Pakistan: protests as air strike wipes out madrassa in Tribal Areas

Pakistan’s army admitted Oct. 31 it had killed up to 80 in an early-morning strike on a supposedly al-Qaeda-linked madrassa in a tribal area near the Afghan border. The military action sparked protests in the area, and in the neighbouring North-West Frontier Province, where a local minister belonging to the opposition Jamaat-e-Islami resigned. The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, the religious coalition that rules the province, announced it would organize nation-wide protests beginning Oct. 31. Qazi Hussein Ahmed, leader of JI and the MMA, rejected the military claim that the madrasa was harboring militants and said a number of children were among the dead. He asserted that the army had acted under pressure from the US.

A Foreign Ministry spokesperson denied this charge, saying “It has nothing to do with any influence or pressure [from the US]. It is something we have been doing for peace and security in the region.” The madrasa in Bajaur agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) was a training facility for militants run by a pro-Taliban commander, Maulvi Liaquat, said Major-General Shaukat Sultan, a spokesman for the Inter-Services Intelligence agency. He said the military had given warnings to the madrassa, located in Chenagai, about 10 kilometers north of the main regional town of Khar, to “close down the facility” but “they failed to do so.”

Helicopter gunships fired missiles into the madrasa at about 5 AM. Maj-Gen. Sultan said the strike destroyed “majority of the facility” and killed most of people inside, including Maulvi Liaquat, who he said is linked to top al-Qaeda leadership. He confirmed that foreigners were among those killed, but said no high-ranking al-Qaeda suspects were in the madrassa. He denied claims that children were killed. According to some reports in Pakistan’s press, local residents held a protest march in Khar after the attack.

Bajaur, one of the seven agencies of FATA, is said to be a Taliban stronghold. Last week, nearly 5,000 Taliban sympathisers reportedly held a rally against the US in Damadola, another town in Bajaur where a US drone fired a missile earlier this year, aiming to kill alleged al- Qaeda number-two man Ayman al-Zawahiri. Pakistan’s government has been trying to organize a tribal jirga in the agency to arrive at an agreement with the locals along the lines of the deals it has struck in North and South Waziristan. (The Hindu, India, Oct. 30)

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