ANALYSIS-Bombs seen stiffening Pakistan resolve on militants

ISLAMABAD, May 29 (Reuters) - A series of militant bomb attacks in Pakistan aims to undermine the country's resolve to fight the Taliban but is likely only to strengthen determination to defeat the militants, analysts say.

Pakistan has undertaken its most concerted effort to roll back an expanding Taliban insurgency that has raised fears for the important U.S. ally's stability, and for the safety of its nuclear weapons.

The army late last month went into action against Taliban who had seized a district only 100 km (60 miles) from the capital after the United States criticised a peace pact as tantamount to abdicating to the militants.

This month, the military launched a full-scale offensive to root out the Taliban from their stronghold in nearby Swat.

But the militants have responded with eight bomb attacks in towns and cities since late April, three on Thursday in the northwest, a day after 24 people were killed in a suicide gun and bomb attack in the eastern city of Lahore.

The militants are trying to undermine the state's determination to fight them, and the broad public support the army's campaign enjoys, analysts told Reuters on Friday.

"This is exactly what the militants are trying to do because they have done it successfully in the past. But things have changed substantially," security analyst Ikram Sehgal said.

"I don't think it will undermine the resolve of either the public or the government. They realise that this sort of thing will only escalate if they vacillate any further," he said.

Pakistan signed up to the U.S.-led campaign against Islamist militancy after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States but at best ambivalently.

Pakistan had used Islamist fighters to oppose Soviet occupiers in Afghanistan in the 1980s and later backed the Afghan Taliban. Militants were also used to oppose India in the disputed Kashmir region.

Pursuit of strategic interests apparently at odds with U.S. aims and mixed messages from the state and media brought muddle.

But not any more.


The Taliban overplayed their hand when, under cover of a controversial peace pact, they denounced the constitution and pushed out of the former tourist valley of Swat towards the capital.

"The Taliban attempt to make their presence felt in an area that a large number of Pakistanis are familiar with, and the way they went about it, the brutality, exposed them and changed opinion," said Samina Ahmed of the International Crisis Group think-tank.

"They are no longer considered alienated, disaffected Pakistanis who need to be brought into the fold. They're looked upon much more as criminals who should be brought to justice."

The violence the militants have unleashed demonstrated the extent of the threat they posed and is steeling opposition, Ahmed said.

"It strengthens the government's position that the terrorists pose a major threat ... It's no longer a remote conflict being fought in FATA," she said, referring to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas on the Afghan border.

The state now had to show it can finish the offensive in Swat quickly and wind up the militant networks.

"Their main aim is to weaken public opinion, especially in Punjab," said retired Brigadier Asad Munir, a former intelligence agency officer, referring to Pakistan's most prosperous and politically important province, of which Lahore is capital.

"You won't see this now but if the operation is prolonged then things will start changing. They have got to do it in a week or 10 days," he said of the Swat operation.

Wavering at this stage would dash the hopes of the public and be disastrous, he said.

"If they stop the operation now then prepare yourself for a Taliban state," he said.