Terrorist attacks have increased in Pakistan since the announcement last month by US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta about Pakistan’s openness to a possible North Waziristan operation.
A suicide bombing targeted a US consulate vehicle in Peshawar on Monday, killing at least two and injuring at least 18, highlighting resistance within Pakistan to the prospect of a long-controversial military mission against elements in restive North Waziristan.
Two US personnel and two Pakistani staff of the US consulate were injured and are receiving medical treatment, according to US officials there.
The attack comes amid reports that the Pakistani military is planning a controversial offensive against militants in North Waziristan. And although no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, this is the kind of blowback that has driven some Pakistani leaders to resist any offensive there in the past.
“This suicide bombing is the latest in a string of terrorist attacks, which have increased in Pakistan, since the announcement last month by the US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta about [Pakistan’s commitment to] a possible North Waziristan operation,” says Brig. Mahmood Shah, a retired military official in Peshawar.
“These attacks are a way to terrify the public, so that the government comes under pressure to abandon the plans to clear North Waziristan,” says Shah.
Washington has long asked Pakistan take action in North Waziristan against the Haqqani network, a militant outfit run by Jalaluddin Haqqani and his sons that the US government blames for attacks inside Afghanistan.
Pakistan, meanwhile, is more interested in tamping down the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the North Waziristan-based group responsible for attacks within Pakistan.
Just last week, terrorists struck a local market in Peshawar, killing at least 11 people. And earlier in August, nine TTP suicide bombers stormed a Pakistani military base in Kamra, some 30 miles northwest of Islamabad.
Though Secretary Panetta said that Pakistan’s main target would be the Pakistani Taliban, and not the Haqqani network, the Pakistani military and government have since denied plans for an operation in North Waziristan in an effort to appease political opposition and public fear that this will result in a new wave of terrorism.
Some analysts believe an operation in North Waziristan would ease US drone attacks, which the US has stepped up as Pakistan has focused mostly on fighting the TTP and avoided the Haqqani network.
“The fallout from such [a] pick-and-choose policy by the Pakistani military results in the continued drone strikes,” says Shamim Shahid, editor of an English daily newspaper in Peshawar.
Badruddin Haqqani, the son of Jalaluddin Haqqani, was reportedly killed in one such drone attack, a claim denied by Taliban in Afghanistan.
“Even if he is killed, it does not mean that the Haqqani network is now weak,” says Mr. Shahid. “He was an important commander in the network, but they have a huge number of fighters so they will continue their operations unhindered,” he adds, pointing to the fact that there has been a rise in attacks in Pakistan.
Shah says the real reason the Pakistani state is dragging its feet on operating against the Haqqani network in North Waziristan is because the Pakistani government is hedging its bets that the Haqqanis have a political future in Afghanistan.
“The Taliban in Afghanistan have a history with the Haqqanis and they respect them. They may even want to form the government with them in [the] future because Haqqanis have considerable influence in many areas of Afghanistan still,” he says, adding that Pakistan hopes that by not attacking them it can have more influence on Afghan policy when the US withdraws from Afghanistan in 2014.
Already fearing a military operation, locals from North Waziristan, which is one of the most populated tribal areas in the region, have started fleeing to safer locations, according to Safdar Dawar, head of the Tribal Union of Journalists.
“With an announcement like this, it is unlikely that any of the terrorists will also sit and wait. Most of the militants will escape to other areas of Pakistan or even Afghanistan,” adds Mr. Dawar.