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Musharraf challenge for new militant: analysts PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Agence France-Presse .

Islamabad With Islamic militants now massing at the gates of Pakistan’s main north-western city, the president, Pervez Musharraf, faces a new challenge on his return from a foreign tour, analysts and officials said. After a week-long charm offensive in Europe aimed at convincing Western allies he can tackle al-Qaeda, Musharraf will fly home this week to find rebels clashing with security forces just outside bustling Peshawar.

In the nearby tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, Pakistani troops are still battling fighters led by the main suspect in the killing of Benazir Bhutto, adding to global concerns for the stability of the nuclear-armed nation. Analysts said Musharraf must resolve a long-standing dilemma — go after the militant leadership and risk even more suicide attacks in Pakistan’s big cities, or hold back and see the insurgents push further into the country.

‘These militants have been expanding their influence in the northwest, and it has been happening for quite a few days,’ Brigadier Mahmood Shah, the former secretary for the tribal areas during 2003 and 2004, told the news agency. ‘The government is reacting late to the threat and the situation,’ added Shah, who was in charge of the region at a time of massive military operations to drive out Islamist fighters. Former army general Musharraf repeatedly insisted during meetings in Europe last week that Pakistan and its estimated 50 nuclear warheads are safe from any militant takeover.

But as he delivered his speeches, around 30 militants and two soldiers were killed on Friday in fighting involving helicopter gunships and tanks in the huge tribal weapons bazaar of Dara Adam Khel, on the outskirts of Peshawar. Pakistani forces launched an operation to recover four trucks of ammunition that had been hijacked by rebels — but the militants responded by blocking a major highway.

The army is denying that the clashes are linked to the situation in the tribal area of South Waziristan, the stronghold of al-Qaeda-linked radical warlord and Benazir assassination suspect Baitullah Mehsud. Insurgents in Mehsud’s area of control captured a paramilitary fort earlier this month and have attacked several others in a dramatic escalation of violence since Benazir’s death that has cost more than 200 lives. ‘This particular area and operation in Dara Adam Khel is detached from other parts of FATA (the tribal areas),’ chief military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said.

Dara Adam Khel was ‘known for criminal gang activities’ and ‘criminal gangs have joined (Islamic) miscreants and the result of this is that they have hijacked explosives trucks,’ Abbas said. ‘The whole Indus highway is blocked by these miscreants and the objective of this operation is to clear that road and provide relief to the people.’ But Rahimullah Yousafzai, an analyst on tribal affairs and leading journalist in Pakistan, said the current battles near Peshawar and in South Waziristan were linked, due to a change in militant tactics. ‘It is a diversion, they are trying to help militants in South Waziristan by engaging the army elsewhere,’ Yousafzai said.

‘The ammunition trucks were being carried by the army to Waziristan—this seizure was to help Baitullah Mehsud.’ Pakistani security forces retook control of a major road tunnel in the northwest late Sunday after a day of fighting in which at least 24 militants were killed, the army said. Militants had occupied the Japanese-built tunnel in the lawless town of Darra Adam Khel on Friday, blocking traffic between the main city of Peshawar in North West Frontier Province and the city of Kohat.

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