Page last updated at 09:06 GMT, Thursday, 11 September 2008 10:06 UK

The new frontline in US 'war on terror'

Pakistani protesters step on a poster of US President Bush at Multan on 10 September 2008
Anti-American feelings are high in Pakistan

The BBC's Owen Bennett Jones in Islamabad looks at the changing patterns of Islamist militancy and violence in Pakistan's tribal regions, seven years after 9/11.

Pakistan is in the midst of a ferocious civil conflict.

Each day the newspapers report 40 or 50 dead. As well as frequent suicide attacks in Pakistan's cities, there is now fighting throughout the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan.

It is the new frontline in America's "war on terror". US officials worry that al-Qaeda has found a safe haven from which it can plan new attacks on the West.

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The newly-elected Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has said the Taleban has "the upper hand" and he has vowed he will defeat the Islamic militants.

His task is complicated by the differing nature of the insurgency in different tribal areas. Al-Qaeda is thought to be most active in North Waziristan and Bajaur.

The Pakistan Taleban meanwhile has control of most of South Waziristan and is using its base there to launch suicide attacks throughout Pakistan.


In Kurram tribal agency the Islamic militants are mostly motivated by sectarian divisions between Sunnis and Shias, whilst in Khyber tribal agency there are criminal gangs posing as Islamists as well as an intra-Sunni sectarian dispute.

map Fata

Although it is relatively peaceful at the moment, Khyber is probably the most strategically significant of all the tribal areas.

It has the historic trade route that leads from the Pakistani city of Peshawar, through the Khyber Pass, and on to Kabul in Afghanistan.

Today it is a vital supply line used to transport 85% of the fuel used by the Western forces in Afghanistan.

Earlier this week the Pakistani authorities were forced to close the road for a few hours amidst warnings of imminent Taleban attacks.

Officials say that the Taleban's intelligence is good. When vehicles on the road are destroyed they always contain Nato supplies rather than local products such as fruit and vegetables being moved by local traders.

In full swing

But for the most part the supplies do get through. Local tribes, which receive cash grants from the government, have agreed not to attack the road.


View from the border between Peshawar and Afghanistan

Elsewhere in the tribal areas that lie on the border with Afghanistan the insurgency is in full swing.

The Pakistan military has deployed 120,000 soldiers and paramilitary troops to fight the various militant groups.

There are some encouraging signs for the government.

Recent Pakistani offensives in Bajaur and Swat have made headway.

And in some remote areas such as Dir, local residents, weary of conflict, have started fighting the Taleban.

Recent US air strikes and ground assaults have complicated the situation.

The US insists that if it identifies al-Qaeda targets in Pakistan it will hit them.

On many occasions, however, the US has killed civilians, handing the militants a propaganda victory.

America wants Pakistan to fight harder but the government in Islamabad is well aware that many Pakistanis are reluctant to fight what they see as America's war.

Anti-Americanism is so rife that even relatives of suicide bomb attacks blame the US and not the people who admit responsibility for the attacks - the Taleban.

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