On Friday, an explosion in the Pakistani city of Karachi destroyed a house, killing at least seven people. The blast, which occurred in the city’s Baldia town district, was attributed by Karachi police chief Waseem Ahmad to the accidental detonation of explosives stored inside. Video footage taken at the scene depicts Pakistan police removing guns, grenades and suicide vests from the ruins while two people were apparently arrested at the site. Police chief Ahmad went on to say that “it seems that the house was being used by terrorists”, and that bomb disposal teams were sifting through the remains of the house to assess the exact nature of the explosion.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik has said that the suspects were from Pakistan’s restive Swat province, recently occupied by the Pakistan army in the teeth of stubborn resistance from Taliban militants. Pakistan’s Express News, citing unnamed official sources, has said that Malik's statements are supported by one of the arrested suspects. The suspect also stated that the explosion had occurred after three suicide bombers had donned suicide vests, indicating that they were preparing to launch an attack imminently.
The explosion occurred hours after a suspected US drone strike killed at least eighteen people and injured fourteen in North Waziristan. The attack, which occurred on Thursday in the village of Pasalkot, is believed to have targeted Hakimullah Mehsud, the current leader of the Pakistani Taliban. A Taliban spokesman told Dawn Television that Mehsud survived the attack unscathed.
The openSecurity verdict: Events on Thursday and Friday serve as a microcosm of the many problems inherent in ongoing operations against Taliban militants. In Pakistan, the military’s ostensibly robust confrontation with insurgents in the North West Frontier Province has been demonstrated to be insufficient. With the Swat offensive declared a success and the incursion into South Waziristan concluded, a number of Swat militants were still able to infiltrate Karachi, establish an armoury to support suicide attacks and, by all accounts, were on the verge of launching an attack when the accidental explosion occurred.
Simultaneously, another precision strike against the Taliban leadership missed its intended target. Although US Army press relations will no doubt hail the deaths of 18 “militants”, it is likely that at least some of those killed were civilians.
Following the successful strike against Baitullah Mehsud, US military analysts held high hopes that his death would hamstring the Pakistani Taliban’s leadership; and yet there is little evidence that the insurgents suffered in the long term from the anticipated confusion and uncertainty.
Instead, after a contained debate over succession, Hakimullah was duly appointed to take command and has since presided over a number of terrorist bombings across Pakistan. If additional reinforcements are to turn the tide against the Taliban, the coalition must target the body of this hydra rather than attempt messy decapitations.
Suicide bomber strikes marketplace in Pakistan
On Thursday, a suicide bomber struck a crowded marketplace in the town of Dihrawud in Afghanistan’s central Uruzgan province. At least sixteen civilians and one police officer have been reported killed, with thirteen people injured. Uruzgan police chief Juma Gul Himat has said that the dead included three children and that the attack had destroyed a number of shops. On the same day, a police officer was killed and five people wounded in a separate attack in Helmand province. Thus far no group has claimed responsibility for either attack, though analysts point out that they bear the hallmarks of the Afghanistan Taliban.
Delays frustrate Haiti relief effort
Three days after a catastrophic earthquake hit the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, significant humanitarian efforts are yet to be implemented, leaving thousands of Haitians suffering in anguish. Civilians have blocked the roads of the capital with corpses to protest against what they see as a hopelessly inadequate response by the international community.
There are many reasons for the delay. Many international aid agencies lost their offices in the earthquake, which also claimed the lives of key staff. The seaport servicing the capital was too badly damaged to receive aid shipments, the small airport was quickly overburdened by incoming flights, to the extent that a ban was placed on non-military flights for fear that they would run out of fuel while waiting to land.
It is thought that ten percent of homes were destroyed by the 7.0 magnitude quake, the most serious to hit Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere, in 120 years. The Haitian Red Cross has estimated that 45,000 to 50,000 people have died and 3 million, one third of Haiti’s population, have been injured or made homeless. With thousands of people possibly trapped under rubble, the number of fatalities is set to rise over the coming days. US Coast Guard officer Paul Cormier has said that “the next 24 hours will be critical.”
China search engine hacked by Iranian ‘cyber army’
On Tuesday, a group calling themselves the ‘Iranian Cyber Army’ successfully hacked into Baidu, China’s biggest search engine, taking it offline for at least four hours. Searchers were instead confronted by a screen depicting the Iranian flag. The cyber army’s last attack took Twitter offline in December. It seems that this incursion was used as an opportunity for political sloganeering, rather than an attempt to hack into user accounts. Graham Cluley, senior technology expert at the security company Sophos, has said that, if the hackers had used malware, “millions of computers could have been infected and identities stolen.”