How Times Square bomb arrests unite US, Pakistan

Pakistan's arrest of two suspected members of the Pakistan Taliban connected to the attempted Times Square bomb show that it is taking seriously the threat of militants within its borders.

By , Staff writer

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    President Barack Obama meets New York City police officers in their Real Time Crime Center at their headquarters in New York City, Thursday. Times Square bomb suspect Faisal Shahzad is shown on screen, top left.
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Pakistan’s arrests of at least two members of the Pakistan Taliban in connection with this month’s attempted bombing in New York’s Times Square reinforces how the interests of the US and Pakistan have begun to coincide.

A senior military official confirmed Friday that in recent days Pakistan arrested at least two individuals who provided training and resources to Faisal Shahzad, the American from Connecticut who allegedly attempted to detonate a car bomb in Times Square earlier this month.

The individuals were picked up separately, from locations within Pakistan that were not immediately clear. They had provided monetary and other forms of support, the military official said.

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“They helped move the money to Shahzad,” said the official, “as best as we can tell.”

The arrests, first reported Friday by The Washington Post, underscore how Pakistan has begun to see and take seriously the threat posed to its government by Taliban militants. The Pakistan Taliban, sometimes known as Tehrik-i-Taliban, is distinct from another militant group in Pakistan, the Afghan Taliban, which typically stages attacks from Pakistan into Afghanistan.

The US has sought to diminish the effectiveness of the Afghan Taliban as part of its overall counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, and has pressed Pakistan to go after this group as well. In that regard, too, Pakistan has begun to show results, rounding up top leaders of the Afghan Taliban since last fall.

But it was the Pakistan Taliban that said it had provided resources to Mr. Shahzad’s bombing attempt in New York, a significant development because the Pakistan Taliban’s anti-American ambitions had previously remained overseas. The Times Square attempt and Pakistan’s arrest of the two men show how the US and Pakistan’s interests have converged, says Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.

“The big change in Pakistan is they have become much more aggressive against the Pakistan Taliban because they have come to see them as a threat to their regime,” he says.

For years, the US has pushed Islamabad to do more to kill or capture them, only to alienate the country’s leadership. Over the last year or so, the US has taken a different tack, doing more to provide resources to Pakistan – a few billion per year in military and non-military aid – and trying to exhibit more discipline about what it says publicly and even privately.

Just this week, Gen. David Petraeus made a point of lauding Pakistan for its efforts in going after militants inside its borders, likely aware of its efforts against the same militants who claimed a role in the Times Square plot.

“Pakistan has gone after the Pakistan Taliban in a very serious manner over the course of the last year,” Mr. Petraeus told an audience of industry and military people at a conference in Norfolk, Va. Wednesday. He said Tehrik-i-Taliban represents “the most pressing existential threat” to Pakistan.

“Indeed, what Pakistan has done has been quite impressive, particularly given its activities since 9/11,” he added.

US officials at first dismissed the group’s initial claims that it had provided support to Shahzad, but over the last several days, officials have said they think Shahzad did receive support and training from the group. Shahzad was arrested minutes before his commercial jetliner was to leave New York’s JFK airport for Pakistan May 3.

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