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Pakistani police a growing target, Lahore attack shows

Interior minister says the Pakistani Taliban are behind the attack.

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"It's a new generation of terrorists – better equipped with better planning and better coordination," says Pakistani security expert Ayesha Siddiqa. The attack "makes a case for better equipping the police and training them."

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Injured police in hospitals remain in shock over the attack, which took place close to the Indian border in the town of Manawan.

"Eight hundred of us were parading the ground when the attack began. I was injured in my leg and just ran for my life," says constable Abid, speaking from his hospital bed.

As with the Mumbai attacks of November, television stations beamed live images of security forces caught in a protracted standoff against a handful of terrorists. Pakistani Interior Ministry advisor Rehman Malik boasted that the commando counterstrike ended "in four hours" compared to the Indian response in Mumbai, which took more than three days.

The standoff ended after Pakistani forces killed three gunmen and captured at least three more. Three of the gunmen blew themselves up.

Mr. Malik said at a press conference that the attack was carried out by fighters of Pakistani Taliban leader Beitullah Mehsud, and that one of the assailants captured was an Afghan national. "A foreign hand may be involved, though it's a matter of ongoing investigation," he said. "Where did they get so many grenades, rocket launchers, and vehicles?"

In the northwestern valley of Swat, a Pakistani Taliban group targeted security forces so ruthlessly until a peace deal was forged a month ago that police began taking ads out in newspapers announcing their resignation. (See related story here.) Although there's little danger of mass desertions of police in major cities like Lahore, the attack could jeopardize the force's morale.

"These kinds of systematic attacks would quite obviously deter some at least from trying to counter the terrorists," says Ahmed, with the ICG. She notes that during the cricket attacks, police from a nearby station didn't bother to respond.

However, the ability of the elite Punjab Police to regain control of the situation after less than a day "suggests that the Pakistani security establishment could be going on the offensive," according to an email report from Stratfor, a security analysis group in Austin, Texas. Others agree that the attack could become a rallying point for police.

"The jihadis may have stirred up the hornet's nest," says Rifaat Hussein, a defense expert at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad. "The police will call for more resources, more reinforcements, [and] the police in Punjab is a much bigger and stronger force than its counterpart in Swat."