Insurgents make inroads in Pakistan’s Punjab province: NYT (Lead)

April 14th, 2009 - 6:34 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban New York, April 14 (IANS) Taliban insurgents are teaming up with local militant groups to make inroads in Pakistan’s Punjab province, reinvigorating an alliance that Pakistani and American authorities say poses a serious risk to the stability of the country, according to the New York Times.
The deadly assault in March in Lahore, Punjab’s capital, against the Sri Lankan cricket team, and the bombing last fall of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad were only the most spectacular examples of the joint campaign, the influential daily cited them as saying.

Now police officials, local residents and analysts warn that if the government does not take decisive action, these dusty, impoverished fringes of Punjab could be the next areas facing the insurgency, it said in a report Monday from Dera Ghazi Khan, Pakistan.

The daily cited American intelligence and counter-terrorism officials as saying they viewed the developments with alarm.

As American drone attacks disrupt Taliban and Al Qaeda strongholds in the tribal areas, the insurgents are striking deeper into Pakistan - both in retaliation and in search of new havens.

“It’s going from bad to worse,” said a senior police official in Dera Ghazi Khan cited by the Times. “They are now more active. These are the facts.”

American officials agreed, the daily said citing Bruce Riedel, who led the Obama administration’s recently completed strategy review of Pakistan and Afghanistan as saying that the Taliban now has “extensive links into the Punjab”.

“You are seeing more of a coalescence of these militant groups,” Riedel, a former CIA official was quoted as saying. “Connections that have always existed are becoming tighter and more public than they have in the past.”

The Punjabi militant groups have had links with the Taliban, who are mostly Pashtun tribesmen, since the 1980s. Some of the Punjabi groups are veterans of Pakistan’s state-sponsored insurgency against Indian forces in Kashmir, the Times said. Others target Shiites.

The alliance is based on more than shared ideology. “These are tactical alliances,” the daily quoted an unnamed senior American counterterrorism official as saying.

The Pashtun Taliban and Arab militants, who are part of Al Qaeda, have money, sanctuary, training sites and suicide bombers. The Punjabi militants can provide logistical help in Punjabi cities, like Lahore, including handling bombers and target reconnaissance.

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