Archive for the ‘ Pakistanis ’ Category

As Power Shortages Spread, Pakistan Switches Off The Lights

By Saeed Shah for The Miami Herald

LAHORE, Pakistan — Amid fears that severe energy shortages could touch off riots, Pakistan will announce drastic measures this week to save electricity, including a shorter workweek and restrictions on nighttime wedding celebrations, government officials said Wednesday.

With power outages lasting up to 20 hours a day in cities and villages, halting industry and even farming in some places, the electricity crisis could further destabilize a vital U.S. ally. Already this year, there have been streets protests – some violent, resulting in at least one death – over the electricity stoppages.

“Children can’t do their homework. Household work doesn’t get done, as washing machines and other appliances cannot work. When you go home from work, you have no idea whether there will be electricity at home. Your whole life is disturbed,” said Mahnaz Peracha of the Network for Consumer Protection, an independent Pakistani advocacy group.

The Obama administration says that helping Pakistan surmount its electricity crisis is one of the top priorities of its aid effort.

Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, said this week that Pakistan’s electricity situation was “not acceptable” and that Washington would help to “the absolute limits of what Congress will fund. It is a big issue.”

Pakistan has been crippled by a shortfall in electricity generation, producing only about 10,000 megawatts of the required 16,000 a day. Further, some generators aren’t working at full capacity because the government owes money to power producers. The government is expected to inject around $1 billion into the system to pay its debts, but energy savings can’t make up for the shortages until new plants come online.

Industries such as the textile sector have had to shorten shifts and lay off workers, and farmers can’t use their electric pumps to irrigate fields. Some businesses, such as tailoring and printing, are telling customers it will take weeks to complete their orders.

As well as suffering from outages, consumers have been hit by a steep increase in the price of electricity, as Pakistan eliminated subsidies to meet lending terms by the International Monetary Fund, causing further resentment.

The energy-saving measures are likely to extend the country’s one-day weekend to a second day, push clocks forward by an hour and close industry for one day during the workweek, according to officials who were briefed on the plans but who spoke only on the condition of anonymity ahead of the government announcement.

Zafaryab Khan, a spokesman for Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, said the proposals were being finalized Wednesday and would be unveiled Thursday.

Street lighting also will be cut back, so that only every second or third light is on, markets will close soon after sunset and wedding receptions – huge, ostentatious events in Pakistani tradition – will be required to end by 9 or 10 p.m. Individual provinces will impose further restrictions.

In the dominant Punjab province, where more than half the country’s population lives, there will be a ban on electrical billboards, neon signs, decorative lights on buildings and the operation of fountains, and government offices won’t be permitted to run their air conditioners before 11 a.m. Analysts said enforcing the restrictions would be difficult.

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India and Pakistan’s Leaders Meet

As reported by BBC.com

Pakistan PM Yousuf Raza Gilani spoke to his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh at a reception hosted by the US President Barack Obama, reports said. The prime ministers of India and Pakistan met briefly during a nuclear summit attended by 47 world leaders in Washington DC.

A Pakistani embassy spokesman said it was “not a formal meeting”. cIt comes a day after Mr Singh told Mr Obama that Pakistan’s government lacked the will to punish those responsible for the Mumbai attacks. The November 2008 attacks left 174 people dead, including nine gunmen, and soured ties between India and Pakistan. Late last year, Pakistan charged seven people in connection with the attacks.

They include the suspected mastermind Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, who is allegedly the leader of the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba. Mr Singh and Mr Gilani spoke to each other at a reception hosted by Mr Obama, Pakistani embassy spokesman Nadeem Kiani said.

“Both leaders were present at the same place and so they shook hands and talked,” he said. A spokesman for India’s foreign ministry, Vishnu Prakash, told The Hindu newspaper that the two leaders “exchanged pleasantries”.
‘State elements’

India put peace talks on hold after the attacks, blaming them on Pakistan-based militants. Pakistan admitted they had been partly planned on its soil. India has also suggested what it calls “state elements” were involved. Both Pakistan and Lashkar-e-Taiba have denied any involvement.

In February, the two sides held their first formal talks since the 2008 attacks and agreed to “remain in touch”. Leaders from 40 states are attending the meeting in Washington which is expected to focus on how to secure nuclear material.

