Gunmen opened fire yesterday at the home of the army commander heading the military offensive against Taliban militants in Pakistan’s northwest, sparking a gunbattle just hours after a suicide attack at a police checkpoint, officials said.
The military, meanwhile, sent jet fighters yesterday to bomb suspected militant strongholds in the Bajur tribal region — extending its military operations against the Taliban in the northwest. Casualty figures were not immediately known.
The overnight attacks in Peshawar city were the latest of several targeting security forces and blamed on militants retaliating for the military’s assault against the Taliban in the nearby Swat Valley region. More than 60 people have died in the wave of attacks since May 27.
The assault on the Peshawar home of Lieutenant General Masood Aslam triggered a gunbattle that killed two suspected militants, Provincial Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said.
Hours earlier, a coordinated suicide attack on a police checkpoint in the city killed one officer and wounded a dozen other people. The assailants lobbed a grenade at the checkpoint late on Thursday night and when police rushed to respond, a suicide bomber ran forward and blew himself up, police Superintendent Nisar Marwad said.
The Peshawar attacks came after Pakistani troops and militants engaged in multiple battles as fighting in the northwest spread and intensified.
Local official Mohammed Jamil said military jets began bombarding militant positions yesterday in Charming, a town in the Bajur region east of Swat on the border with Afghanistan. The army fought a monthslong operation against the Taliban there earlier this year. The military claimed victory, but said pockets of militants remained.
Meanwhile, informal interviews by The Associated Press (AP) showed Pakistani public opinion turning against the Taliban.
A two-minute clip showing a woman crying out in pain, held face-down on the ground, as a man with a long beard flogged her in front of a crowd, could be the video that changed Pakistan.
That clip, said to be shot in Swat Valley where the Taliban held sway until a recent military offensive, has come to represent the militants and their extreme form of Islam. The footage is increasingly seen as a turning point — perhaps even more persuasive than all the bombings, beheadings and other violence.
The circumstances of the beating are murky, no one is sure where exactly it happened, and the woman’s identity remains unclear more than two months after the whipping was shown repeatedly on TV.
No matter. She remains irrevocably linked with the Taliban, an instant icon the government has used to ask Pakistanis if this is what they want for their country.
The answer from many seems to be “no.”
In interviews with more than three dozen Pakistanis across the country on Wednesday and Thursday, not a single person expressed sympathy or allegiance toward the Taliban. The most common answer was they should be hunted down and killed.
Many people told the AP they used to support the Taliban but no longer do so. The finding is supported by those of Pakistani analysts and commentators, who say they detect a similar shift in public opinion recently against the Taliban.
“Like all of us, I was welcoming the Taliban in the beginning,” said Abdul Jabbar Khan, a 52-year-old shopkeeper.
Khan now lives with eight family members in a relief camp in Mardan, along the northwest border with Afghanistan. They said they were forced from their home by fighting in Mingora.
“When Maulana Fazlullah started giving sermons on the radio, he was talking about good things — heaven and Islamic teachings,” Khan said, referring to the Taliban leader in Swat.
“Now we have the result,” he said. “It is very miserable, painful for all of us. We had a good life there. We had a good home and everything. Now we are begging for even daily meals. These people are responsible. They betrayed us and played with our religious emotions.”
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