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Muhhamad Sajjad/AP
Pakistani mourners carry the body of a
Pakistani Taliban commander who was
killed during fighting with the rival

Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan militant group.

Pakistan’s Taliban Cleanup Getting Harder to Sell

August 26, 2008 06:42 AM
by Josh Katz
Pakistan has banned Tehrik-e-Taliban after turning down a ceasefire deal. The public, however, does not seem to favor the government’s hard line against militants.

Militant Group Banned After Rejected Ceasefire

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Pakistan banned Tehrik-e-Taliban on Monday after the Taliban group took responsibility for two suicide bombings that occurred last week. Tehrik-e-Taliban had called for a unilateral ceasefire, but Pakistani officials turned down that offer on Sunday. That day on British radio, Asif Ali Zardari, who put in his bid to be president on Saturday, said the group should be outlawed, according to Voice of America.

Tehrik-e-Taliban is the main local Taliban organization in Pakistan
, according to Monsters & Critics. It is “an umbrella group of several militant organizations. It was created in 2007 and a fearsome militant commander in the country’s tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, Baitullah Mehsud, was chosen as its first head.” Mehsud reputedly called for the assassination of former premier Benazir Bhutto in the attack that occurred last year in Rawalpindi.

The Pakistani government has also banned the groups Lashkar-i-Islam, Ansarul Islam and Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue, “which are not affiliated with TTP but follow one way or the other its philosophy,” Monsters & Critics writes. But the government opted not to prohibit other Taliban groups that only engage in attacks on international forces in Afghanistan.

Interior Ministry head Rehman Malik called for the State Bank of Pakistan to investigate and freeze all bank accounts and assets belonging to those in the organization. “We do not believe in their verbal commitments,” Malik said on Sunday, according to Agence France-Presse. “If they are sincere they should first surrender.” He claimed that tribal militants have not followed through with their pledges to halt operations in the past.

On Aug. 6, Pakistan began launching an offensive against al-Qaida and Taliban militants in the northern Bajaur region bordering Afghanistan, as well as other tribal regions in the area. Bajaur is considered a major stronghold for the militants; according to the government, about 500 have been killed there so far. AFP reports that about 200,000 people have been displaced in the area.

Background: Terrorist attacks and public opinion in Pakistan

In the past week, five major bombings have rocked Pakistan. The most recent attack occurred on Thursday when 63 people were killed at a munitions factory near the capital.

The Taliban has also increased its activity in Afghanistan
. An attack on a large U.S. base in Afghanistan failed to achieve its mission on Tuesday, August 19, “after three suicide bombers were shot dead and the other three detonated prematurely. But the Camp Salerno assault was just one of a slew of attacks across Afghanistan and Pakistan this week that underscore the perilous decline in security on both sides of the border,” according to Time magazine. The militants cited the Pakistani offensive in Bajaur as the reason for the Salerno attack.

It is currently an uncertain time for Pakistan and the future of its fight against militants on its border with Afghanistan. Pervez Musharraf announced his resignation as Pakistan’s president on Aug. 18. Since the U.S. offensive in Afghanistan began, Musharraf has been a U.S. ally in the war on terror, though the U.S. has blamed him with not doing enough to rout out militants.

The recent decision by the ruling coalition to ban the Taliban group also comes without public support. A poll by the U.S. nonprofit organization Terror Free Tomorrow indicates that “58% of Pakistanis want their government to negotiate with Taliban fighters inside Pakistan; just 19% want the army to keep fighting them,” USA Today reports. Also, a poll by the International Republican Institute reveals that, “71% of Pakistanis oppose their country’s cooperation in the U.S. war on terror.” President Musharraf was as military leader who could make decisions without public support; the new government elected by the people should find it much more difficult to do so.

Further complicating matters, on Aug. 1, the United States accused Pakistan’s Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence, known as the ISI, of helping insurgents plan the deadly July 7 attack at the Indian Embassy in Afghanistan. Pakistani officials denied the charge, but for the first time the country did acknowledge that rogue members of the ISI have aided the Taliban in the past. The ISI has previously been suspected of assisting terrorist activity, and many consider it to be “a state within a state.”

Opinion & Analysis: Pakistan struggles with militant policy

An editorial in Pakistan’s Daily Times reveals how divided Pakistan is over the issue of pursuing militants in the tribal regions. According to the editorial, a number of Urdu-language papers have been blaming the spate of suicide bombings on the Pakistani government’s offensive and its obedience to the policies of the United States. Also, the coalition government did not agree upon the decision to attack militants in Bajaur. But the article says such a debate would have just served to paralyze everyone, and “unless the state fights back with all the means at its disposal and defeats the terrorists, it will be seriously endangered.”

A piece in the Asia Times by Syed Saleem Shahzad, however, explains why Pakistanis have cause for concern: Pakistan is now expanding its operations against groups that have not been attacking Pakistan, he says. “In essence, this was Pakistan’s war, and it fought it on its own terms, which was only partially beneficial to NATO. Under the new leadership, Pakistan’s participation in the ‘war on terror’ will be more for the benefit of NATO,” Shahzad states. “Should the Pakistani government really commit to its all-out war on militants, it will feel more of such wrath.”
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