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Pakistan foils terror plot in latest success

Police thwarted an attack on a government minister Monday, one day after a Taliban commander died in custody. Recent progress has led to cautious optimism about Pakistan’s fight against militancy.

By Jonathan AdamsCorrespondent / September 21, 2009



Pakistani forces foiled an attack on an education minister Monday, a day after a captured top Pakistani Taliban commander died in custody.

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On Saturday, the Pakistani army said 51 militants had surrendered and seven others were arrested in northwest Pakistan.

The successes in Pakistan's fight against militants are being compared favorably by some analysts to the increasingly chaotic situation in neighboring Afghanistan.

Observers attribute Pakistan's recent progress to a stepped-up military campaign launched in April; improved intelligence-sharing between Pakistan, the United States, and Afghanistan; and a shift in public opinion against the Taliban. US drone attacks on top militant targets have also helped, though Pakistan publicly protests against these strikes as a violation of its sovereignty.

A Predator strike last month killed the head of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud.

The Associated Press reported Monday that police broke up a plot to kill North West Frontier Province Education Minister Sardar Hussain Babak. Police received a tip that the plotters were meeting at a high school after midnight, the AP reported, and swooped down on the school. One teenage plotter blew himself up.

Police confronted the militants and a firefight ensued. A loud explosion rocked the building and three of the men escaped, including one who was wounded, Khan told The Associated Press from Tatalai district.
‘We have collected the body parts of the young suicide attacker and these will be sent for identification purposes,’ said Khan.

Meanwhile, Sher Mohammad Kasab died in custody four days after being wounded in a raid near Swat's main town, Mingora – an operation that also killed his three sons. Reuters quoted anonymous officials saying Mr. Kasab's death was a major blow for the region's Taliban.

"He was severely wounded. We tried to save his life, but he succumbed to his wounds early this morning," said a military spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel Akhtar Abbas.
Another military official in the region said the death of Kasab, who carried bounty of 10 million rupees ($120,000) on his head, would reassure residents of the former tourist valley that the Taliban was finished.

In an analysis piece Sunday, the AP quoted several analysts who expressed cautious optimism on Pakistan's improving security situation, and contrasted it with Afghanistan.

While the Pakistani military has at least temporarily gained the upper hand, the security situation in neighboring Afghanistan has deteriorated with increased roadside bombings, suicide attacks and ambushes. Heightened counterinsurgency efforts by the U.S., NATO and the Afghan government have so far failed to make much headway there, analysts said.
[Kamran Bokhari, Middle East and South Asia director for intelligence firm, Stratfor] said while "the Pakistanis have gotten their act together," efforts in Afghanistan by the U.S., NATO and the Afghan government appear "to be in disarray."

The article referenced an essay in Foreign Policy by Imtiaz Gul, in which he states: "it's time for cautious optimism about my country's fate."

But most observers stressed that it was far too early to count out the Taliban just yet. Said AP: "No one is saying overall victory is in sight."

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