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Militants Grab Headlines -- Again -- As Clinton Visits Pakistan

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani (center), U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (top left), Pakistani army chief General Ashfaq Kayani (right) and CIA chief David Petraeus (left) meeting in Islamabad on October 20.
As U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and senior Pakistani civilian and military leaders convened this week for the U.S. to urge serious action against the militant Haqqani network, notorious Taliban leader Mullah Fazlullah vowed to relaunch his jihad in Pakistan.

It's unclear whether the timing of the statement by Fazlullah, who is thought to be hiding somewhere in the Afghan-Pakistani border region, was a coincidence.

But it's worth noting another development that coincided with the Clinton visit. A clash between security forces and militants in the otherwise secured Bara area of Khyber tribal district on October 20 resulted in casualties from both sides, including the deaths of seven civilians.

The Bara region, for years the stronghold of the Lashkar-e-Islam (Army of Islam), led by Mangal Bagh, is located 12 kilometers from Peshawar, the northern Pakistani city that houses the headquarters of the country's 11 Corps. Both Fazlullah and Mangal Bagh long enjoyed clout in the Swat and Bara regions, while Pakistan's security elite was criticized for seemingly ignoring their presence. When, under immense pressure from civil society, the army launched operations in both areas, both Fazlullah and Bagh somehow managed to escape and open new bases -- according to Pakistani claims, in Afghanistan's Nuristan Province and Pakistan's remote Tirah region.

Participants in Pakistan's government-sponsored All Parties Conference, held recently under the watchful eyes of the army, voiced support for negotiations with the militants.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani Army and government have responded to U.S. demands for action against the Haqqanis with complaints of cross-border attacks by militant leaders like Fazlullah (and Faqir Muhammad).

Intended or not, headlines of the Bara shootout might have further suggested to the visiting U.S. delegation that militants pose a serious threat to Pakistan and that Pakistan's troops have their hands full already.

But the whole scene was arguably reminiscent of the days of General Pervez Musharraf, when visits by senior U.S. officials were regularly preceded by reports of intense Pakistani security battles in the tribal region.

-- Daud Khattak