Militants' retaliation escalates

Nov. 17, 2009 at 11:00 AM
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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Nov. 17 (UPI) -- The Pakistani military may have scored impressive victories in its offensive against terror groups hiding in South Waziristan, but it is the insurgents who have been grabbing the headlines with their relentless, strike-at-will wave of violence, sparing none, not even civilians.

As the military pushes deeper into the lawless tribal region, capturing one insurgent sanctuary after another with its carefully planned and coordinated air and ground assault in the past month, the Taliban and its supporters have shown no such planning but just daring in hitting any target it chooses including some of Pakistan's highly guarded security and intelligence establishments, killing hundreds and inflicting heavy damage in the process. These attacks, in addition to spreading fear and panic among the civilians, have raised questions about the effectiveness of Pakistani security and intelligence gathering.

Last Friday, in one of the latest incidents of indiscriminate militant mayhem, at least a dozen people including military personnel died in Peshawar when a suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden vehicle into the regional headquarters of the ISI or Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan's main spy agency.

What was shocking was that the attacker could hit such a sensitive target at a time of so much high alert in a city that has borne the brunt of the insurgent violence, Pakistan's Daily Times said. In similar such daring incidents in the recent past, militants struck the ISI's regional office in Lahore, capital of the prosperous Punjab province, and the army headquarters in Rawalpindi, next to the capital Islamabad.

The New York Times said Friday's attack on Peshawar's office of the ISI, the symbol of Pakistani military power, pointed to the escalation of the militants' fight against the government. Also on Friday, militants attacked a police station at another location, killing at least six people.

"The underlying idea is to shake the people's confidence in the military's efforts," Hasan Askari Rizvi, a military analyst in Lahore, told The Times.

Speaking to CNN, Qari Hussein, a Taliban senior commander, claimed responsibility for the Friday attack and warned of more of them, only deadlier.

A day after the ISI bombing, a suicide car bomber attacked a police checkpoint again in Peshawar, killing 11 people including three women, three children, four men and a policeman and wounding 26, CNN reported. The toll might have been higher if the attacker had not been stopped at the checkpoint.

In an editorial last Sunday on the spy agency bombing, the Daily Times said: "ISI's role in the past as a supporter of militancy is no secret, but now the tables have turned. … The security and law enforcement agencies are being targeted left, right and center by the terrorists in the wake of the military offensive against the militants in Swat-Malakand (during the summer) and South Waziristan."

Such attacks, the editorial said, highlight "the fact that the militants have now declared open war against the state of Pakistan and its military and intelligence agencies," adding, "No one in Pakistan is safe anymore; not till extremism is rooted out of the veins of the country."

Despite that warning, some continue to be in denial of the grave situation facing the country.

About a week after the Oct. 28 explosion in a busy market place in Peshawar in which more than 110 died, many of them women and children, The New York Times reported that interviews with residents showed some were not willing to believe such a tragedy could've been committed by their own countrymen.

"The Taliban talk about morality and women's dress, but they wouldn't do such a thing to us," a gas station attendant, who lost nine members of his family, told The Times. "Their target was never the common people."

An oil trader with relatives in the United States, whose building was damaged in the blast, told The Times his tribal people are not strong enough to commit such acts.

"I'm telling you categorically -- the people behind this bomb are the Indians and Mossad," he said.

The problem with such denial is that it could help prolong the insurgency as people wouldn't know who their enemy is, The Times said.

Pakistani military officials are confident of final victory in South Waziristan, but recent events indicate the militants are no less confident.

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