ISLAMABAD The number of attacks from improvised explosive devices in Pakistan has grown by more than 145 percent in the last four years, as expertise in the crude bombs has flowed from militants in Iraq to Afghanistan and eventually to Pakistan, officials said.
Just on Tuesday, three separate IED attacks in North Waziristan near the Afghan border and Baluchistan in the southwest killed seven Pakistan border troops and wounded 24.
"Where this expertise is coming from, probably initially it came from Iraq, and then from Afghanistan and now it's here," said a Pakistani intelligence official.
He said there had been a dip in suicide bombings in Pakistan with a correspondent increase in IED attacks, which are increasingly the weapon of choice for Pakistan insurgents.
IEDs are also one of the Afghan Taliban's most effective weapons against coalition troops in Afghanistan.
A team of law enforcement officials from Pakistan and the United States began meetings in Islamabad on Tuesday as part of their strategic dialogue, with a large part of the discussions focused on ways to fight the menace of IEDs.
"It's a lethal weapon," Interior Minister Rehman Malik said at the opening of the session, vowing to equip security forces with better detection equipment.
According to figures provided by the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan's powerful spy agency, the number of IED attacks on Pakistani troops and security forces soared from 413 in 2007 to 1,015 in 2010, an increase of 145 percent. A breakdown of casualties from IEDs was not available.
But unlike in Iraq, where caches of munitions hidden by Saddam Hussein's regime were the main source of explosive material, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, most IEDs are made using ammonium nitrate, a common fertilizer in Pakistan.
In March 2010, Pakistani authorities seized more than 6,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate hidden in a market in Lahore. Zulfiqar Hameed, a senior police official, said three men arrested had links with militants.
"Explosives are very easily available," said another senior police official in Peshawar, who requested anonymity to speak to the press. "If somebody wants to buy explosive material for mining or other work he can get it through legal ways, but then there is no check or tracking whether it's used properly."
Manuals for making IEDs are available on the internet, he said. "It is not a rocket science and it doesn't require such a huge installation or factory to manufacture it."
(Additional reporting by Augustine Anthony, Kamran Haider and Mubasher Bukhari)