Truce over, Pakistan militants kill 70
PESHAWAR, Pakistan ” Militants in northwest Pakistan disavowed a peace pact with the government and launched two days of suicide attacks and bombings that killed at least 70 people, dramatically escalating the violence in the al-Qaida infiltrated region.
The attacks Sunday and Saturday followed strident calls by extremists to avenge the government’s bloody storming of Islamabad’s Red Mosque and a declaration of jihad, or holy war, by at least one pro-Taliban cleric.
Termination of the peace treaty, the hopeful handiwork of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, puts even greater pressure on the military leader as he struggles with both Islamic extremists and a gathering pro-democracy movement.
There is concern in Pakistan that the gathering sense of crisis could prompt Musharraf to cancel elections later this year and declare a state of emergency ” despite his repeated denials.
However, Musharraf can also use the turbulence to convince Washington, his key backer, that he remains a vital bulwark against extremists in the Islamic world’s only declared nuclear state.
The U.S. national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, expressed concern Sunday about the threat from militants in Pakistan, but supported Musharraf’s recent responses.
“He has a safe haven problem in an area of his country where Pakistan’s central government has really not been present for decades or even generations. It is a problem for him,” Hadley told CNN’s “Late Edition.”
But in a separate interview on Fox News Sunday, Hadley acknowledged that the United States was dissatisfied with Musharraf’s policies.
“The action has at this point not been adequate, not effective,” Hadley said. “He’s doing more. We are urging him to do more, and we’re providing our full support to what he’s contemplating.”
Abdullah Farhad, a militant spokesman, said the 10-month-old cease-fire was being terminated in North Waziristan, a remote area on the Afghan border where the U.S. worries that al-Qaida has regrouped.
He said Taliban leaders made the decision after the government failed to abide by their demand to withdraw troops from checkpoints by Sunday afternoon. He also accused authorities of launching attacks and failing to compensate those harmed.
“The peace agreement has ended,” Farhad told reporters in Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province.
The government deployed thousands of troops to restive areas of the province in recent days in hopes of stemming a backlash to the storming of the radical Red Mosque.
But they failed to protect themselves Sunday against suicide attacks and a roadside bomb which together killed 44 people and wounded more than 100.
Two suicide bombers and a roadside bomb struck a military convoy in Swat, a mountainous area northeast of Peshawar, killing 18 people and wounding 47, a government official said, citing an official report being sent to Islamabad.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with the media, said two explosive-laden vans driven rammed the convoy near the town of Matta. He said seven civilians also died.
Bodies and the wounded were pulled from the shattered military vehicles. Helmets, an engine, and pieces of twisted metal were strewn over a wide area, some of it stained with blood.
Television footage showed about half a dozen roadside houses also destroyed by the blasts. People dug four corpses out of the rubble, among them a young girl.
In the day’s second attack, a suicide bomber targeted scores of people taking medical and written exams for recruitment to the police force in the city of Dera Ismail Khan. The blast killed 26 people and wounded 35, said police officer Habibur Rahman.
More than 150 people were on the grounds of the police headquarters when the bomber struck. Police said the bomber’s head and suicide vest were found.
On Saturday, at least 26 soldiers were killed and 54 wounded in a suicide car bombing north of Miran Shah, North Waziristan’s main town, the army said.
Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao said the government was investigating whether the attacks were related to the Red Mosque operation.
Speaking on Pakistan’s Geo television, he said militants had violated the Waziristan deal by attacking government targets. Authorities would hold tribal leaders responsible, he said.
Tensions are high in Pakistan after the mosque raid, which ended an eight-day siege with a hard-line cleric and his militant supporters. More than 100 died during the standoff.
The region along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan has seen increased activity by local militants, the Taliban, and ” according to a recent U.S. assessment ” al-Qaida.
One of the army’s apparent targets is Maulana Fazlullah, a radical cleric who has pressed for Taliban-style rule in Pakistan ” much like the leaders of the Red Mosque. Fazlullah was accused of telling supporters to prepare for jihad, or holy war, to avenge the mosque assault.
Intelligence officials in Swat say Fazlullah announced on an FM radio station Saturday night that he was fleeing to avoid arrest.
A document announcing the end of the peace pact in North Waziristan was passed around in the bazaar in Miran Shah. The signatories referred to themselves as the Taliban, a term commonly used by militants in northwest Pakistan, though their links with the Taliban fighting in neighboring Afghanistan are murky.
Under the Sept. 5, 2006, truce, the Pakistan army pulled back to barracks tens of thousands of troops that had been involved in bloody operations against suspected Taliban and al-Qaida hideouts, and militants agreed to halt attacks in Pakistan and over the border against foreign troops in Afghanistan. Tribal elders were supposed to police the deal.
Musharraf had clung to the agreement and similar pacts in neighboring areas, arguing that, by empowering tribal leaders to police their own fiefdoms in return for development aid, they offered the only chance of bringing long-term stability.
However, critics have argued that Musharraf’s decision to cut a deal effectively handed the Taliban and al-Qaida a safe haven from which to plot attacks in Pakistan, Afghanistan and in the West.
Associated Press writers Zarar Khan and Sadaqat Jan in Islamabad, Bashirullah Khan in Miran Shah and Ishtiaq Mahsun in Dera Ismail Khan contributed to this report.