ISLAMABAD: Former interior minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao believes last weekend’s bombing attempt in New York’s Times Square is beyond the capacity of homegrown Taliban militants.
“As the Army has said I also think the outlawed Tehreek-e- Taliban Pakistan doesn’t have the capacity to strike a target in the US,” Sherpao told the National Assembly on Friday. Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad was arrested in connection with the Times Square failed bombing and US interrogators are looking for leads to establish a link between Shahzad and the North Waziristan-based TTP.
Sherpao was interior minister when Pakistan had first moved paramilitary forces into tribal regions to fight al Qaeda-inspired Taliban insurgents who later on set up an umbrella organisation called the TTP. Paramilitary forces, including the Frontier Constabulary, work under the interior minister. Sherpao said it was hard to believe the TTP could plan, finance and execute an attack like the one in New York.
Sherpao warned the government against, what he called, a “horrifying” situation the country, especially the province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, could face if a link is established between Shahzad and the TTP. “It can engulf the whole country,” said Sherpao, who is also the chief of his own faction of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). He said Pakistani authorities, including diplomats and political leaders, had mishandled the case by giving contradictory statements.
He was perhaps referring to an interview by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi to an American TV channel in which he said that the failed attack might be retaliation for US drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal belt. Interior Minister Rehman Malik has also confirmed that Pakistani agencies had made several arrests in connection with the bombing while the military keeps on denying any link. “Consequences (of this confusion) will be dangerous.
The Americans have already started pressuring Pakistan…this will dilute the country’s viewpoint by triggering a controversy,” Sherpao added. He urged Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to appoint a special spokesperson for what Sherpao called a coordinated official response to the incident. Later on Premier Gilani ordered the interior ministry to provide a security squad to Engineer Amir Muqam, the chief of the Khyber- Pakhtunkhwa chapter of the Pakistan Muslim League.
The provincial government had withdrawn the security squad from Amir Muqam a couple of weeks ago. Earlier speaking on a point of order in the House, Amir Muqam accused provincial authorities of taking back the squad because of his opposition to the renaming of the NWFP. Akhundzada Chattan, a lawmaker from the Bajaur tribal region, said that the Taliban were expanding their network in his area with the help of their colleagues in Afghanistan’s Kunar province.
At the beginning of the session, Deputy Speaker Faisal Karim Kundi suspended the proceedings for 15 minutes as no minister was present to answer questions raised by legislators. The House is likely to debate President Zardari’s last month address to a joint sitting of the parliament on Monday.