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World News

Pakistan to come under more U.S. pressure

AMMAN (Reuters) - Pakistani forces, under U.S. pressure to enter the militant bastion of North Waziristan, will do so but in their own time and when adequate resources are available, a Pakistani general said on Monday.

This undated image, obtained from orkut.com on May 4, 2010, shows Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani-American who is suspected as the driver of a bomb-laden SUV into New York's Time Square on May 1. REUTERS/Courtesy of Orkut.com/Handout/Files

Lieutenant General Sardar Mahmood Ali Khan, Deputy Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, added that such a big task in the mountainous northwest was not “firefighting” and had to be done in sequence with other battles.

Pakistan has come under fresh U.S. pressure to send troops into north Waziristan following a failed bombing in New York claimed by Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Taliban Movement of Pakistan, which has fighters in northwestern areas including North Waziristan.

Speaking on the sidelines of a conference in Jordan of special operations forces commanders, Khan said the army was still busy consolidating its operations following an earlier push into South Waziristan and needed to adhere to a schedule for what he called a long campaign.

Asked if troops would eventually go into North Waziristann, home to a complex web of militant groups, to attack fighters there, he replied: “Of course, all these areas which are affected are on our agenda, yes.”

The New York bomb plot suspect, Faisal Shahzad, 30, was arrested on Monday last week, two days after authorities say he parked a crude car bomb in Times Square. Authorities say he has been cooperating in the investigation.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and other U.S. officials said on Sunday the Pakistani Taliban, based in Pakistan’s lawless border regions, were involved.

Holder said the U.S. government was satisfied with Pakistani cooperation in the investigation, adding there was nothing to suggest the Pakistani government was aware of the plot.

The al Qaeda-linked TTP is an alliance of factions and has killed many hundreds of people in bomb attacks.

Some Western officials have questioned the determination of Pakistan to tackle militants as the long-time U.S. ally addresses other problems, from a sluggish economy to power cuts that have made the government unpopular.

Pakistan has proved capable of capturing militants, including some of al Qaeda’s most notorious heavyweights. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused mastermind of the September 11 attacks, was arrested in Pakistan in 2003.

But Khan said North Waziristan’s geography made it an exceptionally difficult region in which to wage war and suggested any move into the region could not be done lightly.

Over the past year, the armed forces have mounted offensives against militant strongholds in the northwest, largely clearing several areas including their bastion of South Waziristan.

But North Waziristan has not been tackled, even though TTP members are believed to have taken refuge with allied Afghan factions based there that are not fighting the Pakistani state.

The army says it must secure the areas it has cleared before attacking there. But analysts say Pakistan sees the Afghan factions in North Waziristan as tools for its long-term objectives in Afghanistan, where Pakistan wants to see a friendly government and the sway of old rival India minimised.

“Basically, what the U.S. wishes is that we go into North Waziristan,” said a senior Pakistani intelligence official who declined to be identified.

“That means targeting the Haqqani and Gul Bahadur networks,” the two main Afghan Taliban factions there.

U.S. officials have in recent days been praising Pakistani efforts against militants, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raised eyebrows over the weekend when she told the CBS network Pakistan would face “severe consequences” if a successful attack in the United States was traced to Pakistan.

Retired Pakistani intelligence officer Asad Munir said U.S. blame would be counter-productive.

“If they blame Pakistan, I don’t think they’ll win this war,” he said. “They (Pakistani forces) will go to North Waziristan but it will take time. If Pakistan is pressured, it will be disastrous.”

“The ‘do more’ mantra will lead to thinking in the military that this is happening despite their people being killed every day and ultimately foot soldiers will be demoralised,” he said.

Asked if he would accept more U.S. special forces in Pakistan, the joint chiefs’ Khan declined to reply directly, noting there had been a limited number of these forces doing training in Pakistan for some time and they continued to play that role.

Tension with the United States, Pakistan’s biggest aid donor, can worry stock investors but the main Pakistani index closed 0.16 percent up on Monday at 10,288.14 on hopes the International Monetary Fund would soon approve a fifth tranche of an $11.3 billion loan for Pakistan, dealers said.

Additional reporting by Kamran Haider in Islamabad and Sahar Ahmed in Karachi; Editing by Chris Allbritton and Jerry Norton

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