Suicide Bombers Hit Pakistani Arms Factory

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Suicide bombers have killed 67 people at Pakistan's largest arms factory. One of the country's deadliest terror attacks is adding to the turmoil that's threatening to tear apart the ruling coalition now that Pervez Musharraf has quit as president. Steve Inskeep discusses the situation with retired Gen. Talat Masood, a defense and political analysts in Islamabad.


An attack by the Taliban killed 67 people in Pakistan yesterday. Suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of Pakistan's largest weapons manufacturing complex. They did it just days after Pakistan's former military leader resigned and while civilian leaders jockeyed for power, all of which raises the question of how long Pakistan's civilian government can stay civilian.

With us to talk that through is retired General Talat Masood, a defense and political analyst in Islamabad, Pakistan. Welcome to the program.

General TALAT MASOOD: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Was this bombing the kind of attack that does put pressure on the civilian government?

Gen. MASOOD: Absolutely, because it tries to destabilize the government. This is about the change which is going on, but of course since the last few days, the intensity and the frequency of these attacks has increased because they think that the civilian government is also now engaging the militants, and there are operations taking place.

The people of Pakistan, though, of course extremely worried and concerned. We're expecting things like this to happen.

INSKEEP: Because there have been so many military takeovers in Pakistan's history, you already have to ask, are there people in the military, based on your knowledge of it, that might already be saying, look, this civilian government can't handle it, we may already have to be thinking about when we step back in?

Gen. MASOOD: No, I don't think so, because, you know, even when they were there, things were very bad. In fact, they were getting even worse at times. In fact, there is a very strong feeling here that eventually the civilian government may be in a better position to really counter terrorism and insurgency.

The danger, of course, is that the present coalition government, which is in power, has not really put its act together and has still not got over the judicial crisis, and it has to decide about the president.

These are some of the fundamental questions. But there is so much oppression on them as well, not only from the side of the militants but also from the civil society expecting far more from them. We think they will have to act sooner than later.

INSKEEP: Are you saying that the military is determined to stay on the political sidelines and to be supportive of this civilian government if it can just get some clear direction for itself?

Gen. MASOOD: That is very true for the simple reason that it realizes this is not a normal war. This is a very different sort of a war in which the people's support is essential.

It also realizes that having been in power for that long, they have become extremely unpopular for the simple reason that they have usurped the civilians from their legitimate right, and that is why you find that the military leadership has distanced itself and it giving clear signals that we are prepared to go by what the civilian government tells us to do.

INSKEEP: Is there any consensus among military and civilian leaders about how to approach the extremist threat? For example whether to negotiate with militants or try to crush them?

Gen. MASOOD: There are actually different types of militants at the moment who are operating. There are some, I think, which are completely - there is no question of negotiating with them, and for that military operations are taking place.

I think there is now somewhat better clarity as to which places and where do you have to use the military instrument, and once you use it, then you want to follow it up by having economic development, and for that it is important that the coalition government has a comprehensive plan to see to it that the basic causes which have given rise to militancy - poor justice, lack of security, lack of employment opportunities, no education - unless these are addressed also along with the military operations, militancy will never go away.

INSKEEP: That's retired Pakistani General Talat Masood on MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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