ISLAMABAD-An insurgent driving a truck laden with up to a ton of explosives targeted an office of Pakistan’s premier military intelligence agency Tuesday. This is the latest assault in a terrorist rampage that’s left 500 people dead since early October.
Tuesday’s attack, which killed 12 people, was aimed at the office of Inter-Services Intelligence in the city of Multan, in the south of Punjab province. On Monday, a bomb tore through a market in Punjab’s provincial capital, Lahore, killing 49 people.
The small truck drove up to a checkpoint manned by police and the army just before noon Tuesday in Multan, about 50 yards from the ISI building. When challenged, a man climbed out of the cab and launched a rocket-propelled grenade toward the security guards, according to Mohammad Ali Gardezi, a senior local official. Police returned fire.
“Because of the police firing, the truck couldn’t reach its target,” Gardezi said, adding that it was estimated the vehicle was packed with 800 to 1,000 kilograms of explosives.
The significance of the attack in Multan is partly due to its location in southern Punjab, an area that previously had suffered little terrorist violence in the insurgent offensive. One reason is the region has housed militant groups that the ISI had backed secretly in the past. Analysts think some of those extremist groups now have linked instead to al-Qaida.
The insurgent assaults have coincided with the military’s offensive against the base of the Pakistani Taliban in South Waziristan, in Pakistan’s lawless tribal belt on the border with Afghanistan.
While Washington is publicly pressing Pakistan to move against Afghan insurgents who are based on its soil, a crucial element in the new Obama administration plan for Afghanistan, Islamabad says it’s fully stretched trying to combat the al-Qaida-inspired domestic insurgency.
The Multan blast left a crater some 15 feet deep and 30 feet across, with a force that knocked down surrounding buildings, including an apartment block provided for ISI employees. Killing 12 people and wounding 30, including some children.
Meanwhile, a brewing political crisis in Islamabad that could result in the ouster of many top government officials continues to sap the country’s attention. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court received details of long-standing corruption charges leveled against pro-Western President Asif Ali Zardari, including the accusation he had $1.5 billion in “assets beyond means.”
Under an amnesty the U.S. had helped to mediate, politicians and bureaucrats had waived unproved charges against them dating to the 1990s, accusations they claimed were politically motivated.