Airstrikes target Pakistan Taliban after weekend of deadly militant attacks

Carly Nyst
12 October 2009

The Pakistani military is preparing an aggressive campaign of air strikes in response to a series of four brazen attack by militants over the weekend, one of which targeted Pakistan's military headquarters leaving twenty people dead. In a further unprecedented attack, a thirteen-year-old suicide bomber struck a military convoy as it passed a crowded marketplace near Pakistan's Swat Valley, killing 41 people.

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The Pakistan army is gearing-up to target the Mehsud faction of the Taliban, headquartered in the South Waziristan area, in retaliation for the attack by Mehsud militants on the headquarters of the Pakistan military in Rawalpindi, outside Islamabad. During that attack ten militants, disguised as soldiers, waged a gun battle with Pakistani security forces which resulted in the deaths of five of the militants and twenty soldiers, allowing the militants to take more than forty Pakistani soldiers and civilians hostage. After a 22-hour long standoff between the military and the militants, Special Services Group commandos assaulted the besieged building, killing four of the five remaining militants and freeing the hostages. The last remaining militant was identified as Dr Usman, the suspected orchestrator of the gun attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in March.

As a result of the attack, Pakistani plans for a ground offence in South Waziristan will be accelerated, indicated Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who warned the Taliban of impending ‘heavy' action by the Pakistan military. Airstrikes in the South Waziristan area, which borders Afghanistan, intensified late on Sunday, Reuters reported, hitting Taliban hideouts in Makeen and Ladha, killing sixteen militants.

The ToD verdict: The attacks against the Pakistan army and the subsequent response illustrate the divergence in Pakistani and American views on how best to deal with the Pakistan-based Taliban operating along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Since the became embroiled in Afghanistan, the US has placed increasing pressure on Pakistan to crackdown on Pakistan-based Taliban, who Washington believes are providing support to the militants fighting against US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan's response has been less than satisfactory from the American perspective; the country has continued to pursue peace deals with powerful Taliban factions, despite its campaigns against separate militant groups in the Swat Valley and, imminently, South Waziristan. Pakistan denies that the factions are participating in violence outside of the tribal areas, or that they are hosting Afghan Taliban leaders.

The attack also highlights a concerning lack of focus on the security threats posed by regions outside of South Waziristan, particularly the Punjab province. Despite the Pakistani military focusing its retaliation for Saturday's attack on South Waziristan, security officials believe some of the militants involved in the attack, including Dr Usman, draw support from the Punjab. Pakistani analyst Ayesha Siddiqua has gone so far as to claim that, despite the reluctance of many people in Pakistan to acknowledge the threat, ‘South Punjab has become the hub of jihadism.' The Punjab province is reportedly home to an array of militant organizations, with the town of Bahawalpur host to many hard-line madrasas.

Ultimately, any strategy employed by Pakistan to eliminate the threat of terrorism and insurgency, both domestically and with respect to the conflict in Afghanistan, must focus on all areas in which terrorism and militancy is allowed to grow unchallenged. The recognition that militant fighters are hailing not only from South Waziristan, but also from the Punjab, underscores the need for the Pakistan army to embrace the fight against terrorism wholeheartedly. ‘There is a dire and urgent need to go to the core of these militant groups, whether based in Bahawalpur or Waziristan,' said Imtiaz Gul, author of a recent book on militancy in Pakistan, ‘before they can spring any more surprises on the security forces.'

UN admits fraud in Afghanistan election

The head of the United Nations in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, has acknowledged that Afghanistan's presidential election was marred by ‘widespread fraud,' a week after firing his second-in-charge who had proposed to make the same public admission. Only days before the results of the election are to be announced, Eide admitted there had been ‘significant fraud' in the electoral process, which is expected to result in the re-election of President Hamid Karzai. However, Eide defended himself against the allegations levelled by his former aide, American Peter Galbraith, who had criticized Eide for failing to stop polling stations from opening in areas that were too dangerous for monitors to visit, and banning his staff from handing over evidence collected on polling day that showed that actual voter turnout was far lower than the reported result. The Norwegian diplomat said he had the international support from US, German, British and French ambassadors, who were present at the press conference today but who failed to speak up in his defence.

In a further challenge to Eide's authority, one of only two Afghan members of the UN sanctioned electoral commission, Maulavi Mustafa Barakzia, resigned today. Barakzia claimed that the two Afghan voices on the five-seat commission had been overuled, and that the American, Canadian and Dutch representatives failed to consult them on the proceedings of the committee. 

Turkey and Armenia normalize relations

An historic agreement between Turkey and Armenia signed in Switzerland on Saturday has established diplomatic ties and reopened the border between the two countries, after almost a century of hostility. After a last-minute ‘dispute over wording' necessitated the intervention of Hilary Clinton, US Secretary of State, who was in Switzerland in a show of support for the agreement, representatives signed the agreement without making public comments. According to the BBC, the agreement calls for a joint commission to investigate massacres and deportations of Armenians during the First World War, denounced by many outside Turkey as genocide, in order to examine the ‘historical dimension' of the two countries' relations. 

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