NEWS: Locals hold key in Pakistan

Moderates hold key in Pakistan

One of the most significant results of Pakistan’s elections in February was the defeat of the religious parties that ran this critical border province for the last five years. In their place, voters elected moderates from a small regional party that may now wield big influence over Pakistan’s changing strategy toward its militants.

The victory of the Awami National Party, or A.N.P., was welcomed by Western officials and Pakistanis as a clear rejection of the Taliban and the religious parties that backed them here in North-West Frontier Province. The party will now be part of the governing coalition in the national Parliament, and sees itself as critically placed to begin a dialogue with the militants, something the Bush administration has regarded warily.

Not only has this province suffered most from the militants, who are based in the adjacent tribal areas, but most of the militants are from the same Pashtun ethnic group as the A.N.P. Pashtuns populate this region, on both sides of the Afghan border. The A.N.P., a Pashtun nationalist party, and Pakistan’s militants speak the same language. [complete article]

U.S. steps up unilateral strikes in Pakistan

The United States has escalated its unilateral strikes against al-Qaeda members and fighters operating in Pakistan’s tribal areas, partly because of anxieties that Pakistan’s new leaders will insist on scaling back military operations in that country, according to U.S. officials.

Washington is worried that pro-Western President Pervez Musharraf, who has generally supported the U.S. strikes, will almost certainly have reduced powers in the months ahead, and so it wants to inflict as much damage as it can to al-Qaeda’s network now, the officials said.

Over the past two months, U.S.-controlled Predator aircraft are known to have struck at least three sites used by al-Qaeda operatives. The moves followed a tacit understanding with Musharraf and Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani that allows U.S. strikes on foreign fighters operating in Pakistan, but not against the Pakistani Taliban, the officials said. [complete article]

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