INTERVIEW
 
Pakistan acts on extremists but military support in doubt: analysts
AFP
December 13, 2008
Pakistan has cracked down on militant groups in the wake of the Mumbai attacks, but analysts question the government's ability to destroy organisations long protected by the powerful military.

Under intense international pressure, Pakistan this week launched a major operation against militants operating on its soil, arresting leaders of the group India accuses of planning the Mumbai siege.

On Thursday the government closed down one of Pakistan's biggest charities, placing its leaders under house arrest and freezing its assets after the United Nations said it was a front for the banned militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).

Ayesha Siddiqa, an independent security analyst, said the government's determination to root out militancy was clear, but it was too early to tell how effective it would be in the face of strong historic support in the military.

"The political government is serious. The political government knows that it will get no space to operate if the radical right is in partnership with the military. So it wants to crack down," she told AFP. "(But) it will be a couple of days, maybe a week, before we see what the nature of this crackdown is."

LeT is among a number of groups whose activities in Indian-controlled Kashmir Pakistan's military and intelligence agencies are alleged to have backed to gain an advantage against its neighbour and historic rival. The group was banned in 2002 after it was blamed for an attack on India's parliament, but is still said to operate using front organisations including the charity Jamaat-ud-Dawa.

Analysts say it could continue to operate under a new name, and point out that suspected militants arrested in 2001 and 2005 after the terrorist attacks on New York and London were quietly released without charge when the international spotlight moved away.

Siddiqa said the government currently held sway because of strong US pressure for action against groups suspected of involvement in terrorist activities. But she said there was "institutional support" in the military for certain organisations, and that the new civilian government had not yet put the mechanisms in place to control the powerful army.

The military has ruled Pakistan for around half its 61-year existence, most recently under former general Pervez Musharraf, and remains a potent force.

Analysts warned that by acting now the government, which came into power only this year after eight years of military rule, risked appearing weak.

"Our policies and actions should be pro-active instead of reactive," said Ishtiaq Ahmed, professor of international relations at Islamabad's Quaid-i-Azam University.

"We should have started this operation long ago on our own. Now, when we are doing it under pressure from India, the Indians might say, look, we were right."

The government has been at pains to stress it is not responding to pressure from India, which it says has provided no evidence implicating Pakistani citizens in the attacks.

But it is clear that intensive US efforts to defuse tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours is a major factor behind the current crackdown.

The government now has a fine line to tread in satisfying international demands that it tackle militancy without angering the population by appearing to kowtow to its traditional rival.

"On the one hand Pakistan is demanding evidence from India and on the other it is taking action against the same group accused by India," independent Pakistan analyst Anees Jillani told AFP. "You cannot have it both ways."

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