Islamic militants end truce with Pakistani government
Monday, July 16, 2007
PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- For 10 months, the peace along the Afghan border appeared to hold. The fiercely independent tribes and the Islamic militants kept their truce with President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and the government in turn kept its soldiers in their barracks.
Critics said the break in military operations just allowed the Taliban militants tighten their grip.
On Sunday, a council of local leaders disavowed the cease-fire agreement and almost simultaneously suspected militants launched two days of suicide attacks and bombings that killed at least 70 people.
The attacks followed strident calls by extremists to revenge the government's bloody storming of Islamabad's Red Mosque and a declaration of jihad, or holy war, by at least one cleric in the northwest.
Termination of the peace treaty, Musharaff's hopeful handiwork, puts even greater pressure on the key U.S. ally to contain both the mounting militant blood-letting and a pro-democracy movement in advance of elections later this year.
Political opponents say Musharraf may use the turbulence as an excuse to cancel the polls and declare a state of emergency, something he has denied.
However, Musharraf can also use the turbulence to convince Washington, his key backer, that he remains a vital bulwark against extremists in the Islamic world's only declared nuclear state.
The U.S. national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, expressed concern Sunday about the threat from militants in Pakistan, but supported Musharraf's recent response.
"He has a safe haven problem in an area of his country where Pakistan's central government has really not been present for decades or even generations. It is a problem for him," Hadley told CNN's "Late Edition."
In a separate interview on the Fox news network Sunday, Hadley acknowledged that the United States had been dissatisfied with Musharraf's policies.
"The action has at this point not been adequate, not effective," Hadley said. "He's doing more. We are urging him to do more, and we're providing our full support to what he's contemplating."
Abdullah Farhad, a militant spokesman, said the 10-month-old cease-fire was being terminated in North Waziristan, a remote area on the Afghan border where the United States worries that al-Qaida has regrouped.
He said Taliban leaders made the decision after the government failed to abide by their demand to withdraw troops from checkpoints by Sunday afternoon. He also accused authorities of launching attacks and failing to compensate those harmed.
"The peace agreement has ended," Farhad told reporters in Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province.
The government deployed thousands of troops to restive areas of the province in recent days in hopes of stemming a backlash to the storming of the radical Red Mosque, but they failed to protect themselves Sunday against suicide attacks and a roadside bomb which together killed 44 people and wounded more than 100.
Two suicide bombers and a roadside bomb struck a military convoy in Swat, a mountainous area northeast of Peshawar, killing 18 people and wounding 47, a government official said, citing an official report being sent to Islamabad.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with the media, said two explosive-laden vans driven rammed the convoy near the town of Matta. He said seven civilians also died.
Television footage showed about half a dozen roadside houses also destroyed by the blasts. People dug four corpses out of the rubble, among them a young girl.
In the day's second attack, a suicide bomber targeted scores of people taking medical and written exams for recruitment to the police force in the city of Dera Ismail Khan. The blast killed 26 people and wounded 35, said police officer Habibur Rahman.
On Saturday, at least 26 soldiers were killed and 54 wounded in a suicide car bombing north of Miran Shah, North Waziristan's main town, the army said.
A document announcing the end of the peace pact in North Waziristan was passed around in the bazaar in Miran Shah. The signatories referred to themselves as the Taliban, a term commonly used by militants in northwest Pakistan, though their links with the Taliban fighting in neighboring Afghanistan are murky.
Under the Sept. 5, 2006, truce, the Pakistan army pulled back to barracks tens of thousands of troops that had been involved in bloody operations against suspected Taliban and al-Qaida hideouts, and militants agreed to halt attacks in Pakistan and over the border against foreign troops in Afghanistan. Tribal elders were supposed to police the deal.
Musharraf had clung to the agreement and similar pacts in neighboring areas, arguing that, by empowering tribal leaders to police their own fiefdoms in return for development aid, they offered the only chance of bringing long-term stability.
However, critics have argued that Musharraf's decision to cut a deal effectively handed the Taliban and al-Qaida a safe haven from which to plot attacks in Pakistan, Afghanistan and in the West.