Ahead Of Offensive In Pakistan, Officials Meet
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
It's been another violent week in Pakistan. And today the country's army chief briefed its political leadership on a planned offensive. Its target: a Taliban stronghold along the border with Afghanistan. The wave of deadly attacks that militants have unleashed across the country is seen as an attempt to forestall that offensive.
From Islamabad, NPR's Julie McCarthy reports.
JULIE MCCARTHY: An explosion ripped through an office of the police central investigative agency in Peshawar today, the second bombing in two days in the capital of the North-West Frontier Province.
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MCCARTHY: The blast tore the walls from the police building and killed at least 11 people - mostly civilians. Authorities believe three suicide bombers were involved in the grisly attack - one of them a woman. Khalid Aziz, the former chief secretary of the province, believes that it was mission that had gone wrong. Otherwise, why waste so many resources on one target, he says? That a woman may have been involved is rare, but Aziz says, not unheard of.
KHALID AZIZ: It's not outside the realm of possibility that women are now coming in. What we are dealing with is a form of cultism. These are (unintelligible), but like cults, developed around a few individuals. So it's a big psychological black hole that we are dealing with.
MCCARTHY: Pakistanis are waiting to hear when the military will move in to the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan along the Afghan border. U.S. officials believe that the commanders of Pakistan's Taliban work hand in glove with the leadership of al-Qaida in that region. Analyst Shafqat Mahmood says the recent stream of well-orchestrated attacks bear the hallmark of al-Qaida.
SHAFQAT MAHMOOD: Without a doubt, al-Qaida is involved. Al-Qaida may be controlling and directing it.
MCCARTHY: Analysts say that with a major military operation in Waziristan imminent, the Taliban is launching attacks on the country while it has the wherewithal. Army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told reporters this week...
ATHAR ABBAS: They have earlier warned us that there will be acts of terrorism and these kind of suicide attacks in our cities and towns. So, this is an attempt to bring the state, the government and the military under stress to reconsider or reverse the decision of the operation in their areas.
MCCARTHY: Pakistani jets bombed suspected Taliban targets in South Waziristan today with local media reporting that a dozen militants were killed. Former North-West Frontier Province secretary Khalid Aziz says it's a pattern that is likely to continue and that all the talk about a major operation in Waziristan is quote, "hype." Whatever form the long-awaited offensive takes, he says, is not likely to be a major ground campaign, nor, he says, will any battle in Pakistan's wild tribal area be quick.
AZIZ: Let me put it this way, it's not going to be a football match, a soccer match, which finishes in 90 minutes. It's a triathlon. It goes on and on with different techniques, different variations and reactions coming in because the other side is not going to keep quiet.
MCCARTHY: The recent surge in terror attacks in Pakistani cities highlights the challenges the Obama administration also faces, trying to strengthen Pakistan civilian government while encouraging its military to go after extremists. Strains erupted over the multibillion dollar U.S. aid package for Pakistan. Some provisions, including the need for civilian control over the military, sent up howls of protest, or how the U.S. was violating Pakistani sovereignty.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was dispatched to Washington to seek clarification. Happy with what he got, he returned to parliament today to defend the Kerry-Lugar Act, insisting that it does not seek to micromanage any aspect of Pakistan's military or civil operations.
SHAH MEHMOOD QURESHI: Pakistan has neither conceded any of its authority, nor it intends to concede anything.
Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Islamabad.
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