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Suicide Blast Kills 5 Pakistan Troops

Written for CBSNews.com by Farhan Bokhari, reporting from Islamabad.


At least five Pakistani troops were killed and 10 injured in a suicide attack Thursday in the latest incident of violence attributed to al Qaeda-linked militants, according to Pakistani officials and television reports.

The attack took place near the Zarinoor security camp, used by Pakistani troops in the town of Wana in the South Waziristan region, along the border with Afghanistan.

According to Pakistan's privately-owned DAWN TV channel, a lone suicide bomber with an explosives-laden jacket ran into the camp Thursday afternoon and blew himself up near a truck carrying security troops.

Those killed and injured in the blast were hit by nails packed in the explosive belt of the suicide bomber, a Pakistani official told CBS News on condition of anonymity. "Use of nails and ball bearings in explosive belts has become a favorite al Qaeda tactic" the official said.

Thursday's attack was the latest such incident in a cycle of bloody violence gripping the country. On Saturday, al Qaeda-linked militants carried out a bomb attack at Islamabad's up-market Luna Caprese Italian restaurant. Two people were killed and as many as eleven, including five Americans were injured.

Such attacks have become routine since the summer of 2007, when President Pervez Musharraf ordered his troops to storm a hardline mosque in the center of Islamabad.

Pakistani intelligence officials say Baitullah Mehsud, an Islamic militant with close links to al Qaeda, has taken the lead in overseeing the attacks. He is known to have established a training camp for volunteers in the Waziristan region where they are versed in the manufacture of explosives and assembly of suicide belts.

Meanwhile, complicating Pakistan's reaction to a fervent and growing extremist element is the lingering political turmoil born of parliamentary elections which propelled opponents of Musharraf to power earlier this year, but have thus far failed to put forward a new prime minister to work alongside the U.S.-allied leader.

In a bid to bridge a party rift surrounding the nomination of the country's next prime minister, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the 19-year-old son of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has returned to Pakistan in his Spring Break from Oxford University to try and force cohesion.

Bilawal was expected to arrive in Islamabad Thursday after flying into his home country the previous day. His sudden return has raised expectations that he's back home less than three months after his mother's assassination to bridge internal divisions within the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) - Pakistan's most liberal political grouping, established by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the young man's late maternal grandfather.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was appointed chairman of the PPP within days of his mother's assassination. The Bhuttos are easily the most powerful family legacy ever known in Pakistan - akin in the eyes of many to the Gandhis of India.

More than a month after national elections, the victorious PPP is yet to formally nominate a leader to become the next prime minister, indicating divisions on the issue within the party. A senior PPP leader told CBS News Thursday that Bilawal will announce the nominee for the next prime minister, in a move to prevent internal divisions bursting in to the open.

"This is very much an attempt to bridge the divide" said the party official, who spoke to CBS News on condition of anonymity.

Ghazi Salahuddin, a respected Pakistani political commentator told CBS News, "Bilawal's entry into the picture is a smart move. Given that Benazir Bhutto was considered a larger than life figure for the PPP, it will be difficult for anyone to openly oppose the announcement if that is made by Bilawal."

Neither Bilawal Zardari nor his father have formal positions in the newly-elected lower house of parliament, brought to power in the February 18 nationwide vote. Bilalwal will have to wait six years, until he turns 25, to run for a seat himself. His father, Asif, did not contest the elections.

The elder Zardari was just cleared of the last of seven charges of corruption by a Pakistani court last week - an issue which may have prompted him to stay away for contesting a parliamentary constituency.


Farhan Bokhari has been covering Southeast Asia for several large European news organizations for 16 years. Based in Islamabad, he focuses his coverage on politics and security issues surrounding the war against terrorism.
By Farhan Bokhari
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