Hamid Karzai Is Losing All His Marbles and His Credibility

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

Kabul, Afghanistan- President Hamid Karzai’s troubling remarks this past Saturday that he would join the Taliban if he continues to come under pressure to reform by the United States and other “outsiders” has caused a stir in Washington DC.  Karzai’s comments came a week after President Obama’s surprise visit to Afghanistan at the end of March to pressure Karzai’s government to reform the political system, end corruption, and do a better job of fighting the Taliban.

Instead, what Karza delivered was a threat of the worse kind and quite possibly the most offensive and troubling thing one can say to a country that is risking countless soldiers lives daily to secure the country from the Taliban and other militant warlords in Afghanistan. In 8 short years, Hamid Karzai has gone from being the special guest of honor at George Bush’s State of the Union address to a leader who threatened to join our worst enemy. All because he feels that the US needs to stop badgering him to be a more responsible, fair, and an equitable leader as well as an effective partner in fighting the Taliban.

Karzai apparently made these unusual comments at a closed door meeting of lawmakers on Saturday, just days after accusing “foreigners” presumably the Unites States of being behind the fraud of the disputed elections of 2009. “He said that if I come under foreign pressure, I might join the Taliban”, said Farooq Marenai, a lawmaker from the eastern province of Nangarhar.  Mareni also stated that Karzai appeared nervous and demanded to know why parliament last week rejected legal reforms that would have strengthened Karzai’s authority over the country’s electoral institutions. Several other lawmakers confirmed that Karzai twice threatened to join the insurgency and the Taliban.

Karzai’s comments are troubling on many levels. First and foremost, he gives legitimacy and strength to the Taliban as his comments present the Taliban as an alternative option to American support or view on the situation. Karzai’s statement will no doubt have traveled the length and breadth of Afghanistan as word will spread that there is a weakness in the American-Afghan coalition that has been fighting and hunting the Taliban since October of 2001, post 9-11. The remarks by Karzai also puts every American, NATO, and Pakistani soldier at risk as instead of liberators, the foreign armies would be thought of as invaders, literally overnight. Lastly, Karzai’s remarks prove to the fact that Karzai is no longer an ally nor a credible partner for the US , NATO, and Pakistani army that have been fighting the Taliban with all their might.

There are reports of widespread nepotism, corruption, fraud, looting of the treasuries, and even drug trafficking, as Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, has been alleged to be a prominent figure in Afghanistan’s world leading illegal heroin production, cultivation and its global distribution. These facts along with his inability to rule effectively and assist the United States in its exit strategy out of Afghanistan by end of 2011 has made the Obama administration weary of dealing with Karzai. Also his typically slow response in instituting political and social freedoms along with a renewed focus in fighting the Taliban, has also been a factor in displeasure from Washington.

The Obama administration has refocused on the Afghan war with 30,000 additional troops to help with the war effort and that initial surge has helped the commanders on the ground in running the Taliban out of certain areas. There have also been great recent victories by the Pakistani army to go after the Taliban militants on its side of the border and in helping cut down the bases of support for the Afghan Taliban from the Pakistani tribal areas sympathetic to their cause. So these comments come at the worst possible time when the Taliban are on the run both in Afghanistan and Pakistan and a strong coalition of US-Afghan-Pakistan resistance against them could help eliminate or destroy the militants for good. But instead, the US and its allies are left wondering what to do with Karzai and how much he could be trusted in this tenuous partnership against the Taliban.

Taliban 201- The Rise of The Pakistani Taliban

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

Peshawar, Pakistan- Taliban militants attacked the U.S. consulate in the Pakistani city of Peshawar on Monday, using  powerful bombs and rocket launchers in a sophisticated and daring attack killing 8 people, just hours after a suicide bomber killed 48 people elsewhere in the Swat valley. The attacks came as the United States has increased its airstrikes on targets both inside Afghanistan and Pakistan. The nearly decade long war waged against the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan since 9-11 has created safe areas inside Pakistan for these militants to regroup and band with Pakistani militants sympathetic to their cause. Often, the militants on the Pakistani side and the Afghani Taliban share the Pashtun tribal and ethnic links among the border areas of both countries.

The US bombing of Afghanistan since late 2001 had pushed the Taliban and Al Qaeda militants to the mountains near the border with Pakistan. With help from sympathetic militant tribal warriors from the Pakistani side, the Taliban were able to dig in and have been able to fight the American forces for nearly a decade now. The onslaught by US and NATO forces continues in Afghanistan, but now for most of last year and certainly this year, the war has shifted to the streets and cities of Pakistan.

