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U.S. Pressure on Pakistan Increasing Taliban Heat

Friday, 05 March 2010 10:18 AM

WASHINGTON — U.S. pressure on Pakistan to crack down on Taliban extremists within its borders is paying off, American officials and independent analysts say, paving the way for progress in the war in neighboring Afghanistan.

Pakistan's cooperation marks a shift after years of tolerating the presence of homegrown extremists operating openly in the country. The government recently has pressed an offensive in tribal areas home to al-Qaeda, has arrested major Taliban figures and has signed off on airstrikes by pilotless drones that have killed important terrorist suspects.

In recent months:

•Pakistan on Thursday announced the arrest of the Taliban's former finance minister, days after saying it killed about 75 militants and discovered a network of 156 caves used by the Taliban near the Afghan border.

•After downplaying for years the presence of extremist leaders in Pakistani cities, the government last month arrested a number of key Taliban figures, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Afghan Taliban's second in command.

•U.S. drone strikes have increased to 53 in Pakistan in 2009 from 36 in 2008 and five in 2007, according to statistics compiled by the Long War Journal website. An August strike killed Baitullah Mehsud, a major Taliban leader.

Although Pakistan's government hasn't done everything the United States has wanted, these developments are "all having an effect," said Richard Holbrooke, the State Department's special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan. "I think that in Pakistan and in Afghanistan, but particularly in Pakistan, there's been a movement, a shift in sentiment here."

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