Air raids, insurgency rock Waziristan

Pakistani soldiers and tribal fighters in North Waziristan are observing an unofficial ceasefire while tribesmen bury their fallen killed in air raids. At least 250, including dozens of soldiers, have died and thousands have fled in five days of fierce battles. Residents say up to 50 were killed in Oct. 9 air strikes, some while shopping at a village bazaar. (AlJazeera, Oct. 10) The fighting pitted militants of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Pashtun tribal force led by Baitullah Meshud against Pakistani army and paramilitary forces. A jirga of leading North Waziristan clerics led by a former member of the National Assembly, Maulana Nek Zaman Haqqani, following day-long negotiations received the bodies of 30 slain soldiers from the jihadis and handed them over to military officials. The clashes, centered on the Mir Ali area, started after the Uzbek fighters ambushed a security forces convoy Oct. 6. (Rediff, India, Oct. 10)

Pakistani “Taliban” leader Baitullah Mehsud has threatened to dispatch a “suicide squad” to greet Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister who is returning from exile this month to participate in parliamentary elections.

On Oct. 9, a helicopter accompanying strongman Pervez Musharraf on a visit to Kashmir crashed in flames, killing four on board and injuring the general’s spokesman. The crash revived memories of how the country’s previous military ruler, Gen Zia-ul Haq, died in an unexplained explosion on board a Pakistani military helicopter in 1988. (UK Telegraph, Oct. 10)

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  1. Official complicity in suicide attack on Benazir Bhutto?
    Baitullah Mehsud seems to have made good on his threat, as a suicide attack on Benazir Bhutto’s motorcade greeted her arrival in Pakistan, leaving 136 dead. Bhutto survived the attack, and pledged defiance to the militants—and also raised the possibility that they were aided by elements of the security apparatus. From VOA, Oct. 19:

    Ms. Bhutto said that there were circumstances about the attack that needed to be investigated, particularly why streetlights along her motorcade route were not working, forcing her guards to use floodlights to search the crowd for threats.

    “And while I’m not blaming the government for the assassination attacks on me at this stage, nonetheless, we need to have an inquiry as to why the streetlights have been shut (off),” Bhutto said.

    Witnesses along her route said security had been tight at the start of Ms. Bhutto’s procession from the airport in Karachi following her return to Pakistan after eight years of self-imposed exile. But they said the police cordon around her grew more lax after several hours.