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Taliban attacks tribal meeting, attempts to stop USAID efforts

July 9, 2010

this may perhaps be the catalyst for a Pashtun ‘Awakening’-type movement against Islamist groups in Pakistan’s FATA areas.

NY Times, July 9, 2010

Pakistan Bomber Attacks Gathering of Tribal Elders

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A suicide bomber attacked a group of tribal elders gathered near the headquarters of the civilian government in Mohmand on Friday, killing more than 60 people and wounding more than 100, a senior Pakistani security official said.

The bomber detonated a car laden with explosives in the bazaar at Yakaghund, the administrative center of Mohmand, a tribal area, where elders were gathered over tea before a scheduled meeting with the assistant political agent, the security official said.

The blast blew a crater nearly five feet deep, and victims were trapped in the rubble of scores of destroyed shops, the official said.

A distribution of humanitarian goods from the United States, including wheelbarrows and tools, had taken place at Yakaghund on Thursday, officials said. The distribution was organized by the Office of Transitional Initiatives, which works under the Agency for International Development, a United States government agency that is seeking to support the civilian government in Pakistan.

The attack was aimed directly at the civilian authorities who are supposed to be helping ordinary people resist the Taliban. The Pakistani Army has been involved in a battle against the militants in Mohmand for nearly two years but has been unable to defeat them.

The assistant political agent, Rasul Khan, who is the second-ranking civilian official in Mohmand, said that children were among the dead and that rescuers were still searching for bodies in the rubble hours after the blast.

Many of the injured were taken for treatment to Peshawar, the nearby capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkwa Province, formerly known as North-West Frontier Province, Mr. Khan said.

More than 70 shops in the small township of Yakaghund were destroyed in the blast, further discouraging civilians, who had fled Mohmand because of the two years of fighting, from returning.

The strike demonstrated the resilience of the Taliban in the tribal region, even in an area like Mohmand that is adjacent to the bustling city of Peshawar.

The strategic location of Mohmand, a mountainous, heavily forested area with easy escape routes to Afghanistan, makes it relatively easy for the Taliban to organize men and weapons.

The leader of the Taliban there, Abdul Wali, has survived the army’s operations and his group of fighters remains intact, local officials say.

Earlier this week, the Pakistani government announced it would hold a bipartisan national conference to map out a strategy to combat terrorism, a move that was prompted by an outpouring of popular protest after the attack on a Sufi shrine in Lahore on July 1 that killed at least 37 people.

Jane Perlez reported from Islamabad, and Ismail Khan from Peshawar.

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