Pakistan Security Brief - January 4, 2011

Salman Taseer, the Governor of Pakistan’s Punjab Province, assassinated in Islamabad; Opposition Party issues ultimatum as internal political crisis continues; Bomb blast targets school bus in Balochistan; 39 militants arrested in Mohmand after attack on checkpoint; Sufi Muhammad trial begins in Peshawar.

 

Punjab Governor Assassinated

  • The governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, Salman Taseer, was assassinated today at Kohsar Market in Islamabad. Reports indicate that Taseer was fatally wounded after being shot nine times by a member of the Elite Force, a police commando unit, who was detailed to the governor’s security convoy. Witnesses report that Taseer died on the scene but that his body had been moved to a local hospital. Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, spoke to media outlets after the attack, telling reporters that Taseer’s attacker, Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, was arrested and that his likely motivation was Taseer’s public opposition to Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law. The Interior Minister was also adamant that the first priority for investigators would be establishing whether or not Taseer’s attacker acted alone or as part of a larger plot. Taseer was a key ally and member of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and his murder is being called, “the most high-profile assassination of a political figure in Pakistan since the slaying of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December of 2007.” The government has announced three days of national mourning, while Pakistan’s President and Prime Minister as well as the head of the country’s opposition have all strongly condemned today’s attack. Taseer’s death is expected to create more political turmoil for President Zardari’s embattled PPP as well as raise new questions about the existence of militant extremism within the ranks of Pakistan’s security forces.[i]

 

Internal Politics

  • Nawaz Sharif, the head of Pakistan’s opposition and the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) announced today that the government of President Asif Ali Zardari had 72-hours to accept the agenda of the PML-N, or the PML-N would join other opposition parties in taking steps against the now-minority government. The PML-N has reportedly demanded concessions from the ruling government that include crackdowns on corruption, a reduction in government spending, and a reversal of recent price increases on gasoline. Today’s ultimatum comes one day after Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani met with the leaders of Pakistan’s major political parties in an attempt to preserve his government after a senior partner in the ruling coalition, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), quit the government and applied to join the opposition.[ii]

  • The United States on Monday weighed in on the latest defection from President Zardari’s coalition government, calling it a strictly internal matter. State Department spokesman P.J. Cowley, dismissed reports that the defection would distract the Pakistani government from its battle against Islamic militants saying, “I can't say at this point that the fact that they have this current political situation necessarily distracts them from...what else they're doing.”[iii]

 

Balochistan

  • At least five children were wounded on Tuesday when a bomb blast ripped through a school bus in Turbat, near the provincial border with Iran. Reports indicate that militants detonated a remote controlled explosive as the bus, carrying upwards of 30 children of members of the Frontier Corps, neared Ata Shad College. No militant group has claimed responsibility for the attack.[iv]

 

FATA

  • 39 militants were arrested on Tuesday after gunmen attempted to overrun a security checkpoint in Mohmand tribal agency. Pakistani security officials indicated that militants attempted to overrun a checkpoint in the Bhai Corr area of the agency before being successfully repelled by military personnel. After the botched attack, security forces staged a crackdown in the area that allegedly netted 39 suspected militants.[v]

  • On Monday, militants in Orakzai tribal agency chopped-off the hand of a local tribesman after he was convicted of theft by a “Shariat” court set-up by members of banned Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan movement. The incident occurred in the Qureshan Chowk area of the tribal agency. Pakistani news media report that incidents like this demonstrate that TTP militants remain “very active” in the area despite claims by the Pakistani military that 90 percent of Orakzai agency has been cleared of militants.[vi]

 

Sufi Mohammad

  • On Monday, the trial of Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM) chief Maulana Sufi Muhammad began amid tight security in Peshawar Central Prison. Sufi Mohammad faces charges of sedition, conspiring against the state and encouraging terrorism. Swat Anti-Terrorism Court Judge Asim Imam presided over the proceedings that reportedly lasted five-hours before being adjourned until January 17th. The public prosecutor assigned to the case told reporters that during yesterday’s court proceedings Sufi Muhammad maintained his loyalty to Pakistan and said that the, “TNSM is a peaceful movement for the enforcement of Shariah in Malakand and had nothing to do with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan.”[vii]

 

Karachi

  • Violence erupted in the streets of Karachi on Monday night after two senior party members, one from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and another from the Awami National Party (ANP), fell victim to the first target killings of the new year. Angry mobs took to the streets to protest the killings, burning cars and firing shots into the air. Karachi police are investigating yesterday’s target killings and Pakistani paramilitary Rangers have reportedly been moved to the city in order to prevent any further escalation of violence. [viii]

 



[i] Salman Masood and Carlotta Gal, "Prominent Ally of Pakistan President is Shot Dead," The New York Times, January 4, 2011. Available at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/05/world/asia/05pakistan.html?_r=2&hp. “Salmaan Taseer assassinated: Live updates,” The Express Tribune, January 4, 2011. Available at http://tribune.com.pk/story/98988/salman-taseer-attacked-in-islamabad/. Asif Shahzad, "Pakistani governor opposing blasphemy law killed," Associated Press, January 4, 2011. Available at http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110104/ap_on_re_as/as_pakistan_violence. “PM announces three days of national mourning,” Geo TV, January 4, 2011. Available at http://geo.tv/1-4-2011/76804.htm.
[ii] “PML-N extends deadline after Taseer's assassination,” The Express Tribune, January 4, 2011. Available at http://tribune.com.pk/story/98964/nawaz-gives-gilani-72-hour-deadline-to.... “Salman Masood, "Pakistan's Premier Fights to Save Government," The New York Times, January 3, 2011. Available at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/04/world/asia/04pakistan.html?_r=1&ref=world.
[iii] “U.S. says Pakistan government crisis internal issue,” Reuters, January 3, 2011. Available at http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110103/pl_nm/us_pakistan_politics_usa.
[iv] “Bomb wounds Pakistan schoolchildren: officials,” The Express Tribune, January 4, 2011. Available at http://tribune.com.pk/story/98930/5-children-injured-in-explosion-in-turbat/.
[v] “Clash in Mohmand; 39 suspected militants detained,” Dawn, January 4, 2011. Available at http://www.dawn.com/2011/01/04/thirty-nine-suspected-militants-detained-after-mohmand-clash.html.
[vi] “Taliban chop thief’s hand in Orakzai,” Dawn, January 4, 2011. Available at http://www.dawn.com/2011/01/04/taliban-chop-thief%E2%80%99s-hand-in-orakzai.html.
[vii] Akhtar Amin, "Sufi Muhammad's trial begins in Peshawar Prison," The Daily Times, January 4, 2010. Available at http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2011\01\04\story_4-1-2011_pg7_4.
[viii] “Violence erupts in Karachi after killing of ANP, MQM men,” Dawn, January 4, 2011. Available at http://www.dawn.com/2011/01/04/violence-erupts-in-karachi-after-killing-of-anp-mqm-men.html.