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Militant Attacks Renew Questions on Pakistan’s Security

October 12, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Violence continued in Pakistan on Monday as militants detonated a car bomb in a crowded market in the northwest of the country. Gwen Ifill talks to a reporter in Islamabad about the renewed attacks.

GWEN IFILL: For more on the bombings in Pakistan, I spoke earlier today with Chris Brummitt, the Associated Press bureau chief in Islamabad.

Chris Brummitt, welcome.

CHRIS BRUMMITT, Associated Press: Good afternoon.

GWEN IFILL: When we look at what’s happened in the past few days, it seems that they seem to be targeting particularly high-profile places, targets. Is that so?

CHRIS BRUMMITT: Well, certainly there’s been four attacks, four major attacks now over the last eight days in Pakistan, two of which I guess you — you could call high-profile. There was a suicide bombing at the — at a U.N. office here in Islamabad.

And, over the weekend, there was an attack on the army headquarters which, in Pakistan, you can’t get much more — much more high-profile than that. So — so, you’re right.

GWEN IFILL: So, to whom are they attributing all this new instability?

CHRIS BRUMMITT: Well, I mean, very broadly, it’s Islamists militants of some — of some stripe.

More specifically, most of the blame is — is being laid upon the Pakistani Taliban, which are based up in the northwest of the country. They’re mostly Pashtun. And they’re — they are seeking to overthrow the Pakistani government. They’re also allied strongly with the Taliban across the border in Afghanistan.

But over — in recent years, they have also formed linkages with al Qaeda and preexisting Pakistani militant groups. So, it’s a whole mixture of militant networks here.

GWEN IFILL: A lot of the debate here in the States is about whether it’s al Qaida or whether it’s the Taliban or some mixture of both. In this case, do you think it’s a mixture of both?

CHRIS BRUMMITT: Well, the — the Pakistani Taliban have claimed responsibility for the two most high-profile attacks, where the victims were U.N. staffers or — and the attack over the weekend at the army headquarters.

They have not claimed responsibility for the two attacks which killed mostly Pakistani civilians. Perhaps there’s little public relations benefit if they do that. But many analysts say that, especially the attack today, there are indications that they may have worked together with some other militant groups based in the Punjab, which is Pakistan’s most populous province.

These militants groups have been there pretty much — well, since before 2001, when — when they were used as proxies in Afghanistan and — and India by the Pakistani military. And, in recent years, they have been pretty much coalescing. They have the same aim, which is to overthrow the government. They’re very anti-U.S. So, the U.S. presence across the border has also served a unifying factor, really.

GWEN IFILL: Were Pakistani authorities warned in advance? There have been some reports to that effect.

CHRIS BRUMMITT: Well, I think, ever since the head of the Pakistani Taliban was killed in a missile strike in early August, the militants themselves have warned of — of more attacks, and authorities have been repeating that they — they also expect some form of retaliation.

But, just in July, there was a — a police crime — a criminal investigation department report specifically mentioning that militants may try and attack the army headquarters, and specifically militants wearing army uniforms.

Now, whether this made it — made its way up to army headquarters, I don’t know. But, certainly, whilst the attack on the H.Q. was — was shocking in its audacity and the fact it targeted, you know, the most high-profile institution in the country, I think, after three years of very, very frequent attacks, no one really here is that surprised when another attack here occurs.

Trigger for recent attacks

Chris Brummitt
Associated Press
Ever since the head of the Pakistani Taliban was killed in a missile strike in early August, the militants themselves have warned of more attacks, and authorities have been repeating that they also expect... retaliation.

GWEN IFILL: So, Chris, can you tell us about the commando leader who was arrested?

CHRIS BRUMMITT: Yes, I can tell you what Pakistani officials have been saying today.

The guy is called Aqeel. He used to be a -- work for the army medical corps. And then he became a militant himself. I mean, he has close associations with two militant groups in the Punjab. And, more recently, he's been aligning himself with the Taliban based up in the northwest.

He's also been blamed for a very audacious attack -- very audacious attack earlier this year on the -- on a visiting cricket team in Lahore, which got headlines all around the world, you might remember. So, he's certainly a very significant figure. At least, the Pakistani army believe he is to be -- believe he's a very important militant. And -- and they're pleased to have -- pleased to have arrested him, even if it was after the siege.

GWEN IFILL: There have also been reports that the Pakistani government has been saying that they're going to step up their involvement in South Waziristan, and that this may have triggered some of these attacks.

What do you know about that?

CHRIS BRUMMITT: Well, the -- there was a briefing this afternoon at the army headquarters. And the general there said that he -- he thought that the -- the attacks were indeed an attempt to sort of put the army off-balance and stop them from moving into South Waziristan.

South Waziristan is considered the main Taliban, the main al Qaeda stronghold in Pakistan. And, ever since 2001, the army has been almost, you could say, ambivalent about moving in. I mean, they have tried three occasions. Each time, they have been pushed back.

Now, I think with -- under increased U.S. pressure and also perhaps the realization that the people there are also enemies of the Pakistani state, they are prepared -- they are preparing, I should say, to -- to enter in what could be a major ground offensive.

Having said that, they have not said when or -- or in what numbers they will do this. So, I think, until it happens, it's perhaps best to await judgment a little bit.

GWEN IFILL: Chris Brummitt of the Associated Press, thank you so much.

CHRIS BRUMMITT: Thank you very much.