SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

March 13, 2011

NW Pakistan ambush kills 9, threatens peace deal

HUSSAIN AFZAL
Associated Press

PARACHINAR, Pakistan — Gunmen ambushed a van and killed nine civilians Sunday in a stretch of northwestern Pakistan covered by a new peace deal among tribes from rival Muslim sects. Security forces responding to the attack killed three alleged gunmen, police said.

The clash does not bode well for the future of the peace deal in the Kurram tribal region, which stopped a four-year conflict that had cost hundreds of lives. There have been reports that Taliban militants planned to take advantage of the deal to gain more territory along the Afghan border.

Police official Mir Chaman Khan said the attack occurred in Hangu district along the main road from Kurram to the city of Peshawar. The road had recently reopened after the Shiite Muslim Toori and Bangash tribes inked the deal with the Mangal and other Sunni Muslim tribes.

The clash occurred in a Sunni-dominated area. The van was coming from Parachinar, a Shiite-dominated town in Kurram.

Khan declined to speculate on who was behind the attack.

Pakistan's tribal belt is a hotbed of Islamist militant groups, many linked to the Al-Qaida terrorist network. The Pakistani army has launched offensives in several areas, and the United States has fired hundreds of missiles at suspected militants using unmanned aircraft in the region.

The Taliban, who adhere to a hard-line interpretation of Sunni Islam, have at times exploited sectarian and tribal feuds to spread their influence along the Pakistan-Afghan border.

But tribesmen in Kurram also have reported that the Haqqani network, a fiercely independent branch of the Afghan Taliban and a major enemy of U.S. and NATO forces, had cut a deal with the Shiites so it could use Kurram as a staging ground for fighting in Afghanistan.