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Pakistan volleyball game attack: Will local opposition to Taliban hold firm?

The death toll in a volleyball game attack in northwest Pakistan Friday has topped 90. The government may face increased pressure to target militants who slipped out of South Waziristan, where the government has conducted an offensive, and north into neighboring areas.

By Issam AhmedCorrespondent / January 2, 2010

Local residents gather at the site of Friday's suicide car bombing in Pakistan on Saturday.

Ijaz Muhammad/AP

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Lahore, Pakistan

The death toll from a massive suicide attack at a volleyball tournament in northwest Pakistan mounted to 95 on Saturday, in what appears to be another retaliatory strike for recent Army offensives against the Taliban.

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More than 600 civilians have now lost their lives to such attacks since the Pakistan Army began a military offensive in the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan in October. Friday night’s attack was the second deadliest of these, after a market bombing in Peshawar in October that killed 130.

According to police, the main target of the New Year's Day attack in the town of Lakki Marwat was probably a local anti-Taliban militia, as militants seek to underscore their ongoing potency and counter government claims that they are on the defensive.

But despite the setback, local opposition to the Taliban is likely to remain firm, according to Abdul Basit, a security analyst at the Islamabad based Pakistani Institute for Peace Studies.

“The dynamics currently are that people have understood the fact that Taliban militants have broken the social ethos of Pashtun society,” he says, adding, “I don’t believe it will dampen their resolve.”

Militias had received threats

Lakki Marwat borders North Waziristan and is home to a number anti-Taliban militias, known as lashkars, which had been receiving threats in the runup to Friday’s attack.

“We have been receiving threats from militant groups in the North Waziristan,” Mushtaq Marwat told Dawn newspaper.

District police chief Mohammad Ayub said that spectators had gathered on a field on Friday evening to watch two local teams play when an explosive-laden pickup rammed into a nearby wall. Several houses and a portion of a nearby mosque where a militia meeting was in progress were also destroyed in the blast, according to Gul Janan, a member of the committee.

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