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Pakistan Attacks Show Tighter Militant Links

Posted by BlueDrak Saturday, October 17, 2009

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A wave of attacks against top security installations over the last several days demonstrated that the Taliban, Al Qaeda and militant groups once nurtured by the government are tightening an alliance aimed at bringing down the Pakistani state, government officials and analysts said.

More than 30 people were killed Thursday in Lahore, the second largest city in Pakistan, as three teams of militants assaulted two police training centers and a federal investigations building. The dead included 19 police officers and at least 11 militants, police officials said.

Nine others were killed in two attacks at a police station in Kohat, in the northwest, and a residential complex in Peshawar, capital of North-West Frontier Province.

The assaults in Lahore, coming after a 20-hour siege at the army headquarters in Rawalpindi last weekend, showed the deepening reach of the militant network, as well as its rising sophistication and inside knowledge of the security forces, officials and analysts said.

The umbrella group for the Pakistani Taliban, Tehrik-e-Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attacks in Lahore, the independent television news channel Geo reported on its Web site.

But the style of the attacks also revealed the closer ties between the Taliban and Al Qaeda and what are known as jihadi groups, which operate out of southern Punjab, the country’s largest province, analysts said. The cooperation has made the militant threat to Pakistan more potent and insidious than ever, they said.

The government has tolerated the Punjabi groups, including Jaish-e-Muhammad and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, for years, and many Pakistanis consider them allies in just causes, including fighting India, the United States and Shiite Muslims. But they have become entwined with the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and have increasingly turned on the state.

The alliance has now stepped up attacks as the military prepares an assault on the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan, where senior members of the Punjabi groups also find sanctuary and support.

“These are all Punjabi groups with a link to South Waziristan,” Aftab Ahmed Sherpao, a former interior minister, said, explaining the recent attacks.

In a rare acknowledgment of the lethal combination of forces, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that a “syndicate” of militant groups wanted to see “Pakistan as a failed state.”

“The banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, Jaish-e-Muhammad, Al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi are operating jointly in Pakistan,” Mr. Malik told journalists, pledging a more effective counterstrategy.

In Washington, senior intelligence officials said the multiple coordinated attacks were a characteristic of operations influenced by Al Qaeda. But the officials said they were still sifting through intelligence reports to determine whether the attacks indeed marked an attempt by Al Qaeda to assert more influence over the Pakistani Taliban’s operations.

They said the assaults also might have been orchestrated by the Taliban to avenge the death of Baitullah Mehsud, the Pakistani Taliban leader, and send a stark message that the insurgents could still carry out daring attacks without him.

The fresh violence highlights the expanding challenges as the Obama administration tries to bolster Pakistan’s civilian government and encourage the military to press its campaign against the Taliban.

On Thursday,President Obama signed a civilian aid package for Pakistan of $7.5 billion over five years. The package has prompted friction over conditions for the aid — like greater civilian oversight of the military and demands that Pakistan drop support for militant groups — which army officers and politicians considered infringements on Pakistan’s sovereignty.

The White House issued a statement on Thursday noting the shared interests of the countries. However, in a sign of scant sympathy for the unappreciative reaction to the money, there was no signing ceremony.

The rise in more penetrating terrorist attacks may now add its own pressure on the Pakistani government to crack down on the Punjabi militants. It is time for the government to come out in public and explain the nature of the enemy, said Khalid Aziz, a former chief secretary of North-West Frontier Province.

“The national narrative in support of jihad has confused the Pakistani mind,” Mr. Aziz said. “All along we’ve been saying these people are trying to fight a war of Islam, but there is a need for transforming the national narrative.”

The jihadi groups were formally banned by the former president, Pervez Musharraf, after the Sept. 11 attacks, when Pakistan joined the United States in the campaign against terrorism.

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