Masked men on a motorcycle opened fire on an army vehicle in the Bajaur region of Pakistan’s Tribal Areas March 26, killing five members of the military’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), including a major and an assistant director. Bajaur, one of Pakistan’s seven federally administered tribal zones bordering Afghanistan, was the scene of an air-strike on a school in October 2006 that killed 80 people. In January 2006, a purported CIA missile strike in the same area, reportedly aimed at al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, killed 18 people.
The new attack comes a day after federal auuthorites signed an “anti-terror” agreement with tribal elders near Khar, the main town of the Bajur region. “After hectic efforts and talks with [local fighters in the tribal region], we have signed a peace deal with the government to help it fight terrorism,” said Malik Abdul Aziz, head of Bajaur’s tribal council. In return for the tribal elders’ support, the government pledges development projects in the region.
The attack on the ISI agents came as the high school principal was abducted by gunmen in nearby Tank, which borders the South Waziristan tribal region. A relative quoted the armed men as saying: “If you destroy us, you cannot expect safety.” The principal had called for police protection after a group of armed men visited his school to recruit youth to fight in Afghanistan. In the same town, a militant recruiter and a polic officer died in a clash March 26.
Earlier March 27, militants fired eight rockets at a tribal paramilitary fort in Tank and troops retaliated. Activists recently torched video shops and banned barbers from shaving beards in the region. Military operations in the area have left 700 federal and tribal troops and 1,000 insurgents dead since 2001. (AlJazeera, March 23)
Carin Zissis writes for the Council on Foreign Relations Daily Analysis that with extremism growing in the Tribal Areas and protests sweeping the nation, observers fear “Musharraf’s Faltering Grip.”