- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2009

PESHAWAR, Pakistan | While the government was embroiled in a dispute over the reinstatement of deposed judges this week, militants struck twice within 24 hours and destroyed Afghan-bound heavy military vehicles and supplies.

The attacks on NATO’s supply route followed a respite of several months and appeared to catch authorities by surprise.

The spokesman of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) Ministry of Information declined to comment on the incidents. The inspector general of police in the province, Malik Naveed, recently had claimed to have successfully prevented attacks on NATO supplies after hundreds of such assaults in 2008.

The renewed attacks suggest the weakness of local authorities, who recently banned the public assembly of more than four persons in an attempt to block a protest march to the capital in connection with the dispute over the judges. The provincial government, led by the secular Awami National Party, has failed to contain Taliban militancy in the province, It signed a peace deal last month in the Swat Valley that permits the imposition there of Shariah law.


The latest attacks on NATO supplies coincided with the deployment of thousands of additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

“Obviously the militants have made the latest attacks keeping in view the arrival of thousands of U.S. troops in order to affect their combat capabilities,” said retired Maj. Tariq Javed, a Peshawar-based security analyst. “Although of late NATO has successfully negotiated other supply routes through Russia and Central Asia, routes through Pakistan despite militants attacks are still far more conducive from NATO´s point of view,” he said.

The attacks followed an agreement among three Pakistani Taliban factions to unite under the leadership of Baitullah Mehsud. One of his commanders, Hakimullah Mehsud, is in charge of three so-called tribal agencies, including the Khyber agency, which is believed to be the home area of the militants that attacked the NATO supplies.

Ghulam Mustapha, a political science professor at the University of Peshawar, said the militants had taken advantage of Pakistan’s internal political crisis to foment instability.

At the same time, U.S. drones on Monday attacked a militant hideout in the Bannu district of the NWFP, killing five suspected terrorists. Local tribesmen told The Washington Times that at least two of those killed were foreigners, probably Arab fighters.

The strike followed an attack on a militant training camp in Lower Kurram tribal district that also appeared to reflect a U.S. decision to hit deeper into Pakistan in the hunt for al Qaeda and Taliban members.