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Pakistan Attacks Belie Counterterrorism Claims

A man injured in the bomb blast in Nowshera awaits treatment at a hospital in Peshawar.
A man injured in the bomb blast in Nowshera awaits treatment at a hospital in Peshawar.
After a lull of a few months that encouraged local officials to claim that the back of the Taliban had been broken, northern Pakistan has once again been experiencing fresh terrorist attacks over the past 10 days.

A string of attacks since February 17 has claimed the lives of nearly 80 people, injured dozens of others (the majority of them civilians), and torn apart the myth about the success of the military operations and the foolproof security in the volatile tribal regions and the cities.

The latest attack was carried out on February 27 in Nowshera cantonment, where the chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, Ameer Haidar Hoti, who belongs to the Awami National Party (ANP), was holding a public meeting.

The blast took place minutes after Hoti's helicopter took off following the meeting, which was also attended by some of his key cabinet ministers. Ironically, the chief minister made some promises regarding peace and counterterrorism to some of the very people who would soon fall prey to a bomb planted on a motorcycle outside the compound.

Although Pakistani officials make promises of peace in their public meetings, it would appear that they don't believe their own words. Which may explain why the chief minister found it necessary to use a helicopter for the 40-kilometer trip from Peshawar to Nowshera.

On February 24, a suicide attack was carried out on a police station in the city of Peshawar, killing four officers and injuring several others. Police officials told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal that the attack was a reaction to ongoing military operations against the Taliban in tribal areas.

On February 23, an explosive-laden car exploded at a bus station in Peshawar, killing at least 15 people and wounding more than 30. The Taliban, which in most cases instantly claims responsibility for such attacks, was quick to dissociate itself, instead blaming rival Shi'a groups for the blast, which it said was an effort to avenge a February 17 attack in Parachinar, headquarters of the Kurram tribal region.

That blast, just outside the main Parachinar bazaar in Kurram, killed dozens of people, the majority of whom were Shi'a Muslims who for months had resisted the entry of the Taliban into their area and paid for their effort in lives and lost property.

These attacks are being carried out at a time when political parties, and in particular religious groups, have been organizing rallies in many cities in an effort to exert pressure on the Pakistani government not to open NATO supply routes to Afghanistan and to sever cooperation with U.S. forces, in retaliation for a drone campaign against militants in the tribal areas.

The religious groups and pro-Taliban leaders are gathered under the banner of the Defense of Pakistan Council and have been holding meetings in various Pakistani cities.

Since parties and groups like Defense of Pakistan Council and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan often hold public meetings with anti-U.S. and pro-Taliban slogans in public, they apparently never feel threatened by the militants.

Analysts believe, as the campaign for the upcoming general election in Pakistan gears up, the main target of the Taliban and its supporters will be the secular parties, like the Pakistan People’s Party of late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and the ANP.

The February 27 attack on the ANP gathering is the first example.

-- Daud Khattak