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Help US prevent future Faisal Shahzads? Pakistan demurs.

The US is likely to further pressure on Pakistan to clear militant strongholds after Times Square bomb suspect Faisal Shahzad said he trained in one. But Pakistan has wavered on cracking down before.

By Staff writer, Issam AhmedCorrespondent / May 6, 2010

Supporters of the youth wing of Pakistani religious party Jamat-e-Islami rally to support the New York City's Times Square bombing suspect Faisal Shahzad in Karachi, Pakistan on Thursday.

Shakil Adil/AP


New Delhi; and Lahore, Pakistan

Pressure, once again, is mounting on Pakistan to crush Islamist groups within its borders, but history as well as current ground realities suggest Islamabad's response will be selective.

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For months, Washington has urged the Pakistani military to clear out North Waziristan, the largest tribal agency and the only one to have avoided major military operations. The alleged Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad, has apparently told US interrogators that he trained in Waziristan, upping the ante on Pakistan to act.

But three major factors put limits on Pakistan's cooperation: military resources, public opinion, and reluctance to attack certain militant groups.

"The strongest response from Pakistan will be facilitating and helping the American [investigation into] the terror plot. It will definitely not be interested in doing an operation in North Waziristan," says Abdul Basit, researcher at the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies in Islamabad.

Pressure has been the buzzword in the US-Pakistani relationship at least since 2001, when Washington threatened Pakistan with enemy status if the country did not immediately U-turn from supporting the Taliban to fighting them. Pressure on the country spiked again following the 2005 London Tube attacks, the 2008 Mumbai massacre, and US recognition in 2009 that the Afghan war might be lost.

Narrow focus

The US extracted little military cooperation until the spring of 2009. The Army decided to mount a serious counterinsurgency offensive, pushing the Tehrik-e-Taliban out of Swat and Buner districts, then from South Waziristan and other tribal areas. Resistance to taking on the TTP evaporated after their string of devastating attacks against the Army, and video of a Taliban-administered flogging in Swat shocked the public.

Moves by the military since, however, have for the most part narrowly focused on the TTP, skirting confrontations with groups tied to jihad in Kashmir or cross-border fighting in Afghanistan.

North Waziristan is a key base for Taliban factions fighting in Afghanistan, including one headed by Jalaluddin Haqqani, once described by Pakistan's Army chief as an "asset."