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Pakistan outraged over girl's shooting, but crackdown on Taliban unlikely

 

By Imtiaz Gul

 The Los Angeles Times, Oct 12, 2012

 

The United States has long urged Pakistan to target North Waziristan. The Pakistani army has talked of an offensive there, but has never followed through.

Islamabad's rationale has been that its troops are stretched too thin, but many experts and officials in Washington believe the reluctance has more to do with the Pakistani government's long-standing relationship with Haqqani leaders.

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The attack on Malala has renewed calls for such an offensive.
"The time has come for the federal government and security forces to launch a full-scale offensive on the warmongers," said Iftikhar Hussain, information minister for the province that includes Swat. "How long will our people be crying over the bodies of their loved ones?"
Experts say an offensive is unlikely. Pakistani leaders have always feared that moving against North Waziristan could trigger large-scale blowback in the form of suicide bombings and other terrorist acts in Pakistan's major cities, where militants maintain a stealthy presence.

"The reaction might be furious in Pakistan's mainland," said Imtiaz Gul, author of "The Most Dangerous Place: Pakistan's Lawless Frontier," a look at militancy in the nation's tribal belt.

Militants are embedded throughout Pakistani society, from the country's largest city, Karachi, to the mango groves and sugar cane fields of Punjab province. Law enforcement has neither the manpower nor the tools to root out terrorist cells in a systematic way. Police are poorly paid, poorly trained and lack even rudimentary investigative techniques.

"This is an issue that we face in many parts of the country, this creeping monster of militancy coming from various shades of the Taliban," Gul said. "The challenge for the military, the civilian government and police is how to surveil all these groups and locate where they embed themselves."

The clout of the hard-line Islamist community was evident with the 2011 assassination of Punjab provincial Gov. Salman Taseer, who spoke out against the country's blasphemy law. The law makes it a crime to insult the prophet Muhammad, the Koran or the Islamic faith, but it is often exploited as a tool to repress minorities.

Taseer was gunned down by one of his own bodyguards, who confessed and is now on death row. After the shooting, fundamentalist clerics led thousands of demonstrators through the streets of major cities, applauding the bodyguard, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, with chants of "Salute to your bravery, Qadri!"

This week, when they have spoken about the attack on Malala, the clerics have focused on a much easier target in a country where anti-American sentiment runs sky-high: U.S. drone strikes.

During Friday prayers at Islamabad's Red Mosque, site of a 2007 government siege against Islamic extremists that ended in more than 100 deaths, an imam belittled the girl for her admiration ofPresident Obama and criticized the media for focusing so much attention on her.

"All the media is showing is the bleeding head of this child. Why don't they show the dead bodies torn apart in drone attacks?" the imam said in his sermon.

Lawmaker Amir says the outrage sweeping Pakistan won't amount to much unless hard-line clerics reverse themselves.

"I would have seen it as heartening if the religious parties said on Friday, 'Today we will mount rallies and protests across the country, and we will grieve for Malala and condemn the Taliban,'" he said. "That is not happening."