Now, much like Afghanistan, Pakistan too is a country that finds itself engulfed in the flames of religious extremism at the hands of determined and highly disciplined thugs. It used to be back during the Soviet-Afghan War, the only place perhaps not entirely safe inside Pakistan was Peshawar. Now, not one city or town of Pakistan has been spared from the violence by the Taliban. Back then, Peshawar was a city where attacks would happen frequently and often. During the 1980’s, the city became a haven for both jihadi militants fighting against the godless system of communism, and a base for spies as both the United States and Saudi Arabia funded a mujahedeen guerrilla war to defeat the Soviet troops from Afghanistan. President Reagan and General Zia of Pakistan used the fervor of religion to incite able bodied boys and men of Afghanistan and their distant cousins from the border area in Pakistan, along with thousands of volunteer Muslim fighters from across the Arab and Muslim world, to come and fight the Soviet Red Army. It was seen as a duty to come defend a Muslim land from occupation by a regime that would not allow the worship of Allah as communism discourages religion and encourages a sectarian society.

That strategy by General Zia ul Haq to promote the fight against the Russians as a holy war or jihad was brilliant at first. It mobilized not just every Muslim male in Afghanistan to stand and fight for his faith and their way of life, while also defending the country from invaders, but it also garnered the sympathy and enlistment of thousands upon thousands of Pakistani and Arab Muslim fighters to join the cause of these mujahedeen, as one who engages in jihad is called. The riling up of religious fervor and militant Islam was deemed necessary by both Reagan and Zia at the time as they sought to defeat the communists at all costs from succeeding in Afghanistan. It would not seem likely at the time, that this very same entity would become enemy number one of both the US and Pakistan a decade later.

It was monumental, it was historic,” retired Pakistani general Hamid Gul, who headed the ISI military spy agency from 1987-1989, said of Reagan’s role in defeating the Soviets. “We were receiving arms and logistics from the CIA, we were partners in this struggle,” Gul said, estimating the CIA spent up to $7bn in supplying arms and logistics to Islamic fighters or “jihadis.” “The jihadis he supported. It was their resistance against the forces of occupation and repression – that’s what jihad is – that Reagan identified himself with,” Gul said. “His greatest achievement was that he stood behind the Islamic world when it was arrayed against the Soviet empire.”

Pakistani analyst Hasan Askari Rivzi stated that “Al-Qaeda and the Taliban took shape later on, but they grew from this period of jihadism against the Soviets and with the initial help of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia along with the military and economic assistance from the United States to fight the Soviets during the ‘80’s. Rizvi sees the roots of the militancy that now ravages Pakistan and Afghanistan as having its beginnings from this period of war against the Soviets army.

That war with the Russians lasted almost 10 years. By the time the USSR pulled out all its troops from Afghanistan in 1989, the country had been completely destroyed. What was left of any government or authority of any sort was now held in the hands of a few militias and various warriors who commanded thousands of tribal and other ethnic fighters under them. These militias immediately started warring amongst themselves for more and more control of the country. The already weak, nonexistent central government of Afghanistan, post Soviet pullout was not able to cope and quickly capitulated. During the power vacuum that resulted, Pakistan’s spy agency, the ISI, realized the chance to wield power inside Afghanistan and threw its support behind a religious student movement based out of Kandahar. The ISI had previously assisted the cause to fight the Soviets by helping gather and organize radical Muslims from around the world to come and assist the Afghani mujahedeen in fighting the Soviets and had therefore developed good contacts with various religious groups including the young Taliban students and the fast growing movement.

The Afghani population initially welcomed the Taliban as they represented fairness and a rule of law over the notorious corruption, brutality and constant infighting of the warlord militias. Soon, with popular citizen support, along with Pakistan’s help, the Taliban became the dominant group within the country and soon held the seat of power in Kabul. Its leader Mullah Omar, was a friend of Osama Bin Laden and when the US forces came to Afghanistan in the hunt for Bin Laden, he gave the Al Qaeda leader refuge and in essence, became a fugitive of the US in the process for harboring America’s Most Wanted.

