Officials: Head of Pakistan’s federal counterterrorism office resigns amid turf battle

By Sebastian Abbot, AP
Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Key Pakistani counterterrorism official resigns

ISLAMABAD — The head of a federal group meant to coordinate Pakistan’s fight against terrorism resigned Tuesday amid a bureaucratic turf battle waged as the country continues to suffer militant attacks, officials said.

The resignation came several hours after army guards shot and killed three suspected suicide bombers and two other militants as they tried to enter a sprawling military firing range in northwestern Pakistan.

Pakistan has suffered hundreds of attacks by the Taliban and their allies in the past several years that have killed thousands of people. The government has responded by launching several military offensives in the northwest along the Afghan border.

But many analysts have criticized the lack of coordination between the various intelligence and security services battling the militants, prompting the government to establish the National Counterterrorism Authority in early 2009.

The government appointed Tariq Pervez, a former police officer and head of the Federal Investigation Agency, to lead the authority shortly after its formation. But many analysts have expressed frustration with the government’s slow pace of standing up the group, despite funding from the European Union.

Pervez was also embroiled in a struggle over where the new group would be placed within the government, said an official. He wanted it to fall under the prime minister’s office where it would have more power to get the different agencies to cooperate.

Pervez resigned after the government caved to pressure from the Interior Ministry to give it control over the organization, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Asif Syed, a senior official at the counterterrorism authority, confirmed that Pervez resigned Tuesday but provided no further details.

The resignation comes as the Pakistani Taliban and their allies continue to attack the state, which they deem unIslamic and too closely allied with the United States.

Four soldiers were wounded in Tuesday’s attack at the military firing range in the northwestern city of Mardan, said the army in a statement.

The assailants refused to stop for a check at the entrance to the range, prompting the guards to open fire, police official Akhtar Ali Shah said. Three of the men wore suicide jackets that detonated as they were shot at, wounding the soldiers, said Shah.

The bombers were given cover by four “terrorists,” two of whom were killed in a subsequent shooting, said the army. Troops are searching for the two attackers who escaped, it said.

Meanwhile, gunmen in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Baluchistan killed nationalist activist Haji Liaquat in Qilat town, said Ghulam Moeenuddin, a security official in the area.

Liaquat was a member of the Baluchistan National Party. The party’s secretary-general, Habib Jalib, was killed last week in Quetta, Baluchistan’s capital.

The province has long been the scene of an ethnic nationalist movement and insurgency aimed at gaining more autonomy and a greater share of the wealth mined from its natural resources. Targeted killings are common in the region.

Associated Press writers Riaz Khan in Peshawar and Abdul Sattar in Quetta contributed to this report.

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