Violence Kills More Than 60 in Northwest Pakistan
Bombing at Army Base Targets Commandos During Dinner
By Griff Witte | Washington Post Foreign Service | September 14, 2007
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Sept. 13 -- More than 60 people died in violence in Pakistan on Thursday, including at least 15 soldiers who were killed by an explosion in a heavily secured dining hall for army commandos.
The blast went off at dinnertime, just as dozens of army officers were sitting down to eat, according to officials, who said the attack was most likely the work of a suicide bomber. It was unclear how the bomber gained access to the tightly controlled base in the northwestern town of Tarbela Ghazi, which is home to the army's elite Special Services Group.
Elsewhere in northwestern Pakistan on Thursday, extremists attacked an army base in the tribal area of South Waziristan, and about 50 were killed in the ensuing clash, military officials said. At least two soldiers also died in the fighting.
In a separate incident in the same area, officials reported that Taliban fighters used a rocket attack to destroy a school where about 90 Pakistani paramilitary troops had been stationed. It was not known how many were in the school at the time, but a local official said that "there seems no hope of survival of any troops in the building" because it had completely collapsed.
Military officials had not reported casualty figures by late Thursday.
The violence, coming on the eve of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which starts Friday in Pakistan, follows an incident late last month in which 200 to 300 Pakistani troops were taken hostage in South Waziristan. The troops, part of the Frontier Corps force that patrols the lawless western border, remain in Taliban custody despite government efforts to free them.
Fighting between the military and extremist guerrillas has escalated markedly since July, when army commandos raided a radical mosque in the heart of Islamabad. A controversial peace deal in North Waziristan collapsed days later, and a second truce fell apart in South Waziristan last month.
Since then, Pakistan's government has been casting about for a new strategy for dealing with the rising tide of extremism in the country. President Pervez Musharraf, a former commando, is confronting intense U.S. pressure to do more to address the problem. But he also faces a population that has grown hostile toward domestic military operations that are part of a war widely seen as driven from Washington.
A poll released this week by a U.S.-based group showed that al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is more popular than Musharraf in Pakistan, but both get far more approval than President Bush. The poll, by the bipartisan group Terror Free Tomorrow, revealed that only 19 percent of Pakistanis have a positive view of the United States.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte met Thursday with Musharraf to discuss counterterrorism efforts. On Wednesday, Negroponte offered unstinting support to the general, saying Pakistan under Musharraf is "more than doing its share in the war against terror."
Negroponte declined to criticize Musharraf for deporting former prime minister Nawaz Sharif on Monday, calling the move an internal matter.
Musharraf is in the midst of the fight of his political life as he tries to hold off a burgeoning pro-democracy movement. He is seeking to be reelected by parliament and regional assemblies within the next month, but the Supreme Court is expected to hear a petition next week alleging he is ineligible to run because of his other job as army chief.
Some of Musharraf's advisers have urged him to declare emergency rule before he can be disqualified, and attacks by extremists could be used as a pretext.
Special correspondent Imtiaz Ali in Karachi, Pakistan, contributed to this report.