Militants on Monday launched their fourth assault in a week on strategic targets across Pakistan, this time with a suicide car bombing against a military vehicle in a crowded market in the northwest, killing 41 people and wounding dozens more.
The bombing took place in the Shangla District, an area within the Swat Valley but under separate administration. The Pakistani military had declared the valley cleared of militants after an offensive this summer and announced that the Taliban were a shattered force.
Since the Swat campaign and the death of the Pakistani Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud, in a U.S. drone strike in August, the militants have been relatively quiet. But the attack on Monday showed they could still shake the country with serious terrorist attacks in a short period over a wide geographic spread.
It was the latest in a series clearly intended to prove the Taliban’s resilience, to exact revenge for government and U.S. strikes, and to discourage the Pakistani military from expanding its campaign into South Waziristan, the heartland of the Taliban in Pakistan.
The Pakistani Air Force has been pounding areas of South Waziristan in the last day, a prelude to a possible ground campaign, military officials said. Hundreds are reported to have fled in recent days in expectation of an attack.
On Saturday, in one of their boldest gambits, 10 militants dressed in army fatigues and armed with automatic weapons, mines, grenades and suicide jackets breached the perimeter of the army headquarters in Rawalpindi in a raid that left 23 people dead and set off a 20-hour siege.
The standoff ended Sunday morning with the rescue of 39 hostages by army commandoes, but showed that even a building of the intelligence wing of the army was vulnerable to Taliban attacks. On Monday, the Pakistani Army announced that it had a telephone intercept showing that the Tehrik-e-Taliban, the umbrella organization of the Pakistani Taliban, was responsible for the assault.
The group’s deputy, Wali ur-Rehman, was heard telling a colleague by phone after the raid had begun to pray for the success of the operation, the army spokesman, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, said at a news conference.