The South Asia Channel

Daily brief: Pakistan rocked by militant attacks, dozens dead

Pakistan imperiled A suicide car bomber targeted a paramilitary convoy in a crowded market area of Alpuri, the headquarters of Shangla, a district adjacent to the Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan, killing around 40 people early this morning, most of whom were civilians (BBC, Dawn, Geo TV, AP, Reuters). The area, supposedly under the control ...

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Pakistan imperiled

A suicide car bomber targeted a paramilitary convoy in a crowded market area of Alpuri, the headquarters of Shangla, a district adjacent to the Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan, killing around 40 people early this morning, most of whom were civilians (BBC, Dawn, Geo TV, AP, Reuters). The area, supposedly under the control of the Pakistani government, was the site of an offensive some two years ago in which militants seized control of the police station in Alpuri, embarrassing the Pakistan Army (New York Times, Al Jazeera).

No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, and the town is a known stronghold of fugitive Swat Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah, who remains at large (AFP). The attack in Shangla is a stunning reminder that the TTP has the ability to strike a range of targets in different cities and follows a week’s worth of violent assaults (AP). And reconstruction in the nearby Swat Valley has been going slowly, while some government analysts caution that a quick switch from U.S. contractors to local organizations in Pakistan would “seriously compromise” stabilization efforts (New York Times, USA Today).

Of general assault

In another audacious attack on Pakistani military installations, on Saturday Taliban militants stormed Pakistan’s ‘Pentagon’ in Rawalpindi in a highly coordinated 22-hour siege that left at least 19 dead and demonstrated extremists’ reach into Pakistan and their desire to target the Army (Washington Post, Dawn, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, CNN). The assault, which included Taliban militants holing up in a military office building with about 40 hostages for several hours before Pakistani commandos freed them in a raid, was led by Muhammad Aqeel, a militant leader behind two other major attacks in Pakistan and affiliated with Lashkar-e-Jangvi, a terrorist group with ties to both al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban (Wall Street Journal, AFP, Reuters, New York Times).

A Punjabi police report in July warned that the Taliban, in collaboration with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Jaish-e-Mohammad, were planning to attack General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi and that the extremists would dress in military uniforms, as did the 10 gunmen in Saturday’s assault (The News, New York Times). In today’s must-read, Hassan Abbas puts the GHQ attack in context alongside an impending Pakistani military offensive in South Waziristan, operations in the Swat Valley, and growing regional tensions (Foreign Policy).

Pakistan’s army is waiting for orders to begin a planned ground offensive in the Mehsud Taliban bastion of South Waziristan, and the interior minister said it is being launched “imminently” (AFP, BBC). The offensive is likely to highlight the gap between the U.S. and Pakistan’s methods of dealing with the Taliban: the U.S. has long urged a broad crackdown across Pakistan, while Pakistan’s narrower approach includes negotiations with two of the other powerful Taliban factions (Wall Street Journal). Reporters from the Sunday Telegraph ventured into Waziristan to speak with militants on their home turf, where they are keenly awaiting the opportunity to embrace martyrdom (Telegraph).

Pushing back

Last week’s attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul demonstrates the ongoing tension between India and Pakistan as both countries vie for influence in Afghanistan (Washington Post). And Mullah Omar, the chief of the resurgent Afghan Taliban, is thought to be based in Quetta, the capital of the southwestern Pakistani province of Baluchistan (AP). Scott Shane’s profile of the one-eyed militant leader is essential reading (New York Times).

Bruce Riedel, who headed the Obama administration’s strategy review of Afghanistan and Pakistan, has warned that it is a “fairy tale” to think al Qaeda and the Taliban can be split apart, saying, “At no point is there any serious evidence that the top Taliban leadership [in Afghanistan] have been willing to give up [Osama] bin Laden and turn him over” (Telegraph). And McClatchy interviewed 15 mid- and senior level intelligence, military, and diplomatic officials, all of whom agreed with the assessment that the Taliban is much closer now to al Qaeda than before the September 11 attacks, would allow the terrorist network to re-establish bases in Afghanistan, and would help bin Laden spread al Qaeda’s message to Afghanistan’s neighbors and beyond (McClatchy).

Strange bedfellows?

U.S. commanders in Afghanistan are working with former mujahideen guerrillas who fought against the Soviet Union with tactics now being used by Taliban militants in the country, because they understand the extremists’ techniques of roadside bombs and suicide attacks (Wall Street Journal). Coalition forces stormed an al Qaeda camp in eastern Afghanistan over the weekend, killing more than a dozen militants, while U.S. Marines are sweeping villages across the country to reduce the threat of IEDs (AP, AFP).

The U.N.’s top envoy in Afghanistan, the Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide, is fighting back against allegations from his former deputy Peter Galbraith that he covered up evidence of fraud in Afghanistan’s troubled August 20 presidential election (Financial Times, Pajhwok, Washington Post). Eide acknowledged for the first time that the election was tainted by “widespread” and “significant” fraud, but cautioned that the extent of the corruption is still unknown (AFP, Wall Street Journal).

Savage science

A French nuclear physicist at CERN, the world’s largest hadron collider, was arrested last week and has admitted to investigators that he corresponded over the internet with members of al Qaeda’s Algerian affiliate, al Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb (AP, Toronto Star, AFP). The 32-year-old of Algerian origin was under surveillance for more than a year and also worked at a British government laboratory in Oxfordshire (Telegraph, Times of London). A judge told the Telegraph that the man’s exchanges with AQIM militants “spoke of plans for attacks in general,” but not on an “operational level.”

Just like home

NATO’s base in Kandahar, the second largest in the country after Bagram outside Kabul, hosts Saturday night discos, cafes, and hockey games (AFP). The “Dutch corner” of the main square has a reputation for raucous parties.

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