- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 21, 2008

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan | Missiles destroyed a suspected militant hide-out near the Afghan border Wednesday where foreign insurgents were known to frequent, killing at least five people, Pakistani officials said.

The reported strike came as a power struggle intensified in Pakistan days after Pervez Musharraf‘s resignation from the presidency, with a major opposition party backing former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s widower to become the country’s next leader.

Four intelligence officials said the missiles destroyed a compound near Wana, the main town in the South Waziristan tribal region. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media.

Initial reports from the area indicated between five and 10 people were killed and several others wounded, they said, but there were no details about the identity of the victims. Foreign militants were known to frequent the compound in the village of Zari Noor, two of the officials said.

Pakistan army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas confirmed there was an explosion near Wana and that several people were killed. There was no claim of responsibility for the apparent attack. However, U.S. forces operate aircraft armed with missiles along the rugged Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Waliur Rehman, a shopkeeper in Wana, said he heard the familiar sound of a drone at about 7:30 p.m. followed by two explosions. “The planes are still in the air. People are scared and are staying indoors,” he said by telephone.

A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad said he had no information on the incident.

Mr. Musharraf, a former U.S. ally in the war on terrorism, reluctantly ended his nine-year presidency Monday in the face of efforts by the governing coalition to have him impeached. Pakistan’s constitution requires the election of a new president by parliament within 30 days of his resignation.

On Wednesday, Mrs. Bhutto’s widower, Asif Ali Zardari, received backing from the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), a major opposition party. Mr. Zardari leads the largest party in Pakistan’s ruling coalition and has played down speculation that he covets the top job.

However, opposition backing will strengthen his hand in a struggle with coalition partner Nawaz Sharif over a compromise candidate to fill the post and the even more urgent issue of restoring judges purged by Mr. Musharraf.

The MQM, a strong backer of Mr. Musharraf, is the second-largest opposition group in parliament.

Few analysts expect the coalition to collapse. However, if it does, Mr. Zardari’s party could look to the MQM and even elements within the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, Mr. Musharraf’s main prop, to shore up the government. PML-Q, the main opposition bloc, said it would wait for the coalition to come up with a candidate before deciding whether to field their own.

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