al-Qaeda. In the 1990s the state's main intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), gave the mosque its full backing and used it for meetings.

Following the attacks on America in September 2001, President Musharraf aligned his country with Western and certain Arab governments in their campaign against terrorism. This brought the militants into direct conflict with the president. The government's launching of military operations in the North West Frontier Province against the Taliban led to calls for the assassination of President Musharraf.

The president is caught between the two forces of extremism, with calls for [shariah] law throughout the country, and moderate Pakistanis and Western governments, with their calls for vigorous action against the militants.
So the President-General has been playing a complicated game, trying to stay upright -- and intact -- with the Americans pushing him forward while his countrymen pull him in two different directions.

Given this context, some commentators may see (or portray) the Taliban's denunciation of the 10-month-old truce as a stride forward in the War on Terror. But most if not all of them will likely ignore the many serious questions and very grave dangers that remain.

In my opinion, the BBC's Barbara Plett raised one of the key questions on Saturday, in her discussion of the media tour of the battleground mosque:
As I wandered through the blackened, battle-scarred remains of the madrassa, it was evident to me there could be no military solution to Pakistan's problems.

Yet more and more Pakistanis are asking whether there can be anything else while a general sits in the president's chair.

twelfth in a series