Fast forward to nearly nine years later as the war in Afghanistan continues against the Taliban and remnants of Al Qaeda responsible for the 9-11 attacks. However, the Taliban have grown and laid roots inside Pakistan also now as the nearly decade long war at the border with Afghanistan has ratcheted up sympathy by locals Pakistani Pashtun tribes for their brethren being bombed by both Pakistani and American forces. The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan known as the Pakistani Taliban formed soon after the US invasion of Afghanistan and the Pakistani army’s offensive at the tribal areas near the border to combat the militants. The Pakistani Taliban led by the recently killed Baitullah Mehsud, has been largely responsible for hundreds of attacks in all major cities of Pakistan including Monday’s bombing of the American consulate in Peshawar.

The war in Afghanistan by the US against the Taliban that harbored and sheltered Bin Laden and the 9-11 killers of Al Qaeda is much the same as the war between the Pakistani army and the Pakistani Taliban in the Swat valley and the North West Frontier Province as well as in various cities of the country. This war has been brought home to the citizens of Pakistan. Over the last few months, bomb blasts in Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad and various other cities have now personalized this conflict for the average Pakistani as no longer a battle or skirmish at the border far away in the northwest of Pakistan near its border with Afghanistan.

No, the nearly daily attacks all over the country by the militants on government installations, public institutions like universities, factories and residential areas as well as markets and restaurants has made the country much less safer than at any time in its 63 year history. Many Pakistanis now are beginning to realize that the Taliban, operating with impunity all over Pakistan, pose a much bigger threat to the sovereignty and republic of Pakistan than any threat from anywhere else, including from that eternal archrival to the east, India. It is now well understood by both partners in this fight that only a sustained and vigorous fight taken to the militants inside both countries by the US and Pakistan over a long period of time can hope to defeat this disease known as the Taliban.

For an earlier report titled Taliban 101- Origins and History, Please click on this link:

https://pakistanisforpeace.wordpress.com/2009/05/25/taliban-101-origins-and-history/

U.S. Aims to Ease India-Pakistan Tension

By Peter Spiegel and Matthew Rosenberg for The Wall Street Journal

President Barack Obama issued a secret directive in December to intensify American diplomacy aimed at easing tensions between India and Pakistan, asserting that without détente between the two rivals, the administration’s efforts to win Pakistani cooperation in Afghanistan would suffer.

Pakistani Rangers (L) and Indian Border Security Force (BSF) personnel perform the daily retreat ceremony at the India-Pakistan Border at Wagah on December 26, 2009. The directive concluded that India must make resolving its tensions with Pakistan a priority for progress to be made on U.S. goals in the region, according to people familiar with its contents.

The U.S. has invested heavily in its own relations with Pakistan in recent months, agreeing to a $7.5 billion aid package and sending top military and diplomatic officials to Islamabad on repeated visits. The public embrace, which reached a high point last month in high-profile talks in Washington, reflects the Obama administration’s belief that Pakistan must be convinced to change its strategic calculus and take a more assertive stance against militants based in its western tribal regions over the course of the next year in order to turn the tide in Afghanistan.

A debate continues within the administration over how hard to push India, which has long resisted outside intervention in the conflict with its neighbor. The Pentagon, in particular, has sought more pressure on New Delhi, according to U.S. and Indian officials. Current and former U.S. officials said the discussion in Washington over how to approach India has intensified as Pakistan ratchets up requests that the U.S. intercede in a series of continuing disputes.

Pakistan has long regarded Afghanistan as providing “strategic depth”—essentially, a buffer zone—in a potential conflict with India. Some U.S. officials believe Islamabad will remain reluctant to wholeheartedly fight the Islamic militants based on its Afghan border unless the sense of threat from India is reduced.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has already taken the political risk of pursuing peace talks with Pakistan, but faces significant domestic opposition to any additional outreach without Pakistani moves to further clamp down on Islamic militants who have targeted India.

U.S. and Indian officials say the Obama administration has so far made few concrete demands of New Delhi. According to U.S. officials, the only specific request has been to discourage India from getting more involved in training the Afghan military, to ease Pakistani concerns about getting squeezed by India on two borders.

“This is an administration that’s deeply divided about the wisdom of leaning on India to solve U.S. problems with Pakistan,” said Ashley Tellis, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who has discussed the issue with senior officials in the U.S. and India. “There are still important constituencies within the administration that have not given up hope that India represents the answer.”

India has long resisted outside involvement in its differences with Pakistan, particularly over the disputed region of Kashmir. But, according to a U.S. government official, a 56-page dossier presented by the Pakistani government to the Obama administration ahead of high-level talks in Washington last month contained a litany of accusations against the Indian government, and suggestions the U.S. intercede on Pakistan’s behalf.

