March 22, 2014

PAKISTAN: Taliban Islamist Militants MURDERED 11 INNOCENT People Including A Judge In Suicide Attack At An Islamabad Court Two Days After Pakistani Taliban Announces Ceasefire

The Guardian UK
written by Jon Boone in Lahore
Monday March 3, 2014

Suicide attackers killed 11 people including a judge in a highly unusual assault on the Pakistani capital on Monday. The assault is likely to cast further doubt over whether the government’s policy of negotiating with militants can bring terrorism to an end.

It was the most serious attack in Islamabad in five years and came just days after the government and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the country’s biggest militant coalition, announced a ceasefire.

A TTP splinter group called Ahrar-ul-Hind claimed responsibility for the attack saying the courts were targeted because they are not bound by the strict Islamic law militant groups demand should govern the entire country.

The group, whose name means “Liberators of India”, recently broke away from the TTP because it opposes any discussions with the government.

At least six gunmen in their mid-20s, two of whom were wearing bomb vests, launched the attack early on Monday in Islamabad’s legal district – a warren of cramped district courts and offices housing lawyers, judges and clerks.

Witnesses said the attackers, dressed in shalwar qameez, traditional dress, fired indiscriminately and threw grenades before escaping into the city. The two suicide bombers appeared to target specific offices.

“They had automatic weapons,” said Murad Ali, a lawyer who saw the attackers enter a courtroom. “I saw them shooting a female lawyer.”

Among the dead was Rafaqat Ahmed Awan – a district judge who recently rejected an appeal to charge Pakistan’s former military dictator Pervez Musharraf with the killing of religious students during an operation in 2007 to seize control of the Lal Masjid, a mosque in Islamabad that had attempted to impose sharia law on the capital.

The Lal Masjid affair – in which more than 100 people were killed – remains a source of anger among the country’s Islamists and led to the formation of the TTP a few months later.

The banned group denied any involvement in Monday’s attack and condemned it. Over the weekend TTP appealed to its many “sub-groups” to respect the leadership’s decision to halt attacks.
On Saturday, TTP, which is responsible for thousands of deaths since it was established, declared a month-long ceasefire following growing military pressure on the group.

In response, the government on Sunday announced it would call off any more air strikes on militant hideouts in north-west Pakistan that have been ongoing since 20 February.

Critics of the government said the Islamabad attack proved peace talks were futile given the disparate array of militant groups ranged against the state. Others fear the talks could be sabotaged by outside interests intent on destabilising the country.

Imran Khan, the cricketer turned rightwing politician, strongly supports peace efforts and believes a military operation would be a disaster. He said Washington was the greatest threat to peace talks. He told reporters that “the biggest hand behind this is America’s” because of the killing of the TTP’s former leader in a US drone strike last year. He added: “[The] US wants to keep Pakistan army engaged in the country while it exits Afghanistan.”

In a separate incident on Monday, a roadside bomb killed two soldiers and injured four more in the restive ­Federally Administered Tribal Agencies, ­Pakistan’s army said.

For months the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, has resisted ­lobbying by the military to launch a major operation to dislodge the TTP from North Waziristan – a tribal area bordering Afghanistan that has become a sanctuary for terrorist groups. Members of his faction of the Pakistan Muslim League fear it would trigger retaliatory attacks in urban Punjab – the party’s political heartland.

But one group convinced that military action is inevitable are residents of North Waziristan who have been streaming out of the area in recent weeks.

“I have locked my home and left it to the mercy of God,” said Khalid Usman, a 55-year-old who moved his family from the village of Mirali Haider Khell on Friday. “At night we have been hearing jet strikes targeting militant hideouts and I was terrified my family would be hurt.”

As many as 40,000 people may have already left North Waziristan, according to some unofficial estimates.

Some of those fleeing complained that the government had not done anything to help them find accommodation and that landlords had hiked up rents.

“For the last five days I have been searching for somewhere to rent,” said Najib Ullah, a 28-year-old father. “Landlords are taking advantage of us and I’ve been unable to find even a small place with basic facilities like water.”

Another refugee, Rozina Bibi, said women like her had been forced to sell their gold to pay for accommodation. “Everyone is just looking out for themselves and the government has done nothing to help us,” she said.

The civilians are right to leave, said analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi.

In common with other leading commentators he believes a major military operation in North Waziristan is inevitable in the coming weeks because the Pakistani army is determined to seize back control of the agency before the end of the Nato combat mission in Afghanistan this year.

Commentators are divided over whether the TTP was concealing its involvement in the Monday morning attack – whether it was the work of any number of other groups not beholden to the TTP or outside forces.

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