PESHAWAR, Pakistan – Pakistan banned the Taliban on Monday, toughening its stance after the Islamic militant group claimed responsibility for deadly homicide bombings against one of Pakistan's most sensitive military installations.
The ban imposed by the fragile governing coalition comes just a week after the ouster of Pervez Musharraf, a key U.S. ally whose departure has prompted concern that the nuclear-armed country is too unstable to beat back extremists.
Anyone caught aiding the Taliban in Pakistan — which will have its bank accounts and assets frozen — faces up to 10 years in prison.
The Interior Ministry announced the ban 24 hours after rejecting a Taliban cease-fire offer in Bajur tribal region, a rumored hiding place for Usama bin Laden, where an army offensive has reportedly killed hundreds in recent weeks.
Another 200,000 people are said to have fled their homes.
"This organization is a terrorist organization and created mayhem against public life," said ministry chief Rehman Malik.
The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, an umbrella group of militants along the rugged Afghan border set up last year, has claimed responsibility for a wave of homicide bombings that have killed hundreds since the fragile civilian government took power some five months ago.
The deadliest attack, a spectacular twin homicide bombing at one of Pakistan's largest and most sensitive military installations, just 20 miles from the capital, left 67 dead on Thursday, almost all of them civilians.
"I think at the moment they definitely have the upper hand, and we need to do something better," Asif Ali Zardari, leader of the Pakistan People's Party, which has the largest bloc in Parliament, told the British Broadcasting Corp. shortly before the ban was announced.
Whatever the world, Pakistan included, has done in the last 10 years to fight terrorism, the presidential hopeful said, "it's not working."
Malik said the Taliban group was not banned more quickly because the provincial government had been trying to negotiate with it to secure peace. The restrictions would include offering financial aid, handing out propaganda or providing any other type of support.
The militants, meanwhile, called the ban "meaningless."
"We are neither registered nor do we have any bank accounts," said Muslim Khan, spokesman for the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, which has threatened to step up its campaign of violence nationwide unless the military ends its operations in Bajur. "We are slaves to no one."
Malik noted that, despite a peace deal struck with some insurgents in Swat, a former tourist destination-turned-battlefield, al-Qaida and Taliban-linked militants kept attacking security forces, burning schools and damaging public buildings.
Eight were killed in the latest violence Monday, a pre-dawn rocket-and-bomb strike on the home of provincial lawmaker Waqar Ahmed Khan in Swat, police and the politician said. His brother, two nephews and five guards were killed.
Separately, an armored vehicle believed to be going to NATO forces in Afghanistan was set ablaze by "miscreants" as it was being transported in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi, said Iqbal Mahmood, a police official.
Despite its hardening stance toward militants, Pakistan's government appears increasingly fragile. The People's Party was building alliances with smaller parties in Parliament in case its main junior partner, headed by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, pulled out.
The two sides have been drifting apart over several key issues, including whether to slash the powers of the next president.