The official said the document alleges that India has never accepted Pakistan’s sovereignty as an independent state, and accuses India of diverting water from the Indus River and fomenting separatism in the southwestern Pakistani province of Baluchistan.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has signaled that Washington isn’t interested in mediating on water issues, which are covered by a bilateral treaty.

The White House declined to comment on Mr. Obama’s directive or on the debate within the administration over India policy. The directive to top foreign-policy and national-security officials was summarized in a memo written by National Security Adviser James Jones at the end of the White House’s three-month review of Afghan war policy in December.

An Indian government official said the U.S.’s increasing attention to Pakistani concerns hasn’t hurt bilateral relations overall. “Our relationship is mature—of course we have disagreements, but we’re trying not to have knee-jerk reactions,” the Indian official said.

According to U.S. and Indian officials, the Pentagon has emerged in internal Obama administration debates as an active lobbyist for more pressure on India, with some officials already informally pressing Indian officials to take Pakistan’s concerns more seriously. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the U.S. government’s prime interlocutor with the powerful head of the Pakistani army, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, has been among the more vocal advocates of a greater Indian role, according to a U.S. military official, encouraging New Delhi to be more “transparent” about its activities along the countries’ shared border and to cooperate more with Pakistan.

In interviews, U.S. military officials were circumspect about what specific moves they would like to see from New Delhi. But according to people who have discussed India policy with Pentagon officials, the ideas discussed in internal debates include reducing the number of Indian troops in Kashmir or pulling back forces along the border.

“They say, ‘The Pakistanis have this perception and you have to deal with the perception’,” said one foreign diplomat who has discussed India’s role with Pentagon officials. An Indian defense ministry spokesman said his country’s army has already moved about 30,000 troops out of Kashmir in recent years.

The State Department has resisted such moves to pressure India, according to current and former U.S. officials, insisting they could backfire. These officials have argued that the most recent promising peace effort—secret reconciliation talks several years ago between Indian Prime Minster Singh and then-Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf—occurred without U.S. involvement.

Progress, For a Price, in Pakistan

By Doyle McManus for The Los Angeles Times

In 2001, on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, President George W. Bush gave Pakistan’s then-leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, a choice: He was either with us or against us. Musharraf chose to become an ally, but the question ever since has been whether that shotgun marriage can mature into a healthy adult relationship. At times, the prospect has seemed far from reach.

The world’s second-most-populous Muslim country is caught in a brutal internal struggle between extremism and moderation. Most of its people tell pollsters they don’t like the United States and wish we’d go away. The tribesmen of its western frontier shelter Osama bin Laden and the leaders of Afghanistan’s Taliban. And the United States can’t forget how, in the 1980s, Pakistan built nuclear weapons — and then later exported nuclear technology to North Korea and Iran.

But in recent months, there has been progress in the relationship. Military and intelligence cooperation between the United States and Pakistan has increased significantly. Pakistan has allowed the CIA to increase its missile strikes against Al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Pakistani territory. Pakistani authorities have arrested several Taliban leaders and allowed U.S. intelligence officers to question them. And now Pakistan is offering to increase its own military operations in North Waziristan, the presumed lair of Bin Laden. All that cooperation came at a price, of course: a flood of U.S. military and economic aid.

And last week, the Pakistanis came to Washington to press for more. The academic criticism of the U.S.-Pakistani relationship is that it is “transactional” — nothing more than a series of bargains between buyers and sellers who don’t trust each other much. That’s still mostly true. Pakistan’s delegation arrived with a 56-page shopping list covering everything from military equipment to education and cultural exchanges. And one Pakistani official, asked during the visit whether his government was truly willing to act against the havens that allow the Taliban to maintain bases in Pakistan, replied frankly: “Yes — but at a price.”

After a series of meetings with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Pakistan’s ebullient foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, declared: “I think we are going to move from a relationship to a partnership.” But he used the future tense. In the meantime, there are things to work out. Pakistan is clearly worried about what happens when the United States begins pulling troops out of Afghanistan in 2011.

Although Obama administration officials have tried to reassure Pakistan that Washington’s commitment to the region is for the long haul, uncertainty remains. “Our fear is . . . that we get into a fight with these guys [the Taliban], and you walk away, and we’re still there,” a Pakistani official said. Pakistan’s powerful army chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, spent part of his time in Washington visiting Congress with PowerPoint slides to show that Pakistan has committed more troops to its fight against insurgents than the United States has on the ground in Afghanistan, and that it has suffered almost 30,000 killed and wounded in the process.

