ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — An insurgent driving a truck laden with up to a ton of explosives targeted an office of Pakistan's premier military intelligence agency Tuesday, the latest assault in a terrorist rampage that's left 500 people dead since early October.
Tuesday's attack, which killed 12 people, was aimed at the office of Inter-Services Intelligence in the city of Multan, in the south of Punjab province. On Monday, a bomb tore through a market in Punjab's provincial capital, Lahore, killing 49 people.
The small truck drove up to a checkpoint manned by police and the army just before noon Tuesday in Multan, about 50 yards from the ISI building. When challenged, a man climbed out of the cab and launched a rocket-propelled grenade toward the security guards, according to Mohammad Ali Gardezi, a senior local official. Police returned fire.
"Because of the police firing, the truck couldn't reach its target," Gardezi said, adding that it was estimated that the vehicle was packed with 800 to 1000 kilograms of explosives.
The significance of the attack in Multan is partly due to its location in southern Punjab, an area that previously had suffered little terrorist violence in the insurgent offensive. One reason is that the region has housed militant groups that the ISI had backed secretly in the past. Analysts think that some of those extremist groups now have linked instead to al Qaida.
The insurgent assaults have coincided with the military's offensive against the base of the Pakistani Taliban in South Waziristan, in Pakistan's lawless tribal belt on the border with Afghanistan.
While Washington is publicly pressing Pakistan to move against Afghan insurgents who are based on its soil, a crucial element in the new Obama administration plan for Afghanistan, Islamabad says that it's fully stretched trying to combat the al Qaida-inspired domestic insurgency.
The Multan blast left a crater some 15 feet deep and 30 feet across, with a force that knocked down surrounding buildings, including an apartment block provided for ISI employees. Twelve people were killed and 30 wounded, including some children. Had the truck reached the ISI office, the results probably would have been devastating.
Meanwhile, a brewing political crisis in Islamabad that could result in the ouster of many top government officials continues to sap the country's attention. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court received details of long-standing corruption charges leveled against pro-Western President Asif Ali Zardari, including the accusation that he had $1.5 billion in "assets beyond means."
Under an amnesty that the U.S. had helped to mediate, politicians and bureaucrats had waived unproved charges against them dating to the 1990s, accusations that they claimed were politically motivated.
The court Tuesday received a list of 248 beneficiaries of the amnesty from the government's anti-corruption watchdog. It listed six corruption charges against Zardari that had been dropped, including alleged misuse of authority and graft in the awarding of contracts.
The presidency reacted sharply to the dredging up of the old cases, which date from when Zardari's late wife, Benazir Bhutto, was the prime minister. Zardari succeeded Bhutto as the leader of the now-ruling Pakistan People's Party after she was assassinated in 2007.
"None of the charges leveled against Madam Benazir Bhutto and Mr. Asif Ali Zardari could be proved in any court of law despite spending hundreds of millions from public exchequer and relentless witch hunting spread over countries and continents," said Farhatullah Babar, a representative for the president. "The regurgitation of these allegations at this time is part of the ongoing media trial of the PPP leadership."
(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent.)
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY
Follow Washington developments at McClatchy's Planet Washington.