PAKISTAN: SUICIDE ATTACKS CONTINUE UNABATED
INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM MONITOR---PAPER NO. 331
There have been two more acts of suicide terrorism in Pakistan, bringing the total number so far this year to 54. There have been five attacks in December thus far. Of the 54 attacks, 34 were against military-related targets, including two against the Inter-Services Intelligence, two against the General Headquarters of the Army in Rawalpindi, one against the Air Force in Sargodha and one against the US-trained Special Services Group (SSG) in Tarbela. Only the Navy and its personnel have not been attacked till now. There were 10 attacks against the Police.
2.Of the 10 attacks against civilian targets, four were against political leaders, perceived as either pro-Musharraf or pro-US. These were Mrs.Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister, who escaped an assassination attempt at Karachi on October 18,2007, when she returned to Pakistan after her long political exile, two on Mr. Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, a pro-Musharraf Pashtun leader of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) who has escaped two attempts to kill him, and Mr.Amir Muqam, another pro-Musharraf Pashtun leader, who also escaped being killed by a suicide bomber. The remaining six attacks were against miscellaneous civilian targets.
3. The latest suicide attacks---one on the day of Id and the other two days after--- have been reported from Charsaddha, the home town of Mr.Sherpao, and Mingora, in the Swat Valley of the NWFP, which has been the scene of bitter fighting between the Pakistan Army and jihadi terrorists belonging to the pro-Al Qaeda Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) of Maulana Fazlullah, popularly known as Maulana FM Radio. Charsaddha is 20 KMs north-east of Peshawar.
4.Mr.Sherpao used to be one of the Pashtun loyalists of Benazir Bhutto and was an important office-bearer of her Pakistan People's Party. Before the 2002 elections to the National Assembly, President Pervez Musharraf and the ISI managed to persuade him to desert her and form his own faction of the PPP opposed to her. This desertion led to the marginalisation of the PPP in the Pashtun areas. Musharraf rewarded him for his desertion by making him the Minister of the Interior. In that capacity, he served in the former Cabinet of Mr.Shaukat Aziz, which has since been replaced by a care-taker Cabinet to organise the general elections, sheduled for January 8,2007.
5. While thus rewarding him with the Interior portfolio, Musharraf took away from his charge all matters relating to the fight against terrorism in the Pashtun belt. The Army directly handled this subject through the Governor of the NWFP, a retired Pashtun Army officer belonging to the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). (Lt.Gen.Muhammad Ali Jan Aurakzai)
6.The first attempt to kill Mr.Sherpao took place on April 28,2007, when he was leaving the venue of a public meeting addressed by him at his home town. A suicide bomber blew himself up in his vicinity. He escaped, but 30 people----his security personnel and by-standers---were killed.
7. The second attempt to kill him was made by another suicide bomber at a local mosque of Charsaddha during the Id prayers on December 21,2007. Mr.Sherpao, who was among those praying, escaped, but 55 members of the Id congregation----including many of his security staff-- were killed.
8. The police have not so far been able to detect the first attempt of April 28,2007. Investigation into the latest attempt has just started. Al Qaeda, the Taliban and their associates observed a 10-day truce in connection with the Id, which expired on December 22,2007. The attack on Mr.Sherpao took place on the day of the Id, when the truce was still being observed. It is, therefore, unlikely that any of these organisations might have been involved. Mr.Sherpao himself seems to suspect that the two attacks on him must have been due to partisan Pashtun politics and not due to his role as the Interior Minister.
9. On December 23,2007, five soldiers and six civilians were killed in the Mingora area of the Swat Valley, when a suicide bomber, driving a vehicle, blew himself up by the side of an army convoy. Sirajuddin, a spokesman of the TNSM, has claimed responsibility for the attack on behalf of the newly-formed Tehrik-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan. Incidentally, the 10-day ultimatum issued by the Tehrik to the Army expired on December 23,2007.The ultimatum had demanded that the Pakistani Government should stop its military operations in the tribal areas and release Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi, who was captured by the security forces during the commando action in the Lal Masjid of Islamabad. The Tehrik had threatened to launch a joint fight against the Government if the demands were not met.
10.The incident of December 23,2007, disproves the Army's claim of having re-established its writ in the Swat Valley. In the meanwhile, there has been a report of an attack on para-military personnel in the Kurram Agency, where there have been frequent Shia-Sunni clashes this year.The Frontier Corps, who reportedly did not incur any casualties, retaliated killing five civilians. The identity of the assailants is not known. (24-12-07)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )