Pakistan blasts shatter hopes as toll rises to 27

By Faris Ali PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Sept 27 (Reuters) – The death from two suicide bomb attacks in Pakistan rose to 27 on Sunday, a day after the blasts shattered hopes that the militants were a spent force following the killing of their leader last month. A suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden truck into a police station in the town of Bannu, the gateway to the North Waziristan militant region on the Afghan border, early on Saturday. Hours later, another attacker blew up a car in the centre of Peshawar, the main city in the northwest. Pakistani Taliban militants claimed responsibility for both blasts and vowed more. Authorities initially said 16 people had been killed in all, but the toll rose to 27 on Sunday with the discovery of more bodies in the debris of the Bannu police station and the death of some wounded, police said. Pakistani forces made significant gains against the militants in an offensive launched in the Swat valley, northwest of Islamabad, in late April. The offensive helped allay international fears about the stability of the nuclear-armed U.S. ally after militants made advances towards the capital, Islamabad. Pakistani officials said the Taliban were in disarray and racked by infighting after the killing of their chief, Baitullah Mehsud, in a missile strike by a pilotless U.S. aircraft in early August. Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the back of the Pakistani Taliban had been broken but the Saturday blasts appeared to have dispelled such optimism. “Anybody who thought that the Taliban were close to defeat or on the run had better think again,” the News newspaper said in an editorial. It is not just Pakistani Taliban factions that the government has to contend with but also Afghan Taliban factions operating out of its lawless northwest and creating havoc across the border in Afghanistan. “NO CHOICE” General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said in an assessment leaked to the media last week the Afghan insurgency was supported from Pakistan and Afghanistan needed Pakistani action. Security analyst Mahmood Shah, a retired brigadier and former security chief in the ethnic Pashtun lands along the Afghan border, said the militants had demonstrated they can strike back. “They were in disarray but it appears they’ve organised themselves and they’re in a position to strike back,” he said. Shah said al Qaeda could have organised the latest attacks, hoping to keep the security forces on the back foot and buy time for their Pakistani Taliban allies. The attacks are also likely to increase calls for the army to go into the Pakistani Taliban’s South Waziristan stronghold on the Afghan border where thousands of militants are based. The government in May ordered the military to go on the offensive in South Waziristan. Since then, regular air strikes have been launched but no ground assault has been carried out. A senior army commander said in August it would take months to prepare for a ground offensive in South Waziristan, partly because the army lacked equipment including helicopters and night-vision equipment. The English-language Dawn newspaper said the country faced a long battle. “We have no choice but to take the war against the rebels to its logical conclusion,” it said in an editorial. (Additional reporting by Kamran Haider and Adil Khan; Writing by Kamran Haider; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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