Pakistan attacks disrupt an expected postelection calm

Recent suicide bombings raise questions about the country's future after Musharraf.

In four separate incidents over the weekend, suicide bombers struck large gatherings in Pakistan, shattering a fragile sense of optimism that has prevailed since national elections on Feb. 18.

The hope has been that those elections, by empowering Pakistan's moderate, secular parties, could help stem Pakistan's rising tide of extremism, which has left about 500 people dead this year. But for the last week, the elections have not brought a much needed sense of calm and euphoria.

But in what seems to be a stepped-up effort to sow chaos and fear, suicide bombers struck on Friday in Lakki Marwat, in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, killing a district superintendent of police, CNN reports. The following day, militants struck again during that police official's funeral in Swat Valley – where the Army is still battling Taliban militants – killing 46 people. On Saturday, a suicide bomber targeted the vehicle of a security official in Bajaur Agency, a Taliban enclave near the border of Afghanistan, killing 21 people, the Associated Press reports.

The New York Times reports,

Sunday's attack was against a gathering of the five main tribes of Darra Adamkhel, who assembled near a government checkpoint to work out a joint plan against militants in the area. Pakistani security forces started operations in January against local militants in the town, which lies on the main Indus Highway about 20 miles south of Peshawar, after the militants seized several Army weapons trucks. The fighting lasted a week and left scores of security personnel and militants dead.
More than 1,000 tribesmen attended the meeting, voting to form their own force against militants who have been attacking people under a call for Islamization.

The deaths come as President Pervez Musharraf is reportedly increasing efforts to work with tribal leaders to rid Pakistan's tribal area of terrorist groups, Bloomberg news reports.

Musharraf is trying to persuade tribal leaders to expel non-Pakistani terrorists sheltering in the border region where the army has deployed about 100,000 soldiers since it began an operation in 2003 to combat al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters.

This weekend's violence underscores both that Pakistan is facing a new threat from a resurgent Al Qaeda and their Taliban allies, and that Mr. Musharraf's government has been unable to stop, the Associated Press reports.

Militant attacks have increased sharply in Pakistan's border region in the last year.… Officials are worried the increasing instability is allowing al-Qaida to re-establish a presence in the border region…
The Pakistani army is having trouble dealing with the rising insurgency in part because the army is set up to defend Pakistan from outside invaders and not counterinsurgency warfare, [a U.S. military] official said.

The diminished sense of hope following the bombings was expressed in an editorial in The News, a leading English-language daily in Pakistan.

[O]ne can only pity the men and women who form the new government. The challenges they will face are many; none are easy to solve. But it is also important they do not flinch from the task of doing so. Holistic, long-term strategies to deal with terrorism must be put in place, tough decisions taken where necessary, tact used when apt — so that the ugly scenes of senseless bloodshed that stare out at us from television screens and from newspaper pages can be replaced by images that offer more hope for the country and for its people.

Concerns over how the new government will tackle extremism come as experts warn that continued support for Musharraf may only exacerbate tensions inside Pakistan, The New York Times reports.

The Bush administration's continued backing of President Pervez Musharraf despite the overwhelming rejection of his party by voters this month, is fueling a new level of frustration in Pakistan with the United States.
That support has rankled the public, politicians and journalists here, inciting deep anger at what is perceived as American meddling and the refusal of Washington to embrace the new, democratically elected government....
Pakistanis say the Bush administration is grossly misjudging the political mood in Pakistan and squandering an opportunity to win support from the Pakistani public for its fight against terrorism. The opposition parties that won the Feb. 18 parliamentary elections say they are moderate and pro-American. By working with them, analysts say, Washington could gain a vital, new ally.
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