SOUTH ASIA: PAKISTAN News Briefs
Just hours later, and a stone’s throw from the setting of the President’s address at Parliament, a truck-full of explosives was driven into the Mariott Hotel, a popular landmark in the heart of Islamabad’s most exclusive – and securitized – neighbourhood. On last count, at least 53 persons – including the Czech Ambassador to Islamabad – had been killed, and 266 injured (a significant number of people remain ‘unaccounted for’ and the death toll is expected to rise). The six-wheel truck was variously estimated to be carrying 1300 pounds of a cocktail of TNT, RDX, mortar shells and aluminium powder, and left behind a 25-foot deep crater. The Mariott was completely gutted in the explosion and the raging conflagration that followed.
No group has, yet, claimed the attack, but Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, pinned the blame on the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which has been responsible for a succession of terrorist attacks across Pakistan after the Army operation since late 2007, including, most recently, the suicide bombing at the Pakistan Ordnance Factory in the cantonment town of Wah, some 30 kilometres from Islamabad, which killed at least 70 persons in what has been described as the deadliest attack on a military installation in the country’s history. The TTP has also led a campaign of attrition against the Army and paramilitaries in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) region and parts of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), particularly Swat.
The Mariott bombing is also being seen as a retaliatory attack in the wake of ongoing military operations in the Bajaur Agency, which have killed at least 778 militants since the launch of the campaign on August 6, 2008 [in addition to 49 civilians and 27 Security Force (SF) personnel; data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal]. A total of 865 militants, 114 civilians and 45 SF personnel have been killed across the FATA region over this period, even as another 576 persons have been killed in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP, 300 militants, 228 civilians and 48 SF personnel). Total fatalities in on-and-off military campaigns and terrorist operations in the NWFP and FATA areas through 2008 amount to 3,356 (till September 21), including 516 civilians, 144 SFs and 553 militants in NWFP, and 445 civilians, 158 SFs and 1,540 militants in FATA. A bulk of ‘militant’ fatalities have been inflicted through air operations, and there are widespread apprehensions that a large proportion of the ‘terrorist fatalities’ would, in fact, comprise civilians. [Total fatalities may also be higher, given the limited access the Press has to the regions of conflict and the Government’s proclivity to suppress information].
On August 5 – a day before the latest military operations in the Bajaur Agency were launched – the TTP had warned that it had prepared highly motivated ‘boys and girls’ who were ‘eager’ to mount suicide attacks all over the country, targeting high-profile Government functionaries and establishments, if the SFs did not immediately halt operations in Swat, and the Government did not reverse its decision to launch military operations in other tribal areas. At this stage, TTP cadres were also threatening Khaar, the regional headquarters of the Bajaur agency, which appeared to be confronting imminent collapse.
Worse, the virtual meltdown in the FATA and NWFP regions is part of a widening crisis across the country. According to one media estimate, as many as 354 explosions have been engineered by Islamist terrorists in Pakistan in year 2008 alone (till September) with at least 781 persons killed in these attacks. Of these, 33 were suicide attacks, with the three worst hitting the national capital, Islamabad.
The new dispensation at Islamabad has little to offer as solution or relief in this context and, as Ahmed Rashid notes, "the radical threat is now beyond easy military solution". In his address to Parliament, President Zardari once again trotted out the ‘comprehensive three-pronged strategy’ that has been the stock in trade for several years now, has been inherited from the predecessor Musharraf dictatorship, and has demonstrably and repeatedly failed in the past. Neverthelesss, Zardari outlines this ‘strategy’:
That this strategy will have little positive impact on the ongoing and escalating conflict is not only a consequence of the historical record, but of inherent contradictions that the establishment in Pakistani refuses to address. The critical issue, in this context, is Pakistan’s continued engagement with terrorism as an instrument of state policy, and its efforts to retain the Taliban as its proxy in Afghanistan, as well as a range of terrorist groups – prominently including the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), the Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami (HuJI), the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM), and other constituents of the Muttahida Jihad Council – as its cat’s paw against India. Unfortunately for Pakistan, the clear distinction it sought to maintain between its ‘loyal’ groups and those that had turned renegade and joined forces with the al Qaeda and hostile elements of the Taliban is no longer sustainable. Mobilised on a pan-Islamist ideology, a majority of these groups see common cause with the al Qaeda, and are incensed at Islamabad’s perceived perfidy in collaborating with ‘satanic’ Western forces, led by the US along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Their virulence has escalated manifold with increasing US-NATO attacks across the border into Pakistan, and including at least one such attack, on September 3, 2008, that involved ground forces.
