PESHAWAR, Pakistan, (AP) – Pakistan banned the Taliban on Monday after the militants claimed responsibility for one of the country’s worst-ever attacks and a string of other suicide bombings — a move likely to please the U.S. one week after close ally Pervez Musharraf was ousted from power.
Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik announced the decision 24 hours after rejecting a Taliban cease-fire offer in Bajur, a tribal region along the Afghan border where recent fighting has reportedly killed hundreds and prompted more than 200,000 to flee their homes.
He said the militants were “creating mayhem” in the nuclear-armed nation.
The announcement comes as the United States carefully watches whether the ruling coalition will collapse due to internal squabbling between the two main parties since they forced Musharraf to resign. Washington views stability in Muslim nation as key to winning the war on terror.
Malik said the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, an umbrella militant group, had not been banned before because the provincial government was trying to negotiate with the group.
He said that despite a peace deal struck with a subset of the group in the Swat Valley, militants kept attacking security forces, burning schools and damaging public buildings.
They also claimed responsibility for a twin suicide bombing that killed 67 people and wounded more than 100 others outside a weapons factory near the capital, Islamabad, on Thursday, calling it revenge for military offensives in Swat, once a tourist destination, and Bajur.
It was the deadliest attack since October, when former prime minister Benazir Bhutto narrowly escaped a double suicide bombing in Karachi that killed about 150 people at a parade welcoming her back from exile. She was killed in a gun and suicide-bomb attack on Dec. 27.
“This organization is a terrorist organization and created mayhem against the public life, so we decided to declare it banned,” Malik told The Associated Press. “Anyone having link with this organization, promoting its literature and message, helping it financially or in any other way will be taken to task according to the law.”
Early Monday, militants used rockets and a bomb to attack the family home of provincial lawmaker Waqar Ahmed Khan in Swat, killing his brother, two nephews and five guards, police and the politician said.
Khan, a member of the ruling Awami National Party who was in the main northwest city of Peshawar, said he got a frantic call around 3:30 a.m. from another brother, who said, “We are destroyed!”
“They fired rockets and entered the house after breaking the main gate, they killed our five or six guards, and then my elder brother and two nephews,” Khan said.
He said the militants also planted explosives in a section of a house on the property, located in the valley’s Shah Dheri area, and blew it up before leaving the place.
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.