A New President and U.S. Involvement
In September 2008, the two houses of Parliament elected Zardari president by a wide margin. He faces the overwhelming task of rooting out members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, who control much of the country's tribal areas. He also promised to improve the relationship between Parliament and the presidency. "Parliament will be sovereign,” he said. “This president shall be subservient to the Parliament.”
The Pakistani military launched a three-week-long cross-border air assault into Afghanistan's Bajaur region throughout August, which resulted in more than 400 Taliban casualties. The continuous airstrikes forced many al-Qaeda and Taliban militants to retreat from towns formally under their control. However, the Pakistani government declared a cease-fire in the Bajaur region for the month of September in observance of Ramadan, raising fears that the Taliban will use the opportunity to regroup.
In its first acknowledged ground attack inside Pakistan, U.S. commandos in September raided a village that was home to al-Qaeda militants in the tribal region near the border with Afghanistan. The New York Times later reported that in July, President Bush authorized U.S. Special Operations troops to launch ground attacks inside Pakistan without seeking approval from the Pakistani government. The report said the U.S. would, however, alert Pakistan to attacks. A top Pakistani military leader said the army will not tolerate such attacks.
A truck bomb exploded outside the popular Marriott Hotel in Islamabad in September 2008, killing more than 50 people and wounding hundreds. The bomb went off as government leaders, including the president and prime minister, were dining a few hundred yards away, at the prime minister's residence. It is one of the worst terrorist attacks in Pakistan's history.
About 170 people were killed and about 300 wounded in a series of attacks that began on Nov. 26 on several landmarks and commercial hubs in Mumbai, India. Indian officials said ten gunmen carried out the attack, which was stunning in its brutality and duration; it took Indian forces three days to end the siege. While a previously unknown group, Deccan Mujahedeen, initially claimed responsibility for the attack, Indian and U.S. officials said they have evidence that the Pakistan-based militant Islamic group Lashkar-e-Taiba was involved. Lashkar-e-Taiba, which translates to Army of the Pure, was established in the late 1980s with the assistance of Pakistan's spy agency, Inter-Services Intellgence, to fight Indian control of the Muslim section of Kashmir. The accusation further strained an already tense relationship between the two countries. While President Asif Ali Zardari first denied that Pakistani citizens were involved in the attack, in December, Pakistan officials raided a camp run by Lashkar-e-Taiba in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, and arrested several militants. In Feb. 2009, Pakistan's interior minister acknowledged that "some part of the conspiracy" had occurred in Pakistan. In August, the only surviving suspect in the bombings, Muhammad Ajmal Qasab, a Pakistani citizen, pleaded guilty in court to his role in the attack, reversing his earlier plea.
Also in February, the government agreed to implement a system of Islamic law in the Swat valley and a truce with the Taliban regime. This accommodation will essentially provide the Taliban with a safe haven in Pakistan, effectively ending the government's attempts to stop the insurgency. Taliban militants now control approximately 70% of the country.
A group of 12 gunmen in Pakistan attacked the national cricket team of Sri Lanka and their police escorts in March. Six policemen were killed in the attack, as well as two bystanders. Six cricketers were wounded. Several countries' teams have refused to travel to Pakistan for games, citing their team members' safety. The Sri Lankan team is the first to travel to the country in over a year.