Significantly, there is wide consensus that Pakistan has simply failed to build up its counter-terrorism capabilities over the past seven years of generous US assistance, and that an overwhelming proportion of the USD 7 billion military aid package has been diverted to the acquisition of heavy arms, aircraft and equipment essentially for conventional warfare against India. The result, as one unnamed Western military official at Islamabad expressed it, is that the paramilitary forces, including the Frontier Corps, who are the principal ground forces for the counterterorism campaigns in the FATA and NWFP regions, are left with little more than "sandals and bolt-action rifles".
Politically correct rhetoric on ‘rooting out extremism and terrorism’ cannot alter the reality that the Pakistani Army, the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), and powerful lobbies within the political establishment – including elements within the ruling coalition – continue to regard Islamist extremist mobilisation and terrorism as necessary elements, not only for the projection of Pakistani ambitions in the external environment, but of internal politcal management as well. Zardari’s declarations of intent notwithstanding, the nightmare that is Pakistan cannot be transformed unless the country’s political establsihment and Army join forces in an unambiguous repudiation of terrorism as an instrument of state policy. The intensity and magnitude of the attack at the Marriott may serve as an urgent warning to the establishment of the ruination they have brought on themselves and on their country. It remains to be seen, however, whether it will be sufficient to break old habits of response, and deeply ingrained – though perverse – systems of belief that have been the fountainhead of policy and of terror in Pakistan.
[South Asian Intelligence Review]
25 militants and three Frontier Corps personnel killed in gun battle in Dera Bugti: At least 25 militants and three Frontier Corps (FC) personnel were killed while four FC personnel received injuries in a two-day gun battle between the security forces (SFs) and militants in the Gandoi and Uch areas of Dera Bugti District of Balochistan on September 27. Official sources said that FC personnel on patrol in the Gandoi area were fired upon by militants resulting in an exchange of fire that continued on September 27 and 28. SFs claimed to have destroyed two militant camps and seized a huge haul of weapons and explosives. The Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) spokesman Sarbaz Baloch, however, claimed that BLA cadres had killed 17 SF personnel in the fighting. The clash incidentally occurred 26 days after the September 1 unilateral ceasefire announced by three militant outfits – the BLA, the Baloch Republican Army and the Baloch Liberation Front. Daily Times, September 28-29, 2008.
50 militants killed as Army takes control of Kohat tunnel: More than 50 militants and a lone security force (SF) trooper were killed in the ongoing military operation in the Darra Adam Khel area of NWFP, according to a statement by the military on September 23. Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Spokesman Maj. Murad Khan said the SFs had secured major portions of the Indus Highway, cleared the Kohat Tunnel, and successfully evicted Taliban from their roadside hideouts, on the second day of the operation. The troops also carried out a search operation in Darra bazaar area, the statement added. Daily Times, September 24, 2008.
Afghan ambassador designate to Islamabad abducted in Peshawar: Afghan Consul-General in Peshawar and Ambassador-designate to Islamabad, Abdul Khaliq Farahi, was abducted on September 22 by unidentified gunmen. Farahi’s driver was shot dead for resisting his abduction. The Afghan diplomat was on his way to his residence when armed men overtook his vehicle near Phase 3 of the posh Hayatabad locality, adjacent to the Khyber tribal region. "The driver tried to speed away but the assailants, who were in a double-cabin truck, overtook it (the car) and blocked its way," said an eye-witness. The Police, however, maintained that only the diplomat was abducted. Meanwhile, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said in Islamabad, "The diplomat did not follow Government’s instructions and travelled without security cover." The Afghan Government blamed Pakistan for not providing adequate security to Farahi. No militant group has claimed responsibility for the attack. Dawn, September 23, 2008.
