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Pakistan attacks point to resurgent extremism

Analysis: Attacks close to the US mission undermine Islamabad's claim that it has broken the back of the insurgency.

At a recent meeting — “jirga” — of tribal elders from South Waziristan with government officials, the elders refused to agree return to their homes. Most of the population of South Waziristan fled when the Pakistani Army operation kicked off there last October. The elders feared that the Taliban remained in the area and would take their revenge on the returning population. Not getting the answer they wanted, Pakistani officials cobbled together another jirga of hand-picked “elders,” who complied.

While the army may now be sincere, its history of double-dealing and secret agreements with the extremists means that the locals are highly skeptical.

While Pakistan’s actions in the northwest have grabbed headlines around the world, what has gone almost unnoticed is its inaction elsewhere in the country, especially in the heartland province of Punjab. There, an alphabet soup of banned militant groups that pre-date the Pakistani Taliban, such as Jaish-e-Mohammand, Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Taiba, continue to operate unmolested. Those groups have strong and well known links with the Taliban.

Part of the problem is that law and order comes under the provincial government, not federal administration in Islamabad. Punjab is not run by Pakistan Peoples Party, which rules in Islamabad, but by the party of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, which has shown itself to be little interested in disturbing the hornets nest of militant outfits entrenched across the province.

In recent by-elections in two constituencies in Punjab, the votes of Sipah-e-Sahaba supporters were actively courted by Mr Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, and, to a lesser extent, by the Pakistan Peoples Party. It showed how much the group is part of the social and political fabric.

A year ago, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Pakistan of “abdicating” to the Taliban. That criticism no longer stands. But neither can it be said that the extremists have been broken. The world is now watching to see if Pakistan is able to finish the job it started.