Pakistan Bombers Kill Despite Crackdown

Despite state of emergency intended to thwart terror, dozens may be dead.

February 18, 2009, 10:55 PM

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Nov. 24, 2007 — -- A day after Pakistan's highest court ruled that emergency rule was "necessary" to thwart terrorism, twin suicide bombs exploded in Rawalpindi, the seat of military power in Pakistan.

The military confirmed 15 people had died, but there were unofficial reports that dozens were killed. Many were critically injured in the blasts.

The attacks were clearly aimed at the military. The explosions occurred Saturday morning within minutes of one another. One of the suicide bombers drove into a bus packed with Ministry of Defense employees assigned to the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency. Another suicide bomber struck a checkpoint at the Army's headquarters.

The Army blocked traffic on the major street where the bus bombing occurred and cordoned off the area around the checkpoint. Members of the media were prevented from filming scenes of the attacks, and authorities confiscated cameras.

Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad told the Associated Press, "There were 50 people sitting in the bus. Many are injured, many are okay."

These are the first suicide bombings since Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, placed the country under emergency rule on Nov. 3.

Part of Musharraf's justification for the emergency action is that the country is under threat of violent extremism, but critics have said that is an excuse for cracking down on thousands of his political opponents. While the bombings may lend credence to Musharraf's assertion about the threat of terrorism, others say the incidents weaken his argument for maintaining emergency rule.

"As far as the fight against terror is concerned, this emergency makes not the slightest difference," said former Pakistani diplomat Humanyun Khan. "That is clear now."

There have been more than 25 suicide attacks in Pakistan since July, several of them aimed at the military.

The latest bombings occurred on the eve of exiled former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's return to Pakistan. Sharif, who was arrested and deported to Saudi Arabia after he tried to enter Pakistan in September, is said to have struck a deal with Saudi King Abdullah that will allow his return.

Under pressure from the Saudis, a close ally of Pakistan, Musharraf is expected to allow Sharif to remain in the country. His return comes a month after another exiled former prime minister and opposition leader, Benazir Bhutto, was allowed to return.

Sharif and his party, the Pakistan Muslim League, are preparing to file nomination papers for the Jan. 8 parliamentary elections. However, it is unclear whether they will participate in the elections or boycott them. Among other conditions, Sharif and other opposition leaders are demanding that Musharraf lift emergency rule before the vote is held.

Musharraf has come under intense criticism for actions taken during emergency rule. Besides the mass detentions, he replaced the Supreme Court, suspended the Constitution, and forced television networks off-the-air. It is still not clear whether he will relinquish his emergency authority before the nation holds parliamentary elections in January.

Saturday afternoon, the Election Commission ratified the results of October's presidential election, when Musharraf was re-elected by Parliament to a second five-year term. The official notification of the results was held off until the Supreme Court ruled on six petitions challenging Musharraf's re-election. The last of those petitions was thrown out earlier this week, by a Supreme Court that Musharraf purged of dissenters during his emergency rule.

Musharraf has pledged to take off his uniform before he is sworn in as president. The court has ordered that the oath be administered by Dec. 1.

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