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Triple threat looms over Pak: Report

world Updated: Oct 14, 2009 02:00 IST
Declan Walsh

Pakistan’s army made a stark admission on Monday of the scale of the threat it faces from a nexus of Punjabi, al Qaeda and Taliban militants whose attacks are increasingly coordinated, include soldiers in their ranks and span the country, according to a report in The Guardian.

The report said, "The unusually frank assessment came as a 13-year-old Taliban suicide bomber struck an army convoy in a small mountain town near the Swat valley, killing 45. It was the fourth militant atrocity to hit Pakistan in eight days of bloodshed that have killed more than 120 people."

Army spokesman, Major General Athar Abbas, described how the 10 attackers came from two different sets of backgrounds. Five of them came from Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous and wealthy province.

The other five were from South Waziristan, a Taliban stronghold at the southern end of the tribal belt.

Abbas said the attackers were led by a Punjabi militant named Aqeel, also known as Dr Usman, but the operation was ordained by a Taliban commander based in South Waziristan.

Abbas said the militants intended to take senior army officers hostage and use them to negotiate the release of more than 100 militants. Other demands included an end to military cooperation with the US and for the former president, General Pervez Musharraf, to be put on trial.

Aqeel, the only surviving attacker and from Pakistani Punjab, was being treated for serious injuries. Aqeel deserted the army in 2004, and joined Jaish-e-Muhammad, a notorious militant group that in recent years has spawned splinter groups which have become allied to al-Qaeda.

The militant attacks come as 28,000 army soldiers prepare to launch an assault on South Waziristan, where an estimated 10,000 fighters are holed up. On Monday, army jets hit Taliban targets in the area for the second day running, in preparation for an offensive the interior minister, Rehman Malik, said was “imminent”.

The army’s admission of ever stronger links between the Taliban, al Qaeda and Punjab-based militant groups was rare public confirmation of a trend analysts have observed for years, said the report.

“We’ve seen this troika nexus in many major terrorist attacks — on the Marriott in Islamabad, on the navy headquarters in Lahore, and on the FIA (Federal Investigation Agency),” said Amir Rana, a terrorism analyst.

In some instances, Rana said, al Qaeda provided the financing, the Taliban logistics, training support, and Punjabi militants executed the operation.

The paper said, the growing importance of the Punjabi factor in local and global militancy has placed the army under pressure to extend crackdown beyond tribal belt.