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Pakistan weak as militancy surges

Government strategy has been ineffective, and officials are preoccupied with bid to oust Musharraf.

By Mian RidgeCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / August 18, 2008

Leaving: Residents fled Khar, the main town of Pakistan’s tribal region Bajur, Sunday. Some 219,000 have been displaced by recent fighting.

Anwarullah Khan/AP


Lahore, Pakistan

Mian Azif has stood praying by his older brother's hospital bed every night since the father of four was wounded by a suicide bomber who killed eight people and injured 30.

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I don't know why this has happened," whispers Mr Azif. "I think the government's policies on the militants must be wrong or something."

His view is not uncommon. Pakistan's mounting insurgency, centered in the north-western tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, has been exacerbated by a weak, four-month-old coalition government that lacks an effective antimili-tant strategy.

Following the suicide bombing near a mosque in Lahore last Wednesday – just before the anniversary of Pakistan's independence – concern is growing that the insurgency is increasingly spilling into Pakistan's towns and cities. Lahore's blast occurred only days after 13 people were killed by a bus bombing in Peshawar, a frontier town near Afghanistan increasingly targeted by the Taliban and aligned militant groups.

Exacerbating the problem is the government's preoccupation with its attempt to boot President Pervez Musharraf from power.

Sunday, the coalition's leaders – Asif Ali Zardari of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of the PML-N Party – finished drawing up the charges they will launch against the former Army chief if he refuses to step down. It was a rare moment of unity between the former bitter enemies.

"The government has been totally paralyzed and dysfunctional," says Talat Masoud, a defense and political analyst in Islamabad. He adds he expects the situation in the tribal areas to "get much worse."

Military campaign and broken deals

Since the United States and its allies went to war in Afghanistan in 2001, Pakistan's federally administered tribal areas (FATA) – which fall outside Pakistan's federal laws under a system developed by the British – have become a haven for Al Qaeda and Afghan insurgents.