Anti-Taliban offensive continues in Bajaur: At least 82 Taliban militants and seven Security Force (SF) personnel were killed in the past week in a continued air and land offensive between the SFs and the Taliban in the Bajaur Agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). While SFs killed at least 10 Taliban cadres on September 23, 25 Taliban militants and seven soldiers were killed on September 24. Official sources indicated that foreign al Qaeda and Taliban fighters are ‘infiltrating’ into Bajaur from Afghanistan to join their colleagues in the battle. Afghan commander, Qari Ziaur Rehman was reportedly leading the foreign Taliban and al Qaeda – Arab, Chechen, Uzbek and Afghan fighters. While the Army claimed to have cleared 80 percent areas of Utmankhel, Salarzai and Khar tehsils (revenue divisions), the Nawagai and Mamoond tehsils remained under the control of the Taliban. Inter-Services Public Relations Director General, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas stated that troops used heavy artillery, fighter jets and helicopter gunships to target Taliban positions in the Loyesam, Rashakai, Tang Khata, Gang, Tangi, Shnikot, Bai Cheena and Kosar areas. Armed clashes in the Rashkai area was followed by attacks from air involving helicopters and fighter jets. Taliban hideouts in Gulani were bombed. On September 25, SF attacks on Taliban positions in Damadola, Shinkot areas killed at least 16 Taliban militants and two civilians, and injured 20 others, mostly civilians. On September 26. Taliban attacks on a SF check post in Tang Khatta, about nine kilometres from Khar township, was repulsed by the SFs, resulting in the killing of seven terrorists. Subsequently, helicopter gunship attacks were carried out in the Tang Khatta, Damadola, Rashakai, Bicheena and Banda areas, killing another seven militants on the same day. On September 27, another 16 militants were killed in separate operations after the Taliban carried out attacks on three military posts near Khar township.
The Frontier Corps (FC) Inspector General, Maj. Gen. Tariq Khan, on September 26, claimed that the situation in the Agency would be stabilised within two months. "My timeframe for Bajaur is anything from between one-and-a-half to two months to bring about stability", he said. He claimed that troops have killed more than 1,000 militants including five top al Qaeda and Taliban commanders and injured 2,000 others since the offensive began in early August this year. 63 troopers have also been killed and another 212 injured in the operation. Khan also estimated that 65 percent of the Taliban problem would be eliminated if they were defeated in Bajaur.
Meanwhile, the Utmankhel tribe jirga (council) has resolved to take action against the Taliban and their backers in the area. Similarly, thousands of Salarzai tribesmen announced the launch of an operation against the Taliban on the fourth day after Eid. They torched the houses of 18 people accused of helping or sheltering the Taliban. Daily Times, September 23-29, 2008.
53 persons killed in suicide attack in Islamabad: On September 20, a suicide bomber detonated a truck packed with 1300 pounds of an RDX and TNT cocktail at the Marriott Hotel in the national capital, Islamabad, at 8 pm, killing 53 persons and injuring another 266. The Ambassador of the Czech Republic Ivo Zdarek and three United States (US) nationals were among those killed. The massive explosion, which left a 25-foot crater, ruptured a gas pipeline and triggered a huge blaze. It destroyed significant parts of the hotel. Many victims leapt to their deaths from the upper floors of the hotel to escape the fire, a senior security official said. The adjacent Frontier House, Chief Justice’s House, IT Towers and the Pakistan TV building were severely damaged.
On September 21, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said the initial investigation report of the suicide bombing will be ready soon and the Government will seek the assistance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) if the need arose. The Prime Minister said that the actual targets of the terrorists were Parliament and the Prime Minister’s House. The terrorists could not hit their intended target due to the security measures in place, he added. On the same day, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Interior, Rehman Malik blamed the Al Qaeda and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) for the attack. "This incident has similarities with the attack on the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI)'s Hamza Camp as well as with the two loaded vehicles caught from Dera Ismail Khan, and with the blast outside the Danish Embassy. The explosives used in this blast matched those of earlier explosions", he told the media at a Press Conference that he addressed in the Interior Ministry late on Sunday afternoon.
Earlier, on September 20, President Asif Ali Zardari, addressing a Joint Session of Parliament, had called for the rooting out of terrorism from Pakistan’s soil. "We must root out terrorism and extremism wherever and whenever they may rear their ugly heads," he said in his maiden address to Parliament. He further stated, "We will not tolerate the violation of our sovereignty and territorial integrity by any power in the name of combating terrorism". But, at the same time, Pakistan must stop militants from using its territory for attacks on other countries, he added. Daily Times ; The Hindu, September 21-22, 2008
Anti-Taliban offensive continues in Bajaur: At least 77 Taliban terrorists were killed in the past week in a continued air and land offensive between the security forces (SFs) and the Taliban terrorists in the Bajaur Agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). On September 15, helicopter gunships and fighter jets raided Taliban hideouts in the Loyesam, Tang Khata, Rashakai, Tandar Gat, Kirala, Bai Cheena, Tangai and Khazana areas and killed 24 Taliban terrorists. All fatalities were reportedly the result of air raids, as ground advances by the SFs have remained limited in view of the fierce resistance put up by the terrorists. The ground forces are attempting to gain control over the Loyesam area, located on a key road leading southwards to Peshawar and Nawagai, another strategic town on a main road. On September 16, ten Taliban militants were killed and several others injured in air raids targeting militant hideouts in the Loyesam, Tang Khata and Shakai areas. Frontier Corps (FC) personnel had seized various types of ammunition and large amounts of Afghan currency during a search of militant compounds around Tang Khata. On September 17, another 19 Taliban militants were killed as Taliban hideouts in the Loyesam, Banda, Rashakai, Tangai, Tarakai, Tang Khata, Kosar, Bayee Cheena, Jannat Shah and Charmang areas were targeted with heavy artillery. The following day, on September 18, at least eight Taliban terrorists were killed and several others injured. The SFs claimed to have destroyed the command and control system of the Taliban in the area. SFs also arrested five Taliban and shelled their strongholds in the Loyesam, Tang Khata, Kausar, Rashkai and Kerala areas. On September 20, at least 16 Taliban terrorists were killed near Shakai village and adjacent areas. By September 21, the SFs claimed to have gained total control over Siddiqabad, Toheedabad, Rehman Baba, Shandai Mor, Faja, Sabu Kalay, Yousufabad, Sharpana, Nawidand, Shomlo Qila and Mamizo areas of Khar tehsil (revenue division).
