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Pakistan Taliban bombing spree could spur backlash

The Pakistan Taliban may have sought to scare the military from launching an offensive against their base in South Waziristan. But the attacks, which killed 112 people in the past week, could harden the Army's resolve.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 13, 2009

A police officer stands guard at a checkpoint in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Monday. The Pakistani Taliban say they have mobilized insurgent allies across the country for a new wave of attacks aimed at avenging the death of their leader in a U.S. airstrike.

Alexandre Meneghini/AP


New Delhi

Facing a looming assault from the military, the Al Qaeda-linked Pakistani Taliban launched a spree of brazen attacks and a media blitz over the past week that appeared to say "bring it on."

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Today, the military responded by bombing the Taliban's hub in South Waziristan as government forces prepare for a ground offensive there.

The Taliban have recently killed at least 112 people – including United Nations workers, peacekeeper recruits in the restive Swat Valley, and a general and two colonels in the Pakistani Army. They also infiltrated Army headquarters over the weekend. But experts on the conflict sense an underlying insecurity behind their tactics.

"For [the militants], it's essentially a battle for their survival. If they lose the sanctuary in South Waziristan, that's pretty much the end of the game for them," says Rifaat Hussain, a security expert at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad. "For them, offense is a defensive strategy."

Taliban goes on offensive

The idea would be to sow fear in minds of advancing troops and civilians, whom both sides will try to keep from helping the other. And the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, needed to burnish that fearsome image following a half year of setbacks for the group.

The TTP entered the spring looking like a David running circles around the Pakistani military Goliath. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton openly worried about the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons, and some in Washington worried the country could collapse within six months.

Instead, the military chased the Taliban from Swat and won popular support, while the US killed TTP leader Baitullah Mehsud with a missile.

The Taliban's 22-hour shootout and hostage drama inside the heavily guarded Army headquarters this weekend succeeded in reviving some of Washington's earlier anxieties. But Ms. Clinton again set the tone, this time reflecting the diminished concern over the TTP.

"We have confidence in the Pakistani government and military's control over nuclear weapons," she said, adding that while militants were "increasingly threatening the authority of the state, we see no evidence that they are going to take over the state."