According to today’s Times Online:
Pakistani forces have killed up to 80 alleged militants near the Afghan border after launching an air strike on a religious school that officials said was being used as an al-Qaeda training camp.- - - - - - - - - -
The religious facility - known as a madrassa - was destroyed by helicopter fire in a pre-dawn raid this morning in the village of Chingai near Khar, the main town in the Bajaur tribal region, according to a spokesman for the army.
The raid sparked angry protests in the area as local tribesmen and political leaders denounced the military, insisting that those killed were innocent civilians and not terrorists.
Witnesses said at least three army helicopters swooped on the madrassa after which a huge explosion was heard. Most of the occupants in the madrassa were asleep although a few had awoken for pre-dawn prayers.
The blast shattered the building, tearing mattresses and scattering Islamic books, including copies of the Quran.
Oh-oh! The Koran has been profaned again! Rioters on the streets of Islamabad will be burning the Pakistani flag and… Oh. Wait a minute… that won’t work.
But, according to ABC News, it wasn’t really Pakistan’s military forces that did the job: the United States took out the madrassa with a Predator drone, in an attempt to kill Ayman al-Zawahiri. So now the rioters can resume business as usual, and burn the American flag.
The village of Chingai is in the Bajaur district, hard on the border with Afghanistan. It is not far from Damadola, which, as you may remember, was the scene of another attempted whack-job on Zawahiri back in January. In fact, today’s raid would be a reprise of the Damadola operation except for the fact that Pakistan got angry at us back then for blowing people up in Bajaur.
So what’s different this time? Why is Pakistan falling all over itself to claim credit for an attempted hit on Zarqawi by the United States?
Maybe it has something to do with this, also from the Times Online report:
The attack came two days after 5,000 pro-Taleban militants gathered in Bajaur for an anti-American rally, in which they proclaimed their support for Osama bin Laden and vowed to continue holy war to enforce Islamic law.
It also came on the day a peace deal was expected to be signed between the military and tribal leaders in the region, along the lines of an agreement signed earlier this year in nearby North Waziristan which was aimed at stopping militants operating in the area and crossing into Afghanistan.
But the army insisted it had given warning to the leaders of the madrassa to close the school, and that militants could not hide behind peace deals. [emphasis added]
So Musharraf was about to sign another peace deal, but then he goes and scuttles it by putting a thumb in the Taliban’s eye. Why?
Could it be that he wants to demonstrate that his power is not as vestigial as some people would like to believe? In the discussion about the Waziristan deal, I speculated that Musharraf might have gotten more than it appeared in return for promising to go easy on Mullah Omar’s buddies in Waziristan.
Did he perhaps get permission to hit certain locations in Bajaur, in return for going easy on the “one-eyed spiritual leader” of the Taliban? Did Mullah Omar sell Zawahiri down the river?
I certainly don’t know the answers to these questions, but the situation in Pakistan is definitely getting curiouser and curiouser by the day. In the comments to my Waziristan post I got into a discussion with Snouck, who said this:
Musharraf is caught between the USA and the Jihadist coalition. Initially he sided with the Americans. After attacking Jihadist forces in the border area — in order to bring the order of the central government there — met with defeat, Musharraf realised that the Jihadist were stronger and will be longer around than the US. So he had to make a new deal with the Jihadists and their tribal hosts.
Musharraf has very little he can offer the Jihadists. They are not afraid of him or the USA. The only thing they want from him is FACE.
The content of the deal was irrelevant. Life on the ground in Waziristan will go on like it used to. But Musharraf’s negotiators had to come to Waziristan to be humiliated. To make visible to the people in Pakistan and the Islamic world who is the biggest guy on the border.
Even if Pervez was humiliated in Waziristan (and I’m not so sure he was), he’s not being humiliated in Bajaur. It will be interesting to see how the Taliban’s buddies in the tribal areas respond to all of this.
Snouck, if you’re lurking, I’d be interested to hear your opinion.
Hat tip for the ABC story: LGF.