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Pakistanis back assault on Taliban

By Syed Shoaib Hasan
BBC News, Islamabad

Pakistani soldiers secure an area as a Pakistani Army AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter flies past the top of Kund moutain near Kotkai village in South Waziristan on October 29, 2009
This is the biggest anti-Taliban offensive ever seen in Pakistan

Pakistani troop morale is high three weeks into the army's assault against the Taliban.

The military has made significant gains in its campaign in South Waziristan so far - and across the country there seems consensus that the operation is the right option at the moment.

"Yes, we feel very confident and sure. Whatever is being done is right," says Maj Faizan Ali, an army officer involved in anti-Taliban operations.

"I think the operation was long overdue."

The military's confidence is not without basis - despite a wave of militant attacks that has killed hundreds in recent weeks, most Pakistanis remain firmly behind the operation in South Waziristan.

But opinion remains divided over its timing and consequences.

'Too much blood'

"The government is absolutely right to launch the operation," says Ahmed Khan, a shopkeeper in Rawalpindi.

Sohaib Mateen
Just killing the militants is not going to help - the militancy will now spread to towns and cities
Sohaib Mateen, Karachi

"Those people have too much blood on their hands. Our lives have been taken hostage - enough is enough."

But not everybody is as confident about the way the authorities are handling the situation.

"The operation in South Waziristan is only going to exacerbate the problem," says Sohaib Mateen, a business analyst in Karachi.

Mr Mateen closely follows the situation on the ground and believes the solution is not just a military one.

"Jihad [holy war] is not a tangible thing. It is an idea and needs to be dealt with on an ideological level as well," he says.

"Just killing the militants is not going to help. The militancy was confined to the tribal regions, but now it will spread to towns and cities."

But he is in the minority, as most Pakistanis remain firmly behind military action.

Their main issue remains the disruption of everyday lives due to the rising level of violence.

"I don't have a problem with the operation," says Nazish Mohsin, a young mother of three in Lahore.

"The operation appeared to have been inevitable. If the army had not done it the Americans would have.

"My issue is with the authorities not being prepared to defend ordinary citizens. Most of all it's my children's education I am worried about.

Seized weapons and ammunition recovered during Pakistani military operations against Taliban militants are displayed on the ground at the Sherwangi Tor village in South Waziristan on October 29, 2009.
The military says it has captured towns and weapons from the Taliban

"Every day my children ask whether they are going to school or not. Every second day the school shuts down."

Mrs Mohsin's concerns are shared by most parents and students, not just in Lahore but across the country.

"Nobody is coming to school these days," says Zainab Azhar, 16, who studies at a military-run college in the capital, Islamabad.

"There is a lot of security. Only official cars are allowed inside. We have to walk a long way and metal detectors have been installed at the entrances.

"We are told not to talk to strangers or take anything from them."

She says studies are greatly affected by school closures.

"Our teachers send us assignments on e-mail, but nobody takes them seriously. Nothing can replace school."

US and India blamed

What is surprising is that Ms Azhar, like many others, says it is not just the Taliban who are to blame for the violence.

Everyone is taking advantage - India and America all have a hand in the violence
Nazish Mohsin, Lahore

"There are many different people involved," Ms Azhar says. "Mainly the Americans are responsible for these blasts. They are brainwashing young boys who carry out the attacks.

Maj Ali says: "Anyone who has a big bag of money can hire the services of the militants. They are so naive that they accept the responsibility outright.

"Everybody is using them for their agenda."

Mrs Mohsin from Lahore also has similar views.

"It's not just one party," she says. "Everyone is taking advantage - India and America all have a hand in the violence."

Even Sohaib Mateen agrees.

"Political and international pressure are killing our people. Local elements are involved, but foreign forces, especially India and the US, are taking advantage.

"Where is the money coming from? The Taliban need millions of rupees to run their operation."

There is no evidence to support the widely held view in Pakistan that the US and India are directly involved in the violence.

But many people seem to have been persuaded by a series of recent reports in the local media.

These reports clearly suggest that both countries are working to destabilise Pakistan through their agents in the country. Most of the reports are based on conjecture and quote "anonymous" sources.

Pakistan's government has largely remained silent on the issue, until recently.

A few days ago, the authorities said the army had discovered "clear evidence" of Indian involvement with the Taliban in Waziristan. India swiftly denied the claims.



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