Pakistan militants attack pro-government group; at least 13 dead
PESHAWAR, Pakistan — At least 13 people were killed and 10 wounded early Thursday when a suicide bomber drove an explosives-laden vehicle into the compound of a pro-government militant group in a remote area of northwestern Pakistan, a local official said.
The attack took place in Hangu district in tribal areas adjacent to the North Waziristan Agency shortly after dawn, according to the official, who asked not to be identified citing security concerns. The blast reportedly destroyed part of a compound belonging to Nabi Hanafi, an influential anti-Taliban commander in the restive tribal area.
The Pakistani Taliban took responsibility for the attack. “Nabi is our enemy and more attacks will continue in the future,” said spokesman Shahidullah Shahid by telephone.
Residents placed the death toll as high as 17, with 22 wounded, although it’s not unusual for casualty figures to vary after an attack given confusion, poor communication and ineffective government agencies. The attacker opened fire on security guards around the compound before detonating his vehicle, the official said. Reports differed on whether Hanafi was injured in the attack.
Analysts said the bombing underscored the difficulty the government faces trying to arrange talks with the Taliban, sometimes mistakenly seen as a monolithic organization, given its large number of players, shifting loyalties and rivalries with pro-government militants.
Hanafi was reportedly affiliated with the banned Pakistani Taliban led by Noor Jamal in the Orakzai tribal area until several years ago when he fell out with its fighters, leaving to form his own group that developed good relations with the government.
This angered the Taliban, which attacked him repeatedly, striking his Hangu headquarters in July 2012, killing nine people; in October 2012 with a suicide bomber who perished; and again in February, only damaging the facility.
Security analysts said the latest attack reflects an effort by Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud to exert control over Hanafi and the broader extremist movement in Pakistan. “It is a clear message for the government and different militant factions that the Taliban won’t let anyone cooperate with the government without its blessing,” said Hasan Khan, Islamabad-based journalist and commentator. “Their message is clear and loud that all roads to talks go through them.”
Analysts said Thursday’s suicide bombing also spotlights the challenge that Islamabad faces trying to broker a broad-based agreement with so many diverse groups. Last month, several political parties approved Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s plan to open negotiations with the Taliban — which has called for the dissolution of the Pakistan government and the creation of a state based on Islamic principles — in a bid to reduce violence.
Since then, however, several high-profile attacks in Peshawar, including the double suicide bombings at a historic church that killed 83 people, and the assassination of a major general, have undercut popular support for the state’s negotiation strategy. Taliban officials also have upped the ante, demanding the release of all Taliban prisoners, an end to U.S. drone strikes and the withdrawal of all troops in areas where they exert influence before they will talk.
Hamid Gul, an analyst and former head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency, said one of the many complexities in advance of any possible talks is the relationship between the Taliban and groups such as Hanafi’s that are pro-government and anti-Taliban. “The government is going to have to handle that very delicately,” he added.
Last week was particularly bloody, with three large bombings around the northeastern city of Peshawar, which analysts said apparently reflected the infighting.
“The Taliban is not at all unified,” Gul added, “There are at least 30 groups that are part of the shura, or family. Twenty-five have already said they want to talk to Pakistan and five are recalcitrant. But I’ve heard confidentially that three of those are coming around. That leaves two more located in Afghanistan.”
Gul said the two outliers were making trouble with financial support from the Indian government. New Delhi has repeatedly denied supporting Pakistani militants.
Special correspondent Ali reported from Peshawar and Times staff writer Magnier from New Delhi. Special correspondent Aoun Sahi in Peshawar contributed to this report.
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