Daily brief: deadly trio of attacks hits Pakistan as anti-Taliban offensive rages
The heat of battle A trio of militant attacks in northwest Pakistan killed at least 24 people this morning, as a bus full of wedding-goers struck a roadside bomb in Mohmand agency, a remote control car bomb exploded outside a restaurant in a ritzy area of Peshawar, and a suicide bomber blew himself up during ...
The heat of battle
The heat of battle
A trio of militant attacks in northwest Pakistan killed at least 24 people this morning, as a bus full of wedding-goers struck a roadside bomb in Mohmand agency, a remote control car bomb exploded outside a restaurant in a ritzy area of Peshawar, and a suicide bomber blew himself up during rush hour outside a Pakistani military facility in Kamra, southwest of Islamabad (Dawn, Dawn, Geo TV, Reuters, BBC, AFP, CNN). Some foreign military experts suspect that the aeronautical facility at Kamra stores aircraft capable of carrying nuclear warheads, though Pakistan denies this and it is unknown whether the attacker, who did not get close to the base itself, intended to strike specifically at the nuclear program (AP, Times of London, Al Jazeera, CNN).
The suspected Taliban attacks are part of a month-long campaign of militant violence as the Pakistani Army moves deeper into the extremist bastion of South Waziristan, a mountainous tribal region on the border with Afghanistan (AFP). Some 150 people, most of them militants, have died in the operation, which started six days ago. The spate of violence has apparently convinced Pakistani officials to accept U.S. help in the major military operation against the Taliban, and U.S.-operated Predator drones are reportedly providing intelligence and surveillance video to the Pakistanis (Los Angeles Times).
Dawn, a leading Pakistani newspaper, reported that two top leaders of the Taliban in Pakistan’s southern Punjab province were arrested earlier this week (Dawn). Iqbal and Gul Muhammad, who were picked up after telephone surveillance by Pakistani intelligence services and disclosures by a leading militant already in custody, were reportedly the masterminds of the October 10 attack on Pakistan’s equivalent of the Pentagon, and were members of the TTP’s leadership council (shura).
A different aid bill
The U.S. Congress yesterday passed a massive defense spending bill for fiscal year 2010 that will require Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to approve any reimbursements to Pakistan out of a $1.6 billion pot of money for military and logistical support for efforts against Islamist extremism (BBC, AFP, Bloomberg, Dawn). The $680 billion bill, which is expected to be signed into law by U.S. President Barack Obama, also includes efforts to track where U.S. military hardware sent to Pakistan winds up and must not "affect the balance of power in the region," a reference to tensions with India.
The defense spending measure is distinct from the recently cleared Kerry-Lugar bill, which attached some conditions to the $7.5 billion in aid to Pakistan over the next five years and sparked annoyed protests from Pakistan’s very powerful military (Washington Post). U.S. Sen. John Kerry’s visit to Islamabad earlier this week underscores the influence the army, which has ruled the country for about half of its existence, wields in Pakistan’s political landscape. And the man from Massachusetts has emerged as a key foreign policy player for the Obama administration (Washington Post).
Scott Shane has today’s must-read in a detailed account of the differences between the Pakistani Taliban and the Afghan Taliban, who share a common ideology and are both mostly Pashtun movements but have varied structures, goals, and histories (New York Times). The Pakistani Taliban is a loose coalition of militant groups brought together by their common enemy in the Pakistani government, and the Afghan Taliban, with a broad network of fighters and an alleged "shadow government-in-waiting" in many provinces, have recently been claiming their interests are purely local; further muddying the issue is that the Afghan Taliban are headquartered in Pakistan.
And as if the region didn’t have enough problems, a strong earthquake with a magnitude of 6.2 centered in the Hindu Kush mountains shook a wide swath of Pakistan and Afghanistan yesterday (AFP, CNN, Reuters, AP, Dawn, The News). There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage, but the area is remote and hard to reach. And Afghan police backed by U.S. forces have launched an operation to secure the highway between Lashkar Gah and Kandahar in the southern Afghan province of Helmand (Pajhwok).
Both the top U.N. envoy in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, and the secretary general of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, have come out in support of top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s assessment that more troops are needed in the country (BBC, Reuters, AP). And though NATO members Denmark and the Netherlands said they will not send more troops until the Obama administration reaches a decision and unless the November 7 runoff election creates a legitimate government, Defense Secretary Robert Gates seemed optimistic to reporters about NATO countries’ support of the war (AP, AP). Gen. McChrystal is expected to brief a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Slovakia about the situation in Afghanistan and his strategy there (Al Jazeera).
Afghanistan’s second round of elections will likely still be fraught with fraud, though officials are hopeful that it will not be on the same scale as the August 20 balloting (Reuters). And while some Afghans who didn’t turn out in the first round because of security concerns are eager to vote on November 7, most analysts expect far fewer people to vote this time because of continuing threats from militants, freezing winter weather, and apathy among voters (Pajhwok, New York Times). Incumbent President Hamid Karzai, for his part, said he wanted the second round to be "better" than the first (Reuters).
The Council on Foreign Relations’ Stephen Biddle assesses prospects for a "middle way" in Afghanistan and finds the arguments unconvincing in another piece of essential reading for this week (New Republic). "None of the usual middle-way proposals are…likely to be effective as alternatives to reinforcement," writes the military historian.
Seventy-two Pakistani traffic cops were punished recently for gossiping and talking on cell phones instead of maintaining the flow of traffic in Lahore (The News). The men and women were fined, censured, or otherwise rebuked, though none was fired.
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