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Pakistan tested by battles with Al Qaeda, Taliban

The US pursuit of Al Qaeda with airstrikes complicates Pakistan's struggle against the Taliban, who launched their largest attack in months over the weekend.

By Shahan MuftiCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / January 13, 2009

New ties: Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani met with Vice President-elect Joe Biden in Islamabad Friday.

Mian Khursheed/Reuters


Islamabad, Pakistan

US military officials said over the weekend that a Jan. 1 drone aircraft strike in Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal area killed two senior Al Qaeda operatives.

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But the continuing strikes inside Pakistan are doing little good in the war on terror, many observers here charge – or for a Pakistani government that is trying to sell it as "Pakistan's own war" rather than an American imposition, which is the popular perception.

Pakistan's government also maintains that such air strikes are strengthening the cause of the Taliban militancy at home.

"There are two battles going on here," says Ikram Sehgal a former major in the Pakistan Army and the publisher of the Defence Journal in Karachi. One involves the American search for Al Qaeda operatives hiding in the tribal areas, he says. The other is the Pakistan military's fight against the Taliban Movement of Pakistan that has taken root in the northwestern regions of the country.

Though the two have "linkages," they are "two separate wars," says Mr. Sehgal.

The Americans, Sehgal says, are launching drone attacks with the expectation that they will weaken Al Qaeda command structures in Pakistan. But the strikes also "are definitely making the job a lot more difficult for the Pakistanis," by giving the Taliban a rallying cry, he says.

Yesterday, at least six Pakistani soldiers were reported dead when hundreds of militants, in one of their largest attacks in months, struck checkpoints in the Mohmand Agency in the tribal belt. Mohmand Agency, which borders Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, is the newest battleground in the struggle between the Army and a mixture of tribal and Taliban militants for control of the swath of land along the Afghan border.

Security forces said they drove back the militants, who attacked from the direction of the Afghan border.

The drone attacks on New Year's Day are only the latest in the more than two dozen similar strikes, carried out since August 2008, which have killed more than 200 people, according to Agence France-Presse. The targets were the head of Al Qaeda in Pakistan and his deputy, both Kenyans and both wanted by the FBI for the bombings of the American embassies in Africa in 1998.