Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

String of Suicide Bombings Unsettles Pakistan

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

String of Suicide Bombings Unsettles Pakistan

Article excerpt

Four suicide bomb attacks in five days have added old fears and new confusion to the uncertainty surrounding Pakistan's historic Feb. 18 elections.

A governing coalition among the winning opposition parties has yet to form, and the future of President Pervez Musharraf remains unclear. Now, a fresh and intensified suicide-bombing campaign - at a time when the Army has reportedly entered into a secret cease- fire agreement with key militants - has left Pakistanis unsure who is attacking them and why, although many cite President Musharraf as a main reason for the trouble.

Analysts say the attacks could be retaliation for continued Army operations in certain parts of the country or a warning to politicians forming the new government.

With no one claiming responsibility or issuing demands, it is a matter of conjecture, which has created "a great deal of concern," says Ahmed Rashid, author of "Taliban." "It is a very weird situation."

The spate of suicide bombings comes after a lull: No suicide bombers struck during the election or in the immediate aftermath. And those that have taken place since have clearly targeted forces allied against terrorists.

On Feb. 25, a suicide bomber killed the military's top medical officer in the central Pakistani city of Rawalpindi, headquarters of the Army.

Last week, suicide bombers hit a military convoy and the funeral of a police officer - both in the tribal areas near Afghanistan - and on Sunday, another blew himself up among a council of tribal elders discussing how to tackle militancy.

Yesterday's blast continued the trend, killing six at the gates of a naval college in Lahore, the capital of the relatively safe Punjabi heartland, although there is no clear coordination.

Though the Army denies it, media reports indicate that it has declared a cease-fire with militants in the tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan, including with Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistani Taliban. Yet the attacks continue.

Past cease-fires were controversial, "but they always did actually hold the peace," says Mr. Rashid. While it appears that the cease-fire is holding in North and South Waziristan, the recent attacks elsewhere "expose the fallacy of the cease-fire option," he adds.

Acts of retaliation?

Theories as to what is motivating the militants vary widely. Some note that the Army is still carrying out operations in other parts of the tribal belt beyond the Waziristans. There are reports of houses being leveled in the town of Darra Adamkhel as well as in the Swat Valley, which are both in Pakistan's militant-heavy northwest. …

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