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String of suicide bombings unsettles Pakistan

The latest, at a naval college in Lahore Tuesday, was the fourth in five days.

By Mark Sappenfield –Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor, Rana Kashif –Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor / March 5, 2008

Attack: Two suicide bombers in Lahore killed at least five people Tuesday at the gate of a naval college.

K.M. Chaudary/AP

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NEW DELHI; and LAHORE, PAKISTAN

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

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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?

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