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Pakistan's army claims that the militants who attacked an air force base in Peshawar had come from Afghanistan. The assault has also raised doubts about the success of a military operation in the country's northwest.
Major General Asim Saleem Bajwa, the Pakistani army spokesman, told the media on Friday that the security forces had secured the Badaber air force compound after an hours-long firefight, killing all 13 militants. The Taliban have claimed responsibility for the assault.
"At least 23 air force personnel, three army soldiers and four civilians" have also been killed, according to Bajwa.
Gunmen stormed the air base on the outskirts of the northwestern city of Peshawar early on Friday, triggering a shootout with security forces. The military spokesman said the militants forced their way into the compound's mosque and gunned down people.
A rescue officer said at least 20 wounded were taken to hospital. TV footage showed helicopters hovering above the base as police and troops searched for militants in the area surrounding the compound.
The Afghan 'connection'
Bajwa was quick to point fingers at neighboring Afghanistan at a press conference in Peshawar soon after the end of the assault.
"The attackers came from Afghanistan," he said, without providing details on his claim.
The military spokesman, however, said he did not mean that the Afghan government was involved in the attack.
"The government in Kabul likes to blame every terrorist attack on Pakistan, but we don't think that the Afghan state had a role in Friday's attack," Bajwa told reporters, adding that the areas where the militants came from were not under Kabul's control.
But Islamabad-based journalist Abdul Agha disagrees with Bajwa and insists that the Pakistani military must admit the fact that it has not been able to secure the northwestern areas.
"Bajwa and the army have repeatedly been saying that the ongoing military operation, Zarb-e-Azb, has destroyed the terrorists' networks and hideouts in the northwestern areas, but the Friday attack at the heart of the army's own base has proven all these claims wrong," Agha told DW.
Blaming Afghanistan was probably the easiest way to hide this failure, he added.
A dubious operation
Experts say that a crackdown on militancy and an army offensive targeting Taliban bases have both led to a decline in attacks in the country this year. Last December, Taliban gunmen massacred around 150 children and teachers at a military-run school in Peshawar.
Iliyas Bilor, a leader of the opposition Awami National Party, admits that the Peshawar attack "appears to be a reaction against the ongoing military operation," however, he believes that the security forces have been quite successful in eliminating terrorists. "I think the operation must continue," he told DW's Peshawar correspondent, Faridullah Khan.
Yet a number of analysts remain skeptical about the army operation. They say that Pakistan's highly influential generals still distinguish between the "good and bad Taliban" and want to use Islamists to increase their influence in Kabul. That is why, they say, Islamabad has not been able to defeat the jihadist groups.
"We now discover that Zarb-e-Azb was aimed at weakening political parties and not eliminating terrorists. Some of the top global terrorists such as Hafiz Saeed and Hizbul Mujahideen's Yusuf Shah are openly leading public rallies, recruiting jihadists, and fundraising," Arif Jamal, a US-based journalist and author of several books on Islamic terrorism and Pakistan, told DW.
Siegfried O. Wolf, a political science expert at Heidelberg University, is of the same view. He told DW that he was convinced that several elements within the Pakistan security apparatus still believe that the Taliban could be used as a strategic tool to counter Indian presence in Afghanistan.
The attacks won't stop until Islamabad overhauls its policies and stops backing Islamists to maintain pressure on Afghanistan and India in the region, Agha emphasized.