Militants Hit Pakistan Spy Agency

The New York Times 

Mohammad Sajjad/Associated Press

An ambulance sped to the site of a suicide bombing in Peshawar, Pakistan, on Friday.

November 14, 2009

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Militants stepped up their fight against the Pakistani government in western Pakistan on Friday, the same day the American national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones, met with top Pakistani officials here in the capital.

The insurgents rammed a truck bomb into a regional office of the country’s main intelligence agency in Peshawar, sending a message that they were able to hit even the most important official zones in Pakistan. The explosion, which left at least 11 people dead and more than 60 wounded, came just hours before General Jones began meetings with Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, and its army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

General Jones briefed Mr. Zardari and other senior officials on the American strategy for Afghanistan, said a Pakistani official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of diplomatic protocol.

President Obama had “promised that Pakistan will be taken into confidence on Afghan strategy,” the official said, and that General Jones’s visit on Friday “constituted that taking into confidence.”

There was no doubt about the target or the motive of the bombing on Friday: Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, is a prominent symbol of military power, and militants have struck at it in different cities in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s military is conducting a sweeping campaign against the Taliban in Waziristan, a region on the border with Afghanistan. The campaign has led to a sharp increase in reprisals by militants, and Friday’s is believed to be yet another in the series.

Peshawar, a bustling city in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, has been hit particularly hard, with near-daily bombings that have unsettled residents and interrupted daily rhythms. Schools in the area of the blast were closed for the day.

“The underlying idea is to shake the people’s confidence in the military’s efforts,” said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a military analyst in Lahore. “It’s a kind of strategy — well planned, well thought-out — to pressure the government through ordinary people.”

Malik Shafqat Cheema, the head of the bomb disposal squad, said the driver had managed to ram an explosives-laden small truck into the main entrance of a building in the compound, killing three private security guards outside the building and four guards inside.

The guards at the gate shot at the approaching vehicle but failed to hit the driver. “And then he detonated,” said a security official based in Peshawar who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Witnesses confirmed hearing gunshots before the blast. “I heard some firing,” a wounded man told a private television station. “Then there was a flash, and then, boom.”

The building’s roof and the compound’s boundary walls came down in the explosion. Residents said the explosion could be heard around the city, rattling windows.

Militants have hidden in Pakistan’s western tribal areas for years, but have only recently begun to attack the state itself. That shift eventually prompted broad military action, representing a break from the past, when the military and Pakistani society were deeply ambivalent about fighting militants.

Mr. Rizvi, the military analyst, said he believed that violence in Pakistan would be reduced over time as the military made more progress in its operation in Waziristan.

He also said that the authorities in Punjab, the country’s most populous province, had arrested dozens of local residents suspected of having links to the Taliban. The arrests, Mr. Rizvi said, had weakened the militancy in Punjab, where several high-profile attacks took place this year, including a brazen assault on the Sri Lankan cricket team.

Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the information minister for the North-West Frontier Province, vowed to expand the fight against militants. “Let the operation not stop at South Waziristan,” he said. “We need to chase them everywhere, not just South Waziristan.”

The explosion in Peshawar was the largest on Friday. Elsewhere, an attack on a police station in the district of Bannu left as many as six people dead.

Meanwhile, Pakistani television reported that five NATO trucks were attacked Friday morning in the province of Baluchistan. One driver was killed.

Sabrina Tavernise reported from Islamabad, and Ismail Khan from Peshawar, Pakistan.


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