ARI SHAPIRO, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
These days, Pakistan, along with Afghanistan, is being talked about as in danger of being Talibanized. This past weekend, Pakistan's new government, for the first time, fought back. It sent security forces into the city of Peshawar, which is near the border with Afghanistan, to push out pro-Taliban militants there.
For weeks, militants from the lawless tribal areas had been moving into Peshawar, a city of about three-million people. Jane Perlez is with the New York Times. She's been reporting out of Peshawar and joined us to talk about it. Good morning.
Ms. JANE PERLEZ (Foreign Correspondent, New York Times): Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Elaborate for us, what you have been seeing and what you know of what's been going on in Peshawar that prompted the Pakistani government to go in.
Ms. PERLEZ: Well, what you see is not blazing troops and fighting on the streets, I have to say. It's a very strong feeling within the city that they're being closed in on by militants who have set up bases in towns around the city, you know, from 10 to 20 miles out. Some of these are Taliban groups, some of them are independent, private armies, and it has really put a great deal of fear into the people, and so the government decided to strike back.
MONTAGNE: And they struck back with paramilitary forces, or what's known as the Frontier Corps, not regular Pakistani army soldiers. How hard of an offensive was it?
Ms. PERLEZ: Not terribly hard. I mean in a way, the Pakistani government trod as lightly as it could, and it decided to really use its lesser army, the Frontier Corps, and decided to strike at the lesser groups.
These groups that they struck at, which is quite close to Peshawar, are really not a die-hard Taliban who are out in Waziristan and who are harboring al-Qaida and who are causing such trouble to the United States. These groups around Peshawar are really criminals turned into Islamasists, if you like.
They do do terrible things like beheadings and indoctrination and videos and all the classic things, but they're fairly new, and they're really, for the most part, targeted more at that particular section of the tribal areas of Peshawar.
MONTAGNE: Now this one leader, you write, in today's New York Times, told his followers not to resist Pakistani soldiers. What was that all about?
Ms. PERLEZ: Well, it's about being of the same ethnic group - the Pashtuns. This guy, Mangal Bagh, like all the people in the tribal areas, is a Pashtun. And all of the people, in fact, in the Frontier Corp, are also Pashtun. And so it's just an easy way to melt back into the woodwork. And I also suspect that Mangal Bagh, this leader, doesn't take this so-called offensive terribly seriously. He's sort of retreated further back into Khyber agency and we'll see if the Frontier Corp really decides to pursue him.
MONTAGNE: Pakistan's most visible Taliban leader, Baitullah Mahsud is his name, he suspended peace talks with the government. He's threatening to retaliate after this offensive. How significant is that?
Ms. PERLEZ: Very significant. He is really the serious one. And it's because of his presence that the government decided to tread fairly lightly over the weekend and chose to go after these local militant groups. And the government is far from attacking the really serious hard-core guys like Baitullah Mahsud. In fact, the opposite - they're doing peace negotiations with them. And one of the things that the government fears the most is the blowback from striking too hard in the tribal areas.
They're really afraid that Baitullah Mahsud will unleash suicide attacks like he did last year and earlier this year, into the heart of Pakistan. And this is a terrible problem for the Pakistanis, and that's what they want to avoid and that's why they're doing these peace talks - which Baitullah Mahsud said, yesterday, he was suspending. We'll see what really happens.
MONTAGNE: Well, if the Pakistan's new government has been trying to reduce the violence through peace deals, since it took power in February, why this offensive now?
Ms. PERLEZ: Because Peshawar is an important city. The residents felt really unnerved by a series of increasing number of abductions. No one feels safe. I think it was really a strike of trying to reassure the residents of Peshawar, an important city, that the national government has not totally forgotten them.
MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.
Ms. PERLEZ: Thank you.
MONTAGNE: Jane Perlez has been in Peshawar covering events there. She spoke to us from Islamabad.
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