Taliban attack NATO supply routes

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• About 60 militants attacked Malakand University in Lower Dir, close to the Swat Valley, killing five security personnel. TTP leaders disowned the attack and claimed to have arrested the culprits. However, a university official, who asked not to be named for his own protection, said the institution had received several threats from local Taliban to discontinue classes attended by men and women together and to ban the entry of female students.

• TTP militants installed an FM radio station in the Darra Adam Khel area about 20 miles from Peshawar on the main national highway connecting Peshawar with the port city of Karachi.

Ordinarily, NATO would use this route, but because of growing militant activities, Afghanistan-bound convoys have been bypassing Darra. Increasing Taliban attacks may dash NATO officials’ hopes of reviving the route.

The incidents follow the signing of a peace deal in Swat by the regional government with TTP militants last month that included acquiescence to the imposition of Islamic law.

The provincial government has also released 34 Taliban prisoners in Swat, including a commander, Samiullah, in return for eight local officials held by the militants. TTP militants in Swat have demanded the release of 220 jailed members.

The attacks in Dir are also worrisome as Dir is adjacent to Afghanistan and the restive Bajaur tribal agency, believed to be a strong base for al Qaeda.

Unlike Swat, Dir had been peaceful and residents have resisted Taliban efforts to turn the district into another militant stronghold.

Ahmed Hassan Khan, the chief district administrator of Lower Dir, expressed his annoyance with federal and provincial governments, saying that “local residents have been left at the mercy of militants as the local police force is ill-equipped and insufficient.”

The TTP, mainly based in remote Waziristan, has tried and failed in the past to control the Khyber Tribal Agency. Its increasing success at attacking NATO supply terminals and convoys is believed to reflect the planning of al Qaeda leaders based in tribal areas, as well as the former commanders of Kashmiri mujahideen, such as Maulana Ilyas Kashmiri.

“The situation is heading alarmingly toward a dangerous direction which would put more pressure on Pakistani and NATO forces,” said retired Maj. Tariq Javed, a regional security specialist.

Fears are also being expressed that attacks are aimed at seizing heavy weapons in bulk to enable the Taliban to fight more effectively.

The attacks have escalated at a time when the U.S. is in the process of deploying thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan, along with military and nonmilitary supplies for these forces.

Zahid Anwar, an expert on conflict resolution who works at the Area Study Center for Afghanistan, Central Asia, Russia and China, said the deteriorating situation in Peshawar “is linked to the overall problem of militancy in the region, and that is why attacks are also conducted against NATO supplies.

“But I think in order to secure the Pakistan-Afghanistan road and NATO supplies, the root problem must be addressed: This is the safeguarding of the interests of Pakistan in Afghanistan. If Pakistani interests in Afghanistan are secured, I think Pakistan could be made to do its bidding wholeheartedly to contain the Taliban and al Qaeda insurgency.”

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