Twin blasts hit Islamabad as Pakistan continues Waziristan offensive

Two were killed and 20 injured in the attacks at an Islamic university. They follow a rise in assaults that may be in retaliation for the Army's offensive in the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan.

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Twin suicide blasts rocked a university in Islamabad Tuesday as Pakistan said it had surrounded a key militant stronghold on the fourth day of its offensive in South Waziristan.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the bombings, which killed at least two people and wounded 20 more, reports the Associated Press. They follow a series of major assaults that may be in retaliation for Pakistan's push to conquer the Taliban and Al Qaeda stronghold, where it says it has already killed nearly 80 militants.

The bombers detonated their explosives nearly simultaneously in a women's cafeteria and the Islamic law department at the International Islamic University, which more than 12,000 students attend, reports the AP.

The Army said Tuesday it had surrounded Kotkai, the home of top Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud and Qari Hussein, a senior Taliban commander responsible for training suicide bombers, reports the BBC. (See a detailed map of the operation at the same link.)

Pakistani forces briefly took Kotkai overnight, before the Taliban launched a counterattack that killed seven soldiers, reports the BBC. The militants are putting up a fierce fight against the three-pronged offensive launched Saturday to take control of the lawless area in Pakistan's tribal belt along the border with Afghanistan. About 28,000 troops have poured into the area, where both sides are exchanging heavy fire, while the Pakistani Air Force is pounding militant bases, reports The New York Times.

Pakistan has twice before tried and failed to wrest control of South Waziristan from the militants, who may number up to 10,000. In an effort to increase their chances of winning this time, the military dropped leaflets on South Waziristan urging the Mehsud tribe to cooperate with the Army, reports the Pakistani daily Dawn.

The Mehsuds, who make up a large part of South Waziristan's population, also fill the Taliban's ranks. Dawn reports that Pakistani Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani attempted to woo the tribesmen away from the Taliban in the leaflets, written in Pashto and Urdu, telling them the offensive was not aimed at them but at foreign terrorists and "local militias."

Pakistan also made deals Monday with two powerful militant chiefs to keep them from joining the fight, the Associated Press reports.

Under the terms agreed to about three weeks ago, Taliban renegades Maulvi Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadur will stay out of the current fight in parts of South Waziristan controlled by the Pakistani Taliban. They will also allow the army to move through their own lands unimpeded, giving the military additional fronts from which to attack the Taliban.
In exchange, the army will ease patrols and bombings in the lands controlled by Nazir and Bahadur, two Pakistani intelligence officials based in the region told The Associated Press.

Pakistan's deal with the anti-American militants boosts concern in the US that Pakistan targets only the militants that represent a threat to its own security, while ignoring others that the US considers a major threat, as The Christian Science Monitor reported Monday. So far, the US has responded with cautious support for the Pakistan's current operation.

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