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Wave of Suicide Bombings, Rocket Attacks Target Pakistan


Suicide bomb attacks wounded several people Thursday, July 26th, in northwest Pakistan -- part of a wave of violence rolling through the south Asian nation. Pakistan's government faces pressure internally from militants believed to be hiding in the country's remote tribal regions and externally from American allies who want tougher action against the jihadists. VOA's Jim Fry looks at how Pakistan is bearing up under such pressures.

On Pakistan's northwest frontier, local townspeople clean up after another rocket attack while in the capital city, Islamabad, a suicide bomber leaves a grisly scene. Such attacks have killed 200 people in the last two weeks.

The violence followed the government assault of the Red Mosque in Islamabad and the collapse of a separate peace deal with pro-Taleban partisans. Islamic militants occupied the mosque for a week before government troops drove them out.
Under the peace deal, the Pakistani army had scaled back operations in Waziristan province to allow tribal leaders to control Islamist fighters.

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and many U.S. experts on Pakistan, are losing patience. Chairman John Kerry of the Democratic Party says, "There are our own intelligence personnel who are warning us of al-Qaida's strength, not in Iraq, but in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Indeed -- to some degree spreading through Europe -- al-Qaida has grown stronger. Osama bin Laden and his top leadership are likely still hiding out somewhere in the region."

Daniel Markey is a senior fellow with the private Council on Foreign Relations. He agrees that Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders should have been captured, and by that measure he says both Pakistan and the U.S have failed. "It is deeply troubling they are still out there," he says.

Some in Congress threaten to cut back U.S. monetary assistance for President Pervez Musharraf's government. Since the terrorist attacks on the U.S. in 2001, it has enjoyed the fifth largest share of U.S. foreign aid -- about $10 billion.

But Markey says the U.S. should not threaten its ally in the troubled region. "I do not believe that you can coerce greater cooperation by threatening the very individuals who are giving you that cooperation," says Markey.

The Musharraf government's internal troubles come not only from militants who occupied the Red Mosque -- and operate in the lawless tribal regions -- but also among moderates.

The nation's lawyers loudly protested when General Musharraf's government removed the supreme court chief justice --a cause that thousands of protesters joined in June.

By the time the supreme court reinstated Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, the damage had been done to the Pakistani president. Political analyst Farzani Bari: "He is a man who has lost support from the liberals because he is not very far with his liberal agenda,” says Bari. “He also makes his allies unhappy, where most of his conservative lobby has been. Basically somebody who is losing support from both sides."

Others take a more measured view. Senator Mushahid Hussain -- leader of the Pakistan Muslim League political party -- says Chaudhry's return demonstrates a new institutional balance.

"It shows the independence of the judiciary,” says Hussain. “It shows the media as free and it shows that Pakistan is certainly not a Latin American style tin pot military dictatorship."

In Washington, the Bush administration urges Congress to continue its support. "There is a battle underway -- between these extremist forces inside Pakistan and the government,” says Nicholas Burns of the U.S. State Department. “And I think that battle will extend to other democratic political parties, let us face it, for the future of Pakistan. And so we need to be present to give the right type of assistance and we need to be present over the long term to help them."

Some in Pakistan say the challenge now is to resolve the nation's internal conflicts without more violence -- though one political leader says Washington's "do more" mantra does little to help Pakistanis reach consensus.

Jim Fry, VOA News.

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