Curfew remains in force in the Agency for the 18th consecutive day, bringing life to a halt, causing a shortage of fuel, potable water and food. Mosques have remained shut for the past many weeks. Daily Times, September 16-22, 2008.
107 persons killed in Swat: At least 107 persons, including 56 militants and 49 civilians, were killed during the continuing violence in the Swat District of NWFP during the week of September 1-7, 2008. Five persons were killed and 14 others sustained injuries in the Swat Valley on September 7, 2008. 24 persons, including 15 civilians and nine militants, were killed and several others injured on September 5, when local people clashed with Taliban militants in the Mandal Dag area of Matta Sub-division in Swat. Sources said the local people clashed with the Taliban when the militants besieged the area to pick up a ‘Pir’ (saint) identified as Saifur Rehman.
17 militants and nine civilians were killed when security forces (SFs), backed by helicopter gunships and artillery, targeted militant hideouts in the Koza Bandai area of Swat on September 4. A military Press Release said that three key Taliban commanders — Mohammad Younis, Saifur Rehman and Ziaur Rehman — were among the dead. Military spokesman in Swat, Major Nasir Ali, said that 47 militants had been killed in two days of operation in the area. Troops have reportedly taken control of the area and are advancing to other places in the Swat Valley. Local people said nine civilians, including four children and a woman, were killed and several others injured when mortar shells hit their houses. The SFs had killed about 30 militants and wounded 35 others in a ground assault backed by helicopter gunships in the militant-infested Koza Bandai area on September 3. There were also reports about five civilian casualties, including four women, besides injuries to scores of others. Two SF personnel were reportedly killed and four others sustained injuries. Earlier, 15 persons were killed and about 35 others sustained injuries when air force jets and helicopters targeted militant hideouts in the Gut and Peuchar areas of Swat Valley on September 2. Daily Times;The News; Dawn, September 2-8, 2008.
Asif Ali Zardari elected President: Asif Ali Zardari, husband of Benazir Bhutto, who took over as leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) after her assassination in December 2007, was elected Pakistan’s President on September 6, 2008. With the PPP the single largest party and assisted by its alliance with smaller parties, Zardari was elected with 481 votes of 702 in the electoral college comprising the two Houses of Parliament and four provincial assemblies. It gave him 69 per cent of the votes in the three-way race. Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Saeed-uz-Zaman Siddiqui, was fielded by the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) and Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed was a candidate put up by the Pakistan Muslim League – Qaid-e-Azam (PML-Q) party. "Today’s peaceful election marks another step towards the transition to democracy that Shaheed Mohtarma [Benazir Bhutto] was committed to. She strongly believed that a system advocating people’s rule is the destiny of Pakistan and is worth every sacrifice," Zardari said in a message after his election. He also stated "I reiterate, Parliament is sovereign. This President shall be subservient to the Parliament." The Hindu, September 7, 2008.
39 persons killed in suicide attack in Peshawar: 39 persons, including seven Policemen, were killed and more than 70 injured when a suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden vehicle into a security checkpoint in the outskirts of Peshawar. A witness said a pickup truck hit several Policemen manning the Zangli check-post on Kohat Road before it exploded. The checkpoint is situated about 20 kilometres south of Peshawar on the road leading to Darra Adam Khel and Kohat. Nasirulmulk Bangash, a top police official, told AP that the vehicle carried at least 150 kilograms of explosives – an amount he called "unprecedented" – and was apparently en route to Peshawar. The News, September 8, 2008; Daily Times, September 7, 2008.
