THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Pakistan says it’s faring better than West against Taliban

Prime minister rejects criticism from coalition

Pakistanis searched for bodies in the rubble after a suicide bombing in Shah Hasan Khel village last weekend. The villagers, who had tried to resist Taliban infiltration, mourned the victims of an apparent revenge attack that killed scores of civilians. Pakistanis searched for bodies in the rubble after a suicide bombing in Shah Hasan Khel village last weekend. The villagers, who had tried to resist Taliban infiltration, mourned the victims of an apparent revenge attack that killed scores of civilians. (Ijaz Muhammad/Associated Press)
By Sebastian Abbot
Associated Press / January 6, 2010

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Pakistan prime minister said yesterday that his country has been more successful at battling a Taliban-led insurgency than Western forces in Afghanistan, a bold criticism at a time when the United States is pushing Islamabad for more help.

The comments could be particularly aggravating to the Obama administration, which is frustrated that Pakistan has not done more to target Taliban militants launching cross-border attacks on US and NATO troops in Afghanistan. Such help is deemed critical to the Western coalition’s success.

“The success of our efforts stands out in sharp contrast to what the coalition forces in neighboring Afghanistan have been able to achieve over the past nine years,’’ Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said while presiding over a meeting of senior military personnel and politicians who deal with defense issues.

Gilani pointed to recent anti-Taliban military operations in the country’s northwest near the Afghan border as evidence of Pakistan’s success.

“Over the recent months, we have registered considerable success against terrorists and militants,’’ Gilani said. “Law enforcement actions in Swat, Malakand, FATA, and most notably in South Waziristan have been executed with precision and in record time.’’

South Waziristan, in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Area, was the Pakistani Taliban’s main stronghold in the country before the army launched a major ground offensive in mid-October.

But Pakistani officials have used the recent offensives as evidence that the country has its hands full battling local Taliban militants waging war against the government and doesn’t have the capacity to expand its military operations as demanded by the United States.

Some analysts believe the Pakistani government’s reluctance is also driven by a belief that Afghan Taliban militants with whom it has a long history could serve as useful proxies in Afghanistan if coalition efforts fail and foreign forces withdraw.

Gilani countered criticism that his country is not doing enough to help the West.

“Restoration of peace and stability in Afghanistan is a matter of direct and legitimate interest to Pakistan,’’ he said. “We will continue to play a constructive role in this regard.’’

Militants have responded to Pakistan’s most recent offensive in South Waziristan with a wave of retaliatory violence that has killed more than 600 people since mid-October, including a bombing on New Year’s Day in the southern city of Karachi that killed at least 44 people.

Authorities said yesterday that the blast targeting a Shi’ite Muslim procession in Karachi was caused by a homemade bomb, not by a suicide bomber as was first reported.

“After scientific tests in a laboratory, we have a consensus opinion that this is not a suicide attack,’’ said police officer Shafqat Malik. “It was a remote-controlled improvised explosive device that had a dual trigger.’’

The bomb was hidden in a box installed along the road for Muslims to insert torn-up verses of Islam’s holy book, the Koran, that they find on the ground to preserve their sanctity, Malik said.

The Pakistani Taliban have claimed responsibility for the attack.