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Pakistan faces tough task in combatting Islamist militants

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Pakistan faces tough task in combatting Islamist militants


Under pressure like never before, Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf is preparing to address the nation on Thursday. He will speak about his government’s fresh crackdown on Islamic militants. The fact that he is once again calling for a nationwide effort suggests that his much vaunted anti-terrorism drive has not gone according to plan. So do this week’s newspaper headlines. Firstly, there was Musharraf denouncing the London bombings as “unIslamic” and saying that some Islamic schools were involved in terrorism. Secondly, there were immigration officials confirming that the three London bombers with Pakistani background entered the country via the city of Karachi last year. While officials do not know exactly why the three Britons travelled, it has been established that one, Shehzad Tanweer, briefly attended a madrassah or Koranic school.

In 2003, he met a member of the banned movement Jaish-e-Mohammad.While Musharraf has denounced such groups for forcing their ideology upon others, he himself has been accused of failing to stick to his pledge to reign in extremist madrassahs. It is hard to generalise when there are thousands of religious schools teaching 1.5 million pupils, but some are suspected of churning out ready made militants. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, General Musharraf became a crucial American ally in the so-called war on terrorism. But the fighters who once served the country’s foreign policy agenda in Kashmir and Afghanistan are now the enemy within. In the last 3 years, there have been at least six major mosque bombings, and two assassination attempts on Musharraf. Pakistani forces have waged a fierce campaign in the Waziristan tribal belt along the border with Afghanistan. But critics say Musharraf has been careful not to take on the Taliban and their local supporters. They also argue that while Islamabad has a zero tolerance policy towards foreign fighters on its soil- many from Arab nations- it has not touched people known to have been involved with militant groups in Kashmir. The question being asked in the wake of the London attacks is: how long can the balancing act continue?
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