Hot Air Pakistan
If yesterday’s attack in Peshawar, Pakistan, and the siege of a UN hostel in Kabul, Afghanistan, say anything at all, it's that the statements of resolve to counter terror in the region are quite hollow, if not downright insincere. What's worse, Islamabad’s politico-military pundits, muckrakers, and other spooks are now speaking of ongoing negotiations between the country’s intelligence agencies and the Pakistani Taliban—more importantly the Taliban hailing from the country’s most-populated Punjab province. In America it's referred to blithely as "negotiating with terrorists," but here in Pakistan it seems to say "we're kind of sick of this place getting blown to pieces."
So it's a fine time for Pakistan to finally start tackling the Taliban in South Waziristan through a military operation. Militants, without much to deter them, have declared war on ordinary civilians—the cities of course are their favorite new targets. And it's all on special order for US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who arrived in Islamabad for talks with Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership just prior to the detonation of yesterday's car bomb in Peshawar. It was the country’s worst terrorist attack of 2009, blasting the teeming Meena bazaar and killing at least 94 civilians at last count, including several women and children. Another 200 are wounded, many of them critically.
Pakistan has experienced frequent and brazen terrorist assaults in the past two weeks. Most of these attacks were either on security installations or on other high-profile targets, though. Targeting the Meena bazaar, which is mostly frequented by women, was quite clearly designed to inflict a maximum number of civilian casualties.
“I could hear people crying for help,” says Dilbar Khan, who works near the congested marketplace and saw the attack happen. “Many are still stuck under the rubble of the bazaar’s collapsed and gutted shops.”
The suicide blast was first reported around noon local time and lead to a huge blaze that very quickly engulfed much of the sprawling marketplace, trapping many within its narrow lanes. Asphyxiation alone has killed many. And as the death toll continued to rise, Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership got busy hosting the Secretary of State, who spouted more of what we’ve been hearing for months.
So even as the Pakistani government has been fairly successful in engineering public support for a military operation inside the tribal region of South Waziristan, a known Taliban and al-Qaeda stronghold, it may be pushed into caving for the very militants it is fighting against. Bombing women is no doubt a tactical pursuit to persuade the Pakistani government against this decisive operation. At the same time, Clinton is barely a three-hour drive away from the blast’s site—this may even be a word of warning against the much-argued surge of US troops in Afghanistan.