Pakistan braces for elections amid flaring violence


Islamabad : Pakistan is bracing for much-anticipated general elections, expected to be held in the mid-February, amid flaring up violence, political as well as power and wheat crisis.

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While, the threats of possible large-scale military operation are looming on the bordering tribal region, the federal government is trying to fight off a new wave of suicide bombers and meet the growing oil, energy and wheat shortages.

President Musharraf embarked on four-nation tour to Belgium, France, Switzerland and the United Kingdom to improve countrys image abroad and clear misperceptions created since he imposed over a month-long emergency in the country in November 2007 and subsequent events including Benazir Bhuttos assassination.

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto opened a new chapter of violence in the major cities of the country including Lahore, Karachi, Rawalpindi and Peshawar. Near 15 persons including five policemen were killed and about 36 others were wounded in a latest suicide attack in Peshawar.

“A number of suicide bombers of ages between 17 and 25 and being trained in the bordering tribal region have penetrated in the major cities to carryout terrorist attacks with specific target, the security forces”, an intelligence source told KUNA.

The source said suicide bombing is not a new phenomenon for Pakistan, which borders war-ravaged Afghanistan and is a key partner in the US war on terror, but their number is a real challenge for the government and security forces.

Meanwhile, security officials said, the security situation in the tribal region is deteriorating day by day, particularly militant supporters of Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud assassinated Benazir Bhutto in Rawalpindi, near militarys cantonment area. Where NATO is talking about possible intervention in the Pakistani bordering areas to help Afghan government to bring peace in the country, the security forces are largely losing control of the Federally Administrated Tribal Area (FATA). In the Kurrum agency, Baitullah Mehsuds militants have triggered sectarian violence that has claimed dozens of innocent lives. According to local daily The News report several families have been forces to cross over to Afghanistan and take refugee their among fellow tribes and the Afghan government has echoed concerns about the refuge.

In South Waziristan tribal agency, forces Saturday claimed killing near 90 militants in Chaghmali, Siplatoi and Laddah areas. There were reports that Mehsud supporters had captured two forts of the security forces but the military spokesman rejected such reports.

Local newspapers citing Tehrik-i-Taliban (Taliban Movement) spokesman Maulvi Umar said that over three dozen paramilitary soldiers had abandoned Siplatoi fort before it was attacked by militants.

He said about 60 paramilitary soldiers had surrendered without putting up resistance, adding that the militants had taken away weapons and hoisted a white flag at the compound.

Security officials said that thousands of armed militants of Baitullah Mehsud surrounded Scouts camps in Laddah area early this month and they are trying to capture security forts. Forces are fighting militants using small arms, artillery and mortar shells, said officials, adding that owing to weather conditions a full-fledged operation cannot be launched.

Military gunship helicopters Sunday after coming under attack by militants pounded their suspected positions, killing more than 15 persons and wounding several others.

A military statement Monday confirmed the incident but gave no details of the casualties.

Also, a search operation in Tank tribal district is underway, where forces have claimed arresting more than a dozen militants. Local sources said that the arrested include foreigners.

Meanwhile, the rising violence in tribal areas and spread of suicide bombers to major cities have overshadowed the essence of elections in the country. More than 10 suicide bombers were arrested in Karachi, Hyderabad and Rawalpindi on Saturday.

Political analysts have opined that the security situation will badly affect the turn around during forthcoming elections.