As Pakistan Hit By Terror Attacks, Military Girds For Waziristan Offensive
October 15, 2009
By Abubakar Siddique
Militants have hit police targets across Pakistan, killing at least 38 people in the east and northwest of the country.
In early-morning coordinated attacks in the eastern city of Lahore, groups of assailants struck the regional headquarters of the police's Federal Investigation Agency, as well as two police training centers.
Authorities there have so far confirmed 26 deaths, including eight security officials, nine attackers, and nine civilians.
The top military commander in Lahore, Major General Shafqat Ahmed, said all three attacks had been ended.
"I want to tell you that the situation inside is under control. I have been inside personally and I looked at the building [where attackers were holed up]," he told journalists after visiting the training facility for the elite police commandos.
"Now we are searching this whole area. Inside the building there are still lying five dead bodies of those terrorists. Some of them blew themselves up and some were killed in action by security forces."
The Federal Investigation Agency and the Manawan Police Training Center had previously been targeted by militants. Some of the gun battles lasted for hours.
In the northwest, a suicide car bomber set off his explosives outside a police station in the city of Kohat, killing at least 11 people. At least one child died and a dozen people were injured in a bomb attack in the northwestern city of Peshawar.
The Tehrek-e Taliban Pakistan (Movement of the Pakistani Taliban) has reportedly claimed responsibility for these attacks.
Preparing Waziristan Offensive
The latest carnage is the latest in a string of assaults by militants in Pakistan that have claimed the lives of some 150 people over the past 10 days.
The attacks come as the government is reportedly preparing an army offensive against militants in the South Waziristan region, which borders Afghanistan.
This remote mountainous region is considered a sanctuary for Islamist extremist from the region and the world.
Parts of South Waziristan are the last patch of territory controlled by Tehrek-e Taliban after losing a tough battle against Pakistani forces in the Swat Valley early this year.
Analysts see the group as closely allied with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, many of whose leaders have been killed in suspected drone strikes in the region during the past year.
Pakistani author and analyst Imtiaz Gul has followed Pakistan's protracted struggle against extremists. He says that the fresh wave of violence by militants has two primary motives.
"No. 1, probably to divert the army's attention, the security forces' attention from the impending South Waziristan operation. And secondly, they want to at the same time create scare and terror of people living in the cities," he says.
Gul suggests that the "Punjabi Taliban" -- groups of sectarian Sunni extremists and jihadists formerly active in the Indian-administered Kashmir region -- have now openly joined Tehrek-e Taliban Pakistan in its fight against Pakistani forces.
"Fedayeed" attacks, that is attacks carried out by gunmen ready to fight to the death, are a signature tactic of these groups and were extensively used against Indian security forces during the now two-decade-old insurgency there.
Gul adds that Waziristan is central to winning the ongoing struggle against extremists in Pakistan. "Waziristan is important because most probably the entire terrorist network is located there, led by Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan fighters who had been under the protection of [former Taliban leader] Baituallah Mehsud and now who are under the protection of Hakimullah Mehsud his successor," he says.
"And these are the people who are really staunch, vicious followers of the ideology that Dr. Ayman al-Zawahri, the No. 2 of Al-Qaeda, stands for."
High-ranking Pakistani officials have been talking about a "decisive offensive" against the extremists in Waziristan since early June.
But in the meantime, the Pakistani military has besieged a nearly 2,500-square-kilometer region of South Waziristan now controlled by the Taliban, where suspected air strikes by unmanned U.S. drones are intermittently reported to have successfully targeted Taliban and Al-Qaeda leaders.
Gul considers this a "very badly delayed action, which has given the terrorists the opportunity to fulfill their agenda and go after targets that they think are necessary to deter the military from hunting them down."
Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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