Extremists Vow To Turn Pakistan Into A War Zone

Gunmen on a motorcycle assassinated a senior Pakistani army officer as his jeep was driving through the capital Islamabad in the middle of the day. The incident comes as government troops are engaged in fierce fighting with militants in a Taliban sanctuary: the tribal area of South Waziristan along the border with Afghanistan.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

We go now to Pakistan, where extremists have vowed to turn all of that country into a war zone, and today they struck in a new way. Gunmen assassinated a brigadier general as his jeep was driving through the capital, Islamabad, in the middle of the day. This comes as government troops are engaged in fierce fighting with militants in a Taliban sanctuary: the tribal area of South Waziristan along the border with Afghanistan.

NPR's Julie McCarthy joins us now from Islamabad. Hello, Julie.

JULIE MCCARTHY: Hi, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Tell us more about this attack on this brigadier. It sounds - at first glance it sounds rather bold and also rather easy.

MCCARTHY: Yeah, bold and easy, that's right. In fact, there were two attacks here in the capital today, but the murder this morning of the brigadier - he was ambushed by gunman, as you said. He was riding in an SUV, and this is seen as part of the accumulating evidence that the system of security here is not as rigorous as it needs to be.

And just blocks from where we're speaking to you, a gunman opened fire on what's called the F-8 market. It's a crowded commercial area with sensitive offices, like Islamabad's district court. It's full of diplomats, embassies. The Saudis are here. And it's considered a high security zone. Yet the attacker is said to have fired on a tax office at the market and then fled in broad daylight. And this comes on the heels of the suicide bombing at the Islamic University just 48 hours ago.

MONTAGNE: And this all would be - appear to be militants retaliating for this offensive in South Waziristan. But what is the government doing to stop them? As you suggest, security isn't so good. I mean, can the government stop them?

MCCARTHY: Well, that's a good question. I mean authorities say security has been stepped up in the capital and we've been hearing that for months, but the public complains that it's not rigorous enough. You know, the police do more standing around the check posts than effectively scrutinizing trunks and the identity of drivers, and the pressure is mounting on the government. I mean as we've pointed out, these students at Islamic University were clamoring for better protection. They were pelting senior government officials with bricks the other day.

There is an increasingly desperate feel about the way the government is handling it. You've got sharpshooters with telescope-mounted guns who have reportedly been deployed on the rooftops of government buildings with orders to kill any terror suspect. But the Pakistanis are saying to me that the government in their eyes is failing. The schools, the bazaars, the mosques are under assault. And one editorial described the nation today as shell-shocked.

MONTAGNE: Well, what about that offensive? What is the latest there in South Waziristan?

MCCARTHY: Yeah - the six-day old operation in what U.S. officials have called the most dangerous place in the world. You know, it's difficult to get a read on it, Renee, because you can't get there. But the army's security forces have gained ground as they advanced to clear the heights surrounding a town called Koltkai(ph) - that's the hometown of the Pakistan Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud.

But the army also acknowledges what it calls intense encounters with these militants who it says are hiding in caves and in fortified positions in the mountains. In North Waziristan there's an interesting story developing. A senior al-Qaida commander is reported to have been killed, but the circumstances aren't clear there. One version says he died at the hands of a U.S.-drone missile yesterday. Another says he was killed making an IED. So far those are unconfirmed reports.

Yeah, but what we're seeing here is, you know, a Taliban militancy that seems to have resilience and strength in spite of this offensive and that it's not just confined to South Waziristan or the Swat Valley. Its tentacles seem to have spread. It's popping up in all the major cities, certainly here in the capital, and it appears to be burrowed deep in this society, and they're proving they can strike at will.

MONTAGNE: Julie, thanks very much.

MCCARTHY: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Julie McCarthy speaking to us from the capital of Pakistan, Islamabad.

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