Militants in Pakistan Flout Peace Agreement

Militants in northwest Pakistan launched suicide attacks and bombings over the weekend in an area where Islamist militancy has been growing steadily. The attacks followed calls from extremists to avenge the government's storming of the Red Mosque in Islamabad.

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer in for Renee Montagne.

There's been a weekend of violence in northwestern Pakistan. Some 70 people were killed in suicide bombing attacks. Attacks seen as revenge for the government's decision to storm the Red Mosque in Islamabad. Close to 100 people died there last week.

We're joined now by NPR's Philip Reeves who's in Islamabad. Could you tell me more about these attacks in the north, Phil? How many were there? What were the targets?

PHILIP REEVES: Well, there were big ones and they targeted the police and soldiers. They all involved suicide bombers. One was in the area of Swat, which is particularly large, and a military convoy was attacked by two suicide bombers, more or less simultaneously, and also a roadside bomb. And the blasts were so strong that they caused several houses to collapse. A few hours after that, reports started coming in of more deaths caused by a suicide attack against new police recruits in the town of Dera Ismail Khan. So in the end the death toll for just one day was believed to be at least 45, and that's not to mention the scores of people who were maimed.

WERTHEIMER: I understand the militants in the northwest border region have pulled out of a peace agreement and now the government is sending more troops up there. What's the significance of these developments?

REEVES: Well, this concerns North Waziristan - that's one of the tribal regions which border Afghanistan. Last September, General Musharraf, Pakistan's military ruler, struck a peace deal with tribal leaders there, which was intended to stop militants attacking the Pakistani army in the area, and also to stop militants from infiltrating into Afghanistan to attack American and NATO and Afghan government forces there. Now, the Taliban's circulating leaflets in North Waziristan saying that the truce is over and they blame the Pakistani government for this, saying that it failed to keep various commitments.

The truth, though, is that the truce was already very shaky. The Bush administration had been stepping up pressure on Pakistan to intervene in the tribal areas. They argued that the agreement has failed - the peace agreement - and was actually only serving to strengthen the Taliban and to turn the tribal areas into a haven for militants.

WERTHEIMER: Now, General Musharraf was in a relatively perilous position politically before this happened. What does this do to him?

REEVES: Well, he faces some serious problems on a number of fronts. The increasingly violent Islamist extremists that we've talked about, but also continuing pressure from the secular political opposition parties and from the legal community and from others who mobilized after Musharraf tried to kick out the chief justice in March. They are still pressing for free and fair elections and they say they're committed to opposing any effort by Musharraf to secure a new term as president while also remaining army chief of staff.

There's also a lot of unease amongst Pakistanis about what happened at the Red Mosque last week - both the storming of the mosque and the preceding siege and about how the confrontation evolved in the first place. In addition to all this, the army is now taking a lot of casualties. When they last went into the tribal areas and tried to use force, they lost some 600 soldiers. Now, they are a main pillar of Musharraf's support, so he is in an unenviable position.

WERTHEIMER: And the mood in Pakistan today?

REEVES: It's somber. It's uneasy. The country has seen a lot of bloodshed in recent years, but these latest attacks were larger and bloodier than most. And there's also concern about the probability of more attacks.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Philip Reeves is in Islamabad, Pakistan's capital. Thanks very much.

REEVES: You're welcome.

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Pakistani Militants Tear Up Truce, Launch Attacks

Pakistani authorities on Monday were investigating a weekend of suicide attacks that killed at least 73 people, tracking suspected links between the bombings and the army's recent assault on a mosque held by Islamic extremists.

Powerful tribal groups in the country's west – many with strong ties to the Taliban - also rescinded a peace treaty with the government, adding to the pressure building on President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's pro-U.S. government.

On Sunday, two suicide bombers and a roadside bomb struck a military convoy near Swat, while a suicide bomber targeted scores of people taking exams for recruitment to the police in the city of Dera Ismail Khan.

Officials also have said that several "foreign militants" – code for Arab and Afghan fighters with links to the Taliban -Qaida - were among more than 100 killed during an eight-day army siege of the mosque, but have provided no evidence to support that.

Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said the government looking into a connection with the weekend bombings. Sherpao, speaking to Geo television news, did not elaborate.

The attacks on Saturday and Sunday followed strident calls by extremists to avenge the government's bloody storming of the mosque and a declaration of jihad, or holy war, by at least one pro-Taliban cleric.

Meanwhile, militants in North Waziristan also tore up a pact forged by Musharraf's government, stepping up pressure on the military leader as he struggles with both Islamic extremists and a gathering pro-democracy movement.

Abdullah Farhad, a militant spokesman who announced the termination of the 10-month-old cease-fire with militants in the North Waziristan region, said Taliban leaders made the decision after the government failed to withdraw troops from checkpoints in the region. He also accused authorities of launching attacks and failing to compensate those harmed.

The U.S. national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, expressed support but also voiced some criticism of Musharraf's performance against militants.

"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," Hadley told Fox News.

The United States said in March it would give Pakistan $750 million in economic development aid aimed at undercutting support for extremists in the northwest. However, it is unclear how the funds, which are to be released over five years, will be spent in a region where the government has little control.

The government deployed thousands of troops to restive areas of North West Frontier Province in recent days in hopes of stemming the backlash from the Red Mosque. But they failed to prevent the suicide attacks and bombings that killed a total of 73 people.

Dera Ismail Khan was put on high alert Monday, with police checking vehicles leaving and entering the city, said Gul Afzal Afridi, a senior police officer.

Since the mosque siege began July 3, 105 people have died in militant attacks, almost all of them in the northwest, according to an Associated Press count compiled from official sources. Among them were 72 members of the security forces.

From Associated Press reports

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