|A victim’s relatives grieved after a bomb attack at a Sufi shrine in Pakistan’s Punjab. Islamist militants often target the sect. (Reuters)|
Remote N. Waziristan viewed as the ‘epicenter of terrorism’
US prods Pakistan to launch offensive before year’s end
PESHAWAR, Pakistan — It’s a land of daunting mountains, crisscrossed with rugged paths. Tucked in the valleys, families live a subsistence existence in mud houses secluded behind 10-foot-high walls, cooking over open fires and sleeping under the sky. Dirt poor, uneducated, they know the outside world only through information that comes from a crackling radio.
The wilds of North Waziristan, on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, have become a crossroads for terrorism. The United States is pushing Pakistan to mount an offensive there before the year is out, but Pakistan is saying it won’t be rushed.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, has branded North Waziristan the “epicenter of terrorism,’’ and President Obama has said controlling it is key to winning the Afghan war.
In mosques, mullahs tell worshipers that it is their religious duty to fight the US-led forces just over the mountains in Afghanistan.
Villagers open up their homes to would-be fighters and suicide bombers heading across the border to kill coalition troops — or heading the other direction, into Pakistan’s heartland to carry out attacks that have shaken the fragile US-allied government in Islamabad.
The threat is also exported far abroad. Among the thousands of militants holed up in the territory are scores with European or US passports, believed to be planning attacks in Europe and North America.
The arrest of a German in Afghanistan this year revealed a plot hatched in North Waziristan to carry out bloody bombings and shootings in Europe. It was also to North Waziristan that US resident Faisal Shahzad traveled to train in arms and bomb making, before attempting to detonate a car bomb in New York City’s tourist-packed Times Square in May.
Any offensive will be a formidable task.
The army, with 140,000 soldiers deployed elsewhere in the tribal region, has little presence in North Waziristan. At their base in the region’s main town, Miran Shah, they rarely patrol.
Pakistan is also coping with violence in other parts of the country. In central Pakistan yesterday, a bomb planted on a motorcycle exploded at the gate of a famous Sufi shrine in the town of Pakpattan during morning prayers, killing at least five people, officials said.
The blast at the Farid Shakar Ganj shrine in Punjab Province was the latest in a string of attacks targeting Sufi sites in Pakistan. Islamist militants often target Sufis, whose mystical practices clash with their hard-line interpretation of Islam.
The dead from yesterday’s blast included at least one woman, said Maher Aslam Hayat, a senior government official in Pakpattan. At least 13 other people were wounded in the explosion, he said. The bombing significantly damaged nearly a dozen shops on either side of the street outside the shrine.