Militants in Pakistan Flout Peace Agreement
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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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