Suicide bombers struck today in two areas of north-western Pakistan, killing up to 38 people, while Taliban militants broke a 10-month-old peace pact with the government along the frontier with Afghanistan.
The militants said the ceasefire agreement was being terminated in North Waziristan, where Taliban and al-Qaida operate, because government forces had attacked the militants, failed to pay compensation to those harmed and created problems at check points.
“The peace agreement has ended,” Abdullah Farad, a militant spokesman, told journalists in the city of Peshawar.
He said the Taliban chief in North Waziristan, Maulvi Gul Badahar, made the decision at a council meeting after the government had failed to abide by its demand that it withdraw troops from checkpoints by 4pm (11am Irish time) today.
The announcement came as suspected militants launched suicide attacks and a roadside bomb in the north-west which together killed 38 persons and wounded more than 80.
The government has deployed thousands of troops to the restive region to thwart calls by extremists for a holy war to avenge the bloody storming of Islamabad’s Red Mosque last week.
Three blasts struck a military convoy in Swat, a mountainous area of North West Province, killing 18 people and wounding 47, a government official said, citing an official report being sent to Islamabad.
The official said two explosive-laden vans driven by the suicide bombers rammed the convoy. He said the dead also included seven civilians.
Earlier, army spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad said 14 soldiers and civilians died when the convoy was hit by two suicide attackers and a roadside bomb very near the town of Matta.
It was not immediately possible to reconcile the two different death tolls.
A gun battle erupted between soldiers and assailants after the ambush but the attackers later retreated, police said.
Bodies and the wounded were pulled from the shattered military vehicles. Helmets, an engine, and pieces of twisted metal were strewn over a wide area, some of it stained with blood.
In the day’s second attack, a suicide bomber targeted scores of people taking medical and written exams for recruitment to the police force in the city of Dera Ismail Khan. The blast killed 20 people and wounded 35, said police officer Mohammed Aslam.
More than 150 people were in the grounds of the police headquarters when the bomber struck. Aslam said the suicide bomber’s head and suicide vest had been found.
On Saturday, at least 24 soldiers were killed and 29 wounded on a road near Daznaray, a village about 30 miles north of Miran Shah, the main town in the North Waziristan tribal region, Arshad said.
The driver ploughed his explosives-laden vehicle into the convoy.
Although no one claimed responsibility for the attack, Arshad said it may have been in response to the bloody army raid on the Red Mosque on Wednesday.
Tensions are high in Pakistan after the raid, which ended an eight-day siege with a hard-line cleric and his militant supporters. More than 100 died during the stand-off.
In Islamabad, authorities detained Shah Abdul Aziz, a National Assembly member from an alliance of religious parties, for allegedly inciting people against the government during the Red Mosque siege.
The region along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan has seen increased activity by local militants, the Taliban and al Qaida.
Arshad said reinforcements had been sent to the north-west to beef up some 90,000 troops already in the region. Officials say fresh troops have moved into at least five areas.
One of the army’s apparent targets is radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah, who has pressed for Taliban-style rule in Pakistan – much like the leaders of the Red Mosque. Fazlullah was accused of telling supporters to prepare for jihad, or holy war, against President General Pervez Musharraf to avenge the mosque assault.
Intelligence sources in Swat said that Fazlullah announced on an FM radio station on Saturday night he was fleeing to an unknown destination because he was about to be arrested.
Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao said attacks on security forces in recent days foreshadowed the militants’ intentions.
“Although they have come up with a clear announcement now for ending the peace agreement, the recent wave of terrorism in the north of the country was indicative,” Sherpao said. “The government at no level has yet been informed (of the end of the peace deal).”
A document, signed by the shura, or council, of North Waziristan, announcing the pact’s end was passed around in the bazaar of the region’s main city Miran Shah. The signatories referred to themselves as the Taliban, a term commonly used by some Pakistani militants in north-west Pakistan.
Under the September 5, 2006 truce, soldiers manning security posts throughout the region returned to their barracks and militants agreed to no longer take part in attacks in Pakistan or Afghanistan. Militants were also prevented from fanning extremism.
The earlier presence of Pakistani troops had angered fiercely independent tribesmen and sparked a violent anti-government campaign that killed hundreds of soldiers, militants and civilians.
Following its decision to join the US war on terror in 2001, Pakistan sent some 90,000 troops to the north-west.
While the agreement ended much of the violence, critics said the truce gave the militants a safe haven from which to plan and launch attacks on Afghan, US and Nato forces in Afghanistan.
Pakistani officials countered that the pact helped soften militancy by letting tribal leaders in the North Waziristan region to police their own people, rather than using violent military operations.