Monday, April 20, 2009

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan | Suspected U.S. missiles leveled a Taliban compound in northwest Pakistan on Sunday, officials said, killing three people despite militants’ threats of a wave of suicide bombings if the strikes don’t end.

Meanwhile, a hard-line cleric who mediated a deal that imposes Islamic law in a northwest valley in exchange for peace with the Taliban warned that the Pakistani government must enforce the law, not simply make announcements about it.

Pockets of Pakistan’s northwest regions are havens for al Qaeda and Taliban fighters. Many are thought to be involved in attacks on U.S. and NATO forces across the border, and American officials say the missile strikes are a key tool in taking them out.

Sunday’s suspected strike occurred in the South Waziristan tribal region, the main stronghold of Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, who is thought to be allied with the al Qaeda terrorist network.

Shahab Ali Shah, South Waziristan’s top administrative official, said three people died and five were wounded in the Zari Noor village area. The identities of the dead and wounded were not immediately clear.

Gul Zaman, who lives just outside Zari Noor village, said he heard two blasts and saw plumes of smoke rising from the area. Trucks carrying Taliban fighters raced toward the scene, Mr. Zaman said.

Since August, the U.S. has escalated its use of drone-fired missiles along Pakistan’s lawless northwestern regions, launching about three dozen. The U.S. rarely discusses or acknowledges the strikes, which are thought to be fired by unmanned aircraft operated by the CIA.

The pro-Western Pakistani government has publicly demanded an end to the strikes, saying that although they have killed several militant leaders, they also fan anti-American sentiment and violate the country’s sovereignty.

The latest strike came a day after a suicide car bomber killed 27 people — most of them security forces — at a checkpoint in the Hangu town area, another rough-and-tumble region in the northwest.

Responsibility for the bombing was claimed by Hakimullah Mehsud, a Taliban commander who has vowed to carry out two suicide attacks a week to press for an end to the missile strikes.

“We are meeting our pledge. — We will intensify our attacks if the drone strikes in the tribal areas do not stop,” Hakimullah Mehsud told the Associated Press by telephone from an undisclosed location.

Under intense international pressure, especially from the United States, Pakistan has tried various tactics to crack down on militancy, including military offensives and meeting Taliban demands through negotiations.

It recently agreed to impose Islamic law in the northwest’s Swat Valley and surrounding areas in exchange for peace with the Taliban there — a move that riled human rights activists and drew criticism from the White House.

The cleric who mediated that deal demanded the government take meaningful steps to enforce the new system over the next month, including setting up proper appeals courts in four days. Already, a handful of judges trained in Islamic law have begun hearing cases.

“Mere announcement is not enough to enforce the system,” Sufi Muhammad said at a rally of thousands of supporters in Swat.

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