Pakistan has banned a Taliban group after they claimed responsibility for one of the country's worst-ever terrorist attacks, toughening its stance a week after US ally Pervez Musharraf was ousted from power.
The Interior Ministry announced the decision 24 hours after rejecting a Taliban cease-fire offer in Bajur, a rumored hiding place for Osama bin Laden where an army offensive has reportedly killed hundreds in recent weeks. Another 200,000 people have fled their homes.
"This organization is a terrorist organization and created mayhem against public life," ministry chief Rehman Malik said in announcing the ban on Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, an umbrella group for militants along the Afghan border created in December to strengthen their fight against the government.
Anyone aiding a proscribed organization — through financial assistance, promoting them in literature or in other ways — can be jailed for up to 10 years under Pakistan's anti-terrorism laws.
Spokesman Lou Fintor said the US Embassy had seen media reports about the ban. "Pakistan's leadership has clearly stated their commitment to pursuing and eliminating terrorism and securing Pakistan's borders for the benefit of its own citizens," Fintor said.
However, a spokesman for Tehrik-e-Taliban claimed the ban was "meaningless."
"Our organization is neither registered nor do we have any bank accounts," Muslim Khan said.
The announcement came amid fears among the U.S. and other Western nations that the resignation of Musharraf, a key ally in the war on terror, would affect the nuclear-armed nation's ability to battle extremist groups, especially with the ruling coalition government teetering on the verge of collapse.
The largest political party, headed by the widow of slain prime minister Benazir Bhutto, was building alliances with smaller parties in Parliament in case it was forced to form a new government, as appeared increasingly likely.
It also was toughening its stance against militants, rejecting a Taliban cease-fire offer on Sunday and then banning the group Monday.
Malik said such steps had not been taken earlier because the provincial government had been trying to negotiate with the Taliban.
He noted that, despite a peace deal struck with some insurgents in Swat, a former tourist destination now beset by fighting, al-Qaida and Taliban-linked militants kept attacking security forces, burning schools and damaging public buildings.
Days after Musharraf was forced to resign after nine divisive years in power, the Taliban claimed responsibility for a spectacular attack on one of Pakistan's largest and most sensitive weapons installations.
At least 67 people were killed and more than 100 others wounded in the twin suicide bombings outside a weapons factory near the capital, Islamabad, most of them civilians, in what the Taliban said was revenge for military offensives in Swat and Bajur.
They have claimed responsibility for several strikes since then, including a rocket-and-bomb attack before dawn on Monday on the home of provincial lawmaker Waqar Ahmed Khan in Swat, which killed his brother, two nephews and five guards, police and the politician said.
"They fired rockets and entered the house after breaking the main gate," said Khan, a member of the Awami National Party who was not home at that time. He said he got a frantic call around 3:30 a.m. from another brother, who said, "We are destroyed!"
Police officer Saifur Rehman, who confirmed the attack and death toll of eight, said police was unable to reach the site immediately because the bridge linking it with a main road had been blown up.
On Thursday, Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the information minister for the North West Frontier Province, said the peace deal in Swat technically remained intact. Officials from the NWFP government either could not be reached nor would comment on Malik's announcement Monday.Reuse content