Pakistans Frontier Corps hevder det har gjennomført en offensiv mot en gruppe som truer Peshawar. Men leder av Lashkar-i-Islam, Mangal Bagh, en tidligere bussrengjører og livvakt, sier han ga sine menn ordre om å trekke seg unna.

Kritikere i Pakistan ser på operasjonen som rent skuebrød.

But Afrasiab Khattak, the head of the Awami National Party in the North-West Frontier Province and one of the region’s most senior leaders, dismissed the paramilitary operation as just a «firefight» that failed to deal with a more critical problem.

The action did little to confront the extremism that has engulfed the semi-autonomous tribal areas and was rapidly expanding into the settled regions of the country, Mr. Khattak said in an interview at his home in Peshawar on Sunday.

Government intelligence agencies have allowed the extremist groups to thrive, he said, and even nurtured them over the last 20 years as part of a strategy for southern Afghanistan.

Under this strategy, successive governments have argued since 1989 that Pakistan needed its own jihadist groups to hold onto the tribal areas against claims on the territory by Afghanistan and to fight in divided Kashmir.

«There are very influential elements in the ruling establishment who want to give space to such groups so they could fight their wars in Afghanistan and Kashmir,» Mr. Khattak said. The policy of aiding jihadist groups so they could serve what were considered Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan and Kashmir, was «very, very destabilizing,» he said. There were no incentives to reform the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, known as FATA.

«FATA has been kept as a black hole, conducive for terrorists,» Mr. Khattak said.

Pakistani Forces Appear to Push Back Militants

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