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Taliban bomb Peshawar in response to Pakistan offensive

The Pakistan offensive against the Taliban is making some progress, but the militants have struck back with a series of suicide attacks in the city of Peshawar. Is this the last gasp of encircled Taliban militants – or a continuing counterattack?

By Issam AhmedCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / November 16, 2009

Local residents look at a demolished building after a car bombing on a police station in Badh Ber, a town near Peshawar, Pakistan on Monday.

Mohammad Sajjad/AP

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Peshawar, Pakistan

Haji Muhammad was carrying a box of chickens to his stall Monday when he saw the pickup truck racing down a Peshawar street. A moment later the truck exploded and he found himself lying on the floor, his right-leg crushed by the tumbling wall of the mosque next door.

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"I don't know how I will be able to look after my wife and three children now," says the shop-keeper, now at the Lady Reading Hospital where many victims of suicide attacks in this northwestern Pakistani city have been taken in recent months.

The car bomb that injured Mr. Mohammed on Monday was aimed at a police station in the Peshawar suburb of Badhaber. The bomb killed four and injured 31 and was the fifth Taliban attack in the city in the last week.

What's not clear is whether such bombings are the last gasp of weakening Taliban fighters – in response to the Pakistani Army offensive in neighboring Waziristan – or a continuing trend.

Peshawar, a city of 2.5 million and the capital of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province is home to most of the country's ethnic Pashtun population. Its proximity to the frontline of Pakistan's battle with the Taliban leadership in South Waziristan make it an easier target for terrorists than the capital Islamabad or the eastern city of Lahore, says Rahimullah Yusufzai, the Peshawar bureau chief of the News, an English-language daily.

While the death toll Monday was mercifully low by recent standards, some observers fear that Taliban fighters may launch another "spectacular" attack soon. "As the Army makes its way through Waziristan, the militants may try to show they still have the ability to lash out," says Mr Yusufzai.

"We're seeing this almost every day now," says Dr. Shiraz Afridi, director of the Lady Reading Hospital's emergency department.

Violence peaking?

Mehmood Shah, a former security chief for Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), argues that violence in Peshawar is peaking and predicts that the Taliban will soon exhaust their supply of suicide-bombers and explosives. "They seem to be acting out of desperation. Once their headquarters is taken it will be increasingly difficult for them to mount these kind of attacks," he says.

"Earlier they could launch audacious strikes in Islamabad and Lahore. Now the frontline has fallen to Peshawar. As the battle goes on it may fall further back to Tank and Bannu, the towns around South Waziristan," says Yusufzai.

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