Pakistan, Islamists in Deadly Clashes Pakistan's army has moved into the tribal region of North Waziristan, where it has been fighting Islamist militants. The fighting is the deadliest violence for several years in an area which the United States says is a haven for al Qaeda and the Taliban. Pakistan claims it has killed 200 militants; 45 troops are also dead.
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Pakistan, Islamists in Deadly Clashes

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Pakistan, Islamists in Deadly Clashes

Pakistan, Islamists in Deadly Clashes

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DEBORAH AMOS, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Deborah Amos, in for Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

With everything else that happens in the region, it's easy to forget that Pakistan is fighting a war within its own borders. This week, that war is very much on the minds of Pakistanis. Pakistan's army has moved into a tribal region called North Waziristan. It's been fighting Islamist militants. And since Saturday, an estimated 250 people have been killed.

NPR's Philip Reeves reports on Pakistan's deadliest fighting in years.

PHILIP REEVES: Pakistan bans the media from going to the mountainous tribal areas along its border with Afghanistan. Communications are also terrible. Yet the scraps of information that have emerged suggest fighting there has been unusually intense. They speak of artillery barrages, of attacks by Pakistani helicopters and jets, of civilian casualties in an air strike on a village bazaar, and of thousands fleeing.

This surge in fighting comes at a particularly difficult time for Pakistan's government. For months, General Pervez Musharraf, who's army chief of staff, has had his mind on other problems. He's been concentrating on surviving in office by securing another five years as president.

Yet violence in Pakistan's tribal belt has been intensifying, and so has the debate among Pakistanis about how to deal with it.

Mr. TARIQ FATEMI (Former Pakistan Ambassador to U.S.): The situation has become so bad, sir, that Pakistani troops on occasions have been willing to give up arms and surrender rather than fight.

REEVES: Tarig Fatemi is a former ambassador for Pakistan to Washington. He is referring to an event that's deeply shocked this country. Nearly six weeks ago more than 200 soldiers were taken hostage, apparently after surrendering. They are still being held by militants. The reputation of Pakistan's once-revered military has hit a low point, but Fatemi says the main problem is not the quality of the army.

Mr. FATEMI: The Pakistan armed forces are absolutely frustrated. There's no doubt about it. But by using them in operations against the people of Pakistan, many of whom are related to the soldiers who are going there in the operations, it has created tremendous unhappiness, disquiet amongst the soldiers and among civic society.

REEVES: One reason for this unhappiness is that many Pakistanis believe their troops are being used as proxies to fight Washington's war on terror. Anti-Americanism is already running very high in Pakistan, not least because of the U.S.'s role in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But Tahir Hussain Mashhadi, a Pakistani senator, thinks Pakistanis need to understand that the militants are also a serious threat to their society.

Mr. TAHIR HUSSAIN MASHHADI (Senator): They want to take over, not only my country; they want to take me over. They want to take over my soul.

REEVES: Mashhadi is a retired army colonel. He served in the tribal belt. He knows how hard it is to defeat the militants.

Sen. MASHHADI: Don't forget they are fierce fighters. They are fighting on their own home ground, and the local population is on their side.

REEVES: On one issue, most Pakistanis seem to agree. Military force won't ultimately work in the tribal areas. The Pakistani military has long acknowledged this and so has Musharraf.

President PERVEZ MUSHARRAF (Pakistan): We have to fight terrorism, not only for the - not for the international community, but for ourselves.

REEVES: Musharraf says the solution is to combine force with economic development and dialogue. The U.S. has promised $150 million a year to support this. But most Pakistani observers say that on the ground, nothing much has actually happened yet.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad.

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