According to U.S. officials, Kayani made a strong case that Pakistan can do more if it gets more modern military equipment from the United States, especially helicopters to ferry troops into the rugged badlands where Al Qaeda and the Taliban hide. The United States has helped Pakistan acquire some helicopters, but not as many and not as quickly as the Pakistanis would like. U.S. officials said they would try to speed the delivery of more. In the past, U.S. officials complained that Pakistan used much of its U.S. military aid to bolster its eastern front with India instead of its fight with internal insurgents; but since Pakistan’s 2009 offensive in the Swat Valley, that criticism has been stilled.

The delegation also added a new item to Islamabad’s wish list: a nuclear agreement under which the United States would help Pakistan develop its civilian nuclear energy industry — to mirror a similar U.S. agreement with India, Pakistan’s longtime enemy. The United States told the Pakistanis that would have to wait. The memory of having to clamp sanctions on Pakistan for its nuclear weapons program is still too fresh. But it was a sign of improving relations that the idea wasn’t rejected completely.

 In 2001, the United States sought a new relationship with Pakistan mostly because it was next to Afghanistan — and thus a country we would need for moving military supplies and basing drones. But that thinking has slowly evolved. In the long run, with its population of 170 million people — not to mention its cache of nuclear weapons — Pakistan is more important than Afghanistan.

“We’re engaging with Pakistan because we’re afraid of it,” says Christine Fair, a Pakistan expert at Georgetown University. “It’s the scariest country in the region. Because of Afghanistan, it’s been treated as if it were a subsidiary issue. But Pakistan should be the primary issue.” The Americans are working hard to convince the Pakistanis that they are interested in Pakistan’s stability for its own sake, not just because it’s next door to Afghanistan. The Pakistanis are working hard to convince the Americans that they are committed to defeating the extremists in their midst. It’s not a strategic relationship yet. If it’s a partnership, it’s still a wary one. But that’s progress.

Lahore bombing is Pakistan’s bloodiest this year

By Saeed Shah for The Guardian

A bombing in the eastern city of Lahore has killed at least 43 people – the fifth terrorist attack this week as extremists in Pakistan demonstrate their continued ability to strike.

The bloodiest terrorist strike in Pakistan this year was carried out by two attackers wearing suicide jackets who walked into a busy market in a high security military district and blew themselves up. The target appeared to be passing military vehicles but most of the victims were civilians. Shops in the market were ripped apart, with children crossing the road and people waiting at a bus stop among the victims. About 10 soldiers were killed and 100 injured, said the Lahore police chief, Parvaiz Rathore.

“There were about 10 to 15 seconds between the blasts. Both were suicide attacks,” a senior local government official, Sajjad Bhutta, said at the site. “The maximum preventative measures were being taken but these people find support from somewhere.” The bombers struck at 1pm, around the time of Friday prayers, in the cantonment area, home to the local army garrison and one of Lahore’s most upmarket residential districts.

Lahore is the bustling cultural hub of Pakistan and had enjoyed several weeks of relative peace. It is the capital of the eastern Punjab province, Pakistan’s most densely populated area and its political heartland. The suicide bombings were followed in the evening by three smaller blasts in a residential area across town. They caused panic but damage was reported to be minor. The authorities repeated their regular assertion that the Taliban and other extremist groups have been defeated. The provincial law minister, Rana Sanaullah , said: “We broke their networks. That’s why they have not been able to strike for a considerable time.”

But it was the second bombing this week in Lahore. A car bombing on Monday at a police interrogation centre killed 14 people. Other attacks this week included a gun and grenade assault on a US Christian aid agency’s office in the north-west, killing six of its staff, all Pakistani nationals. “They (the extremists) are trying to project their power, telling the government that they are still alive,” said analyst Imtiaz Gul, author of The al-Qaida Connection. “They are still far from broken. It’s going to be a long haul.”

In 2009 that Lahore was dragged into the bloody insurgency in Pakistan, which claimed around 3,000 lives last year, with a series of spectacular attacks including a gun assault on the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team. The last major attack in Lahore was in December when a market was bombed, killing at least 49 people. The launch of a military offensive in South Waziristan, on the Afghan border, the base of the Pakistani Taliban, in October last year was accompanied by a vicious spate of terrorist reprisals but the country had been relatively peaceful this year.

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