Missile Strikes Kill 20 In Pakistan; Parliament Convenes amid Tensions with Musharraf; 110 Arrested in Connection with Bombing of FBI Agents

The Pakistani parliament convened on Monday for the first time since the February 18 elections, with the Pakistan People’s Party and the Muslim League-N and their allies having a two-thirds majority in the lower house. They have indicated that they will seek to reinstate the Supreme Court and dozens of judges dismissed by dictator Pervez Musharraf. The Supreme Court had seemed set early last November to rule that Musharraf was ineligible to become president because the constitution specifies that holders of such offices must have been out of uniform at least two years before being sworn in. Musharraf only resigned as military chief of staff after his election, by a parliament that he had shaped with heavy-handed interventions.

Pakistani legal thinkers are saying that the justices and judges could be restored by a simple majority of parliament, since their removal was unconstitutional and the executive orders authorizing it had never been ratified by a 2/3s majority of the legislatures. A fierce battle between President Musharraf and the parliament looms.

Although parliament met, no candidate for prime minister has been put forward by the leading party coalition. It is said that Asaf Ali Bhutto, widower of the slain Benazir Bhutto, may want the job himself. He needs first to be elected to parliament in a by-election, probably from his wife’s ancestral village of Larkana, where elections were delayed because of her assassination and the subsequent social unrest. Zardari would be pushing aside the candidate favored by Benazir herself in case of her death or incapacitation, Makhdum Amin Fahim.

The rising political tension coincides with fresh security concerns.

A missile strike killed 20 persons in Waziristan, a rugged tribal area in Pakistan’s northwest that is suspected of serving as a base for remnants of al-Qaeda. For the US to strike inside Pakistan is highly unpopular with the Pakistani public, despite their increasing distaste for al-Qaeda and terrorism generally in the wake of the assassination on Dec. 27 of the former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto. Thus, the US denied that the missiles were its. But who has missiles that can strike Waziristan?

Some sources are saying that the compound that was hit belonged to al-Qaeda or the Taliban.

Militants in Pakistan detonated a bomb via timer in the garden of the Luna Caprese restaurant in Islamabad late Saturday, killing a Turkish aid worker and wounding 12 other persons, including 4 FBI agents. The press is speculating as to whether the agents were deliberately targeted by al-Qaeda or whether the bomber was just anti-foreigner and got lucky. It seems to me most likely that the agents were targeted. FBI field officers are in Pakistan to track down al-Qaeda, and for four of them to be accidentally injured in a bombing strikes me as too much of a coincidence. The FBI and Pakistani security forces have worked together to arrest some 700 al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan, among the biggest and most unheralded success stories in the struggle against terrorism. On Saturday, Pakistan turned over to Saudi Arabia another three sketchy Saudi citizens who had been hiding out in the rugged north.

That the bomb worked with a timer rather than being set off manually by a suicide bomber suggests to me that the bomber frequented the restaurant, as worker or guest, and noticed, e.g., that the FBI was in there every Saturday night, and so was able to plan out the deed. The government is said to have arrested 110 suspects. That is probably 109 or so too many and suggests they don’t actually have any leads.

The money graf of the AP report is:

‘ With extremist attacks on the rise, a growing number of Pakistanis are questioning Musharraf’s approach to countering al-Qaida and the Taliban. His opponents say punitive military action has only fueled the violence. ‘

A leader of the Pakistani Taliban offered a cease-fire with the government on Saturday if parliament did depose Musharraf.