Pakistanis cast doubt on Taliban's role in bin Laden revenge attack

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack avenging bin Laden's death today. But local police doubt that the Taliban was directly involved, or that revenge was the main motive.

Muhammed Muheisen/AP
Soldiers of a Pakistani paramilitary force stand guard at the site of a bombing outside a paramilitary training center in Shabqadar, near Peshawar, Pakistan, May 13. A pair of suicide bombers attacked recruits leaving the training center on Friday, killing 80 people in the first retaliation for the killing of Osama bin Laden by American commandos last week.

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The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for two suicide bombings Friday morning in Pakistan's northwest that killed at least 80 people, saying they were meant to avenge Osama bin Laden's death.

“This was the first revenge for Osama’s martyrdom. Wait for bigger attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan,” said Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP).

But despite public anger over the US raid that killed bin Laden in his Abbottabad compound, the Taliban's purported revenge attacks today don't appear to have resonated with Pakistanis.

Local police told The New York Times that they doubt the Taliban is actually responsible for the attack, which they believe was a response to a Pakistani Army assault against Taliban militants in a nearby mountain region called Mohmand and was carried out by a splinter group that has been fighting the Army in the region.

Sikandar Hayat Khan Sherpao, a member of the provincial assembly of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, said the training facility has been a frequent target of militant attacks “Basically, the threat is from Mohmand Agency, where militants still have pockets and are active,” he said.

“I feel that this attack is not in retaliation to the Abbottabad incident. Basically, in the last one and a half months, a new military operation has been started in Mohmand as the army is going against militants,” he said. “So this attack can be seen as a retaliation to the Mohmand operation."

Indeed, the Washington Post said a Taliban source speaking on condition of anonymity had disputed his organization's stated reason for the attack, saying it was "intended to punish the military for the Mohmand offensive, not for bin Laden’s killing."

The bombings took place in Shabqadar Tehsil in the Charsadda district in Pakistan's northwest, a tribal region that is difficult for Pakistan to control and has become a haven for militant groups.

According to the Washington Post, US special forces were involved in training the paramilitary forces at the facility. Pakistani militant groups are vocally opposed to the cooperation between the US and the Pakistani government and security forces, and they frequently target security installations.

Revenge attacks were expected – last week, the Pakistani Taliban threatened to attack the country's security forces – but there has been little public protest of bin Laden's death. There is not much sympathy for him among the majority of Pakistanis, who have suffered more deaths from bomb attacks in the past few years than Americans died in 9/11, AFP reports.

Most of the public outrage has stemmed from the fact that the US carried out the raid without Pakistan's knowledge or consent, not that the raid ended with bin Laden's death. The fact that the attack on Pakistani men was a response to unilateral US actions may only increase popular anger toward the US, according to The Washington Post.

Pakistan's prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, suggested this week in an exclusive interview with Time magazine that rising public anger in his country could force him to act against US interests.

Pakistan has been put in a tough spot since the bin Laden raid – while the US demands an explanation for how bin Laden could have lived in the country undetected for years, the Pakistani public is demanding that their government put limits on what the US can do in Pakistani territory.

The Pakistani newspaper The Nation reported prior to the attack that Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani is likely to decrease Pakistan's reliance on the US for training and security assistance and from now on cooperate only at the minimum level necessary to ensure that Pakistan continues to receive US aid. At the same time, the US is demanding that the military sever its ties with militant groups – a demand that will be hard to meet.

The American wish list is tantamount to an overnight transformation of Pakistan’s long held strategic posture that calls for using the militant groups as proxies against Pakistan’s neighbors, they said. It comes as General Kayani faces mounting anti-American pressure from hard-line generals in his top command, two of the people who met with him said. Many in the lower ranks of the military have greater sympathy for the militant groups than for the United States.

To take out the leadership of these groups — longtime assets of the Pakistani Army and intelligence services — would result in such a severe backlash from the militants that a “civil war” in Pakistan would result, said a former senior Pakistani official who was consulted by General Kayani in the aftermath of the Bin Laden raid. Many in the lower ranks of the military have greater sympathy for the militant groups than for the United States.

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