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Pakistan Troops Killed in Taliban Bombing – Wall Street Journal

January 20, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

KARACHI, Pakistan—A Taliban bombing killed least 20 Pakistani security force personnel in the country’s northwest, military officials said, in the latest strike by the militant group that has spurned the government’s offer of peace talks.

A military convoy was assembling Sunday morning in the town of Bannu for travel on to the North Waziristan tribal area when the bomb exploded in a civilian vehicle that had been hired to accompany the unit, military officials said. There were also 30 injured in the explosion. The weekly convoy was a mix of the paramilitary Frontier Corps troops and the regular Army.

Islamabad is sticking to its policy of offering peace talks to the Pakistani Taliban, who work closely with al Qaeda, despite a sharp escalation in militant violence in recent months. The militant movement, formally known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, is based in the tribal areas such as North Waziristan but operates across Pakistan.

Imran Khan, the former cricket star whose party controls the provincial government of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, where Bannu is located, and who has been the most ardent advocate of peace talks with the militants, condemned Sunday’s bombing. “Such terror attacks by the TTP, along with the federal government’s continuing inability to formulate a comprehensive counterterror policy, have made it difficult to actually commence a formal dialogue and give peace a chance,” Mr. Khan said in a statement posted by his party.

The Army and the Frontier Corps remain mostly inside their bases in North Waziristan. Pakistan has long resisted American pressure for an operation against the Taliban there.

“The injustices of the army have crossed all limits,” said Shahidullah Shahid, a spokesman for the TTP, after the bombing. “We will continue our attacks.”

The Bannu blast came after the TTP issued what is, in effect, a declaration of war on the country’s media, shooting dead three members of a camera crew of a news channel in the southern port of Karachi on Friday. A fourth member of the crew who was out filming a story, from the Express News channel, was also shot but survived.

“Our target was Express now but it will be someone else’s turn next,” warned Ehsanullah Ehsan, another spokesman for the TTP, in a written statement after the shootings. “All the media groups work on the directions of the government.”

The crew’s satellite transmitter van, which had Express News written across it, was sprayed with bullets by men who came on a motorbike, the channel and police said.

Mr. Ehsan complained that the reporting of the Pakistani media was “one-sided” and portrayed the militant movement negatively. It is unclear why Express was singled out but several media groups, including at least one foreign news organization, are believed to be on the TTP’s hit list.

“The message is simple: they aim to keep journalists in Pakistan terrorized,” said Ghulam Mohammad Jamali, president of the Karachi Union of Journalists.

The Pakistani Taliban regularly threaten journalists and have been blamed for killings in the past, but those happened mostly in remote areas. This was the first time that they unleashed such a large-scale attack, in Pakistan’s biggest city, and owned up to it.

Following the killing of the media workers, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that he had directed the interior and the information ministers “to immediately present workable solutions to address security threats to media houses.”

Pakistan has been consistently rated as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists by Reporters Without Borders and other international media lobbying groups. Mr. Jamali said that 120 journalists had been killed in Pakistan since 2000 and “none of their murderers had been held to account.”

–Safdar Dawar in Peshawar, Pakistan, contributed to this article.

Write to Saeed Shah at [email protected]

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