Pakistan stops NATO supplies through Torkham border: Pakistan stopped supplies to the United States and NATO forces in Afghanistan through its western Torkham border on September 5, 2008, citing security concerns. A senior official said the measure followed increasing Taliban threats to trucks carrying the supplies. "All Afghanistan-bound supplies for the International Security Assistance Force have been stopped as the [Torkham] highway is vulnerable," said Khyber Agency Political Agent Tariq Hayat, dismissing the impression that the decision is a reaction to continued US attacks in Waziristan. A senior border official at Torkham, 58 kilometres west of Peshawar, said the closure of the highway would also affect the US forces, which get fuel, food and other military supplies through Torkham crossing points. The coalition forces also get supplies through the Chaman border in Balochistan, but the bulk of the supplies goes through Torkham – a shorter route for Kabul where the US and NATO forces are based. Daily Times, September 6, 2008.
20 civilians killed in ground assault by US commandos in South Waziristan: At least 20 people, most of them women and children, were killed in an assault by US-led coalition forces on a village near the Afghan border on September 3, 2008. The attack comes amid an increase in the number of missile and predator attacks on suspected al Qaeda hideouts in Waziristan in recent days. It was, however, the first known ground assault of its kind. According to people in Musa Neka Ziarat in South Waziristan, three US helicopters landed in the plains at around 4am, troops disembarked from them and attacked a house, killing 10 people. They said that two children, three women and five men were killed in the attack on the house of one Payo Jan Torjikhel. A woman survived the indiscriminate shooting, they said. The troops then opened fire on villagers who had come out of their homes, killing another 10 people. The victims, including three children and two women, belonged to the families of Faiz Mohammad and Nazar Jan. Payo Jan and Nazar Jan were also killed. Local people said Payo Jan and the two other families had no association with militants. There were unconfirmed reports that the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops had also captured some people and taken them to Afghanistan.
However, an IASF spokesman told AFP he had no word of such a raid, and that the force does not have a mandate to attack outside the borders of Afghanistan unless its troops come under fire from within Pakistan. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman declined to comment. The military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said in Islamabad, "In the wee hours of the morning on Sept 3, ISAF troops in two helicopters landed at a village near Angoor Adda, South Waziristan Agency, and as per reports received so far, killed seven innocent civilians." He condemned the "completely unprovoked act of killing" and regretted the loss of precious lives. He said the Pakistan Army had lodged a strong protest with the Office of the Defence Representative in Pakistan and said that "we reserve the right of self-defence and retaliation to protect our citizens and soldiers against aggression". Dawn, September 4, 2008.
ISI behind abduction of Japanese worker, alleges Afghanistan: Afghan intelligence claimed, on September 3, 2008, it had arrested a Pakistan national who said he was paid by his country’s intelligence agency to help abduct a Japanese aid worker who was later shot dead. 31-year old Kazuya Ito was abducted on August 26 in the eastern Nangarhar province, about 50km from the Pakistan border. His body was found a day later. The arrested man was named as Adil Shah and had been studying at a madrassa (seminary) in the NWFP, the National Directorate for Security said in a statement from Kabul. He said he was enlisted by the ISI and had been working with three Afghans. "Adil Shah has confessed during the investigation that the abduction and killing of the Japanese engineer was planned and implemented by Pakistan’s ISI and for that a large amount of money was given to the members of the group," the statement said. The Taliban had claimed responsibility for kidnapping Ito, who had been working in Afghanistan for five years. Dawn, September 4, 2008.
Baloch groups announce suspension of militancy for an indefinite period: Balochistan’s main militant groups – the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), Baloch Republican Army (BRA) and Baloch Liberation Front – have decided to suspend their activities for an indefinite period. The decision was announced by Beebargh Baloch and Sirbaz Baloch, spokesmen for the BLA and BRA, while talking to journalists on satellite phones on the night of September 1. "All the three militant organisations have jointly decided to suspend their resistance movement for an indefinite period," they said. They denied that the decision was the result of any deal. "We want to tell the Baloch people and the world that we can stop the movement any time and can restart it whenever we decide to do so," they claimed. The spokesmen said that during the suspension of the movement the three groups would review the overall situation in the province and if the military operation and construction of cantonments were not stopped they would respond with full force. They warned that anyone found involved in spying against the Baloch movement would be finished. Dawn, September 2, 2008.
[South Asian Intelligence Review]
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