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Pakistan Intensifies Crackdown on Extremists in Tribal Areas


Pakistan is carrying out a sustained military campaign against Islamist extremists in the semiautonomous tribal areas in the northwestern part of the country. Despite the push to flush out Taliban and al-Qaida militants from the region, they continue to carry out attacks and even kill foreigners. Pakistan's new President, Asif Ali Zardari, remains hopeful the military campaign will succeed but he also must convince the Pakistani people the military offensive is in Pakistan's national interest. VOA's Ravi Khanna has the story.

Pakistan's Military Crackdown
Pakistan is intensifying its military crackdown on Taliban and al-Qaida extremists, entrenched in the semiautonomous tribal areas known as FATA.

The militants also have intensified their drive against the Pakistani government, carrying out suicide bombings and other attacks. In recent days, militants kidnapped an Iranian diplomat in Peshawar, after killing his Pakistani guard -- and also shot a Japanese journalist in a failed kidnapping attempt. Earlier, suspected militants killed an American aid worker and his driver in Pakistan's northwestern city of Peshawar.

Despite these attacks, Pakistan's new President, Asif Ali Zardari remains determined to continue the military crackdown. "They've realized there is a force here, and there's the people of Pakistan to be reckoned with," he said. "And we've got the people involved and its the people's war against some miscreants"

US Interventions in Pakistan
Yet the continuing US missile attacks on militant hideouts inside Pakistan are proving to be an embarrassment for Mr. Zardari. He says the attacks undermine support for the military offensive. "We feel that it's an intrusion in our sovereignty and which is not appreciated by the people at large and the first aspect of this war is to win the hearts and minds of the people," he said.

Experts say the dilemma facing Mr. Zardari is that many Pakistanis do not realize those being targeted by US predator attacks are trying to bring down the country. Haider Mullick teaches at the Joint Special Operations University run by the US Defense Department.

"Because the government is not open about their particular dealing with the Americans when it comes to drone attacks in FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Agencies]," Mullick said. "So there is that problem between the people and the government."

With a new administration soon to take office, the situation in Pakistan is likely to be a high priority. While in the Senate, incoming Vice President Joe Biden supported a proposal to provide a $1.5 billion annual aid package for the development of Pakistan's northwestern tribal region

Haider Mullick says the aid proposal is a good idea. "You have civilian aid directly targeted to development with pre-conditions that Pakistanis are spending it in areas that need it, are doing it to strengthen democracy, to have a better civil-military relationship, and that they are going after the bad guys," he said.

And President-elect Barack Obama will be able to help too by reaching out to the Muslim world, says Lisa Curtis at the Heritage Foundation.

"There has been a wide perception in the Muslim world, particularly in Pakistan, that the US goal in the war on terrorism is a fight against the religion of Islam," Curtis said.. "That is a misperception that the US must defeat, and I think (President-elect) Obama can do that."

Haider Mullick says the Obama administration is also expected to push for peace between India and Pakistan. This could help President Zardari to fully concentrate on fighting terrorism on the western